Politics & Government

Dan Walters: FBI’s Calderon investigation threatens a political dynasty

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

When the FBI’s undercover investigation of state Sen. Ron Calderon was revealed a few weeks ago, it not only put him in legal jeopardy, it altered the political dynamics of the Southern California region he and his political family have dominated for decades.

Almost immediately, brother Tom Calderon, a former assemblyman, dropped out of the race for the Senate seat that Ron Calderon would be forced to vacate next year due to term limits.

The two brothers, plus a third, Charles, have held San Gabriel Valley legislative seats almost continuously for three decades; when one would leave, another would take his place. Even without a Calderon running for the Senate next year, Charles’ son, Ian, is in the Assembly and could be in the Legislature for another decade-plus.

Brother Tom figures prominently in the FBI’s investigation. His departure from the Senate race – to spend more time with his family, he said – appears to pave the way for another former San Gabriel Valley assemblyman, Tony Mendoza, next year.

Mendoza, who was termed out of the Assembly last year, is piling up campaign funds and endorsements and seemingly would need only to outpoll a few other Democrats in the June primary to coast to a November victory in the 32nd Senate District, where Democrats have a 2-1 registration edge over Republicans.

But Mario Guerra has other thoughts. Guerra, a Cuban-born refugee, owner of a large insurance agency and mayor of Downey, is also a founder of GROW Elect, an effort by the state Republican Party to recruit and elect more Latino officeholders in a state in which Latinos are the largest single ethnic group. Guerra is also running in the 32nd district.

“I’m not running on Republican or Democrat,” Guerra says. “I’m running on my record and what I want to do,” citing education and job creation as the centerpiece of his campaign.

What happens to Guerra’s Senate bid in the blue-collar San Gabriel Valley will be revealing about GROW Elect’s ability to overcome the deep rupture – mostly over immigration reform – between the GOP and Latinos in the state.

Even were he to lose, a strong Guerra showing could generate name identification that could be useful in another run.

There is some buzz – although he says he has not encouraged it – of his running for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2016, when incumbent Republican Don Knabe will be forced out by term limits.

Were Guerra, or some other Latino Republican, to win Knabe’s seat, it not only would be a big boost for GROW Elect, but would stave off demands by Latino-rights advocates that the U.S. Justice Department pressure the county to redraw its five supervisorial districts to add another Latino seat.

A majority of county residents are Latinos, but they hold just one seat now on the five-member board.