Capitol Alert

Alliance helped Patty Lopez pull off Assembly upset, primary opponent says

Assemblywoman Patty Lopez and one of her primary opponents, Kevin Suscavage, in October 2014 in Long Beach.
Assemblywoman Patty Lopez and one of her primary opponents, Kevin Suscavage, in October 2014 in Long Beach. Photo courtesy of Kevin Suscavage

She is now officially a member of the California Assembly, but Patty Lopez's surprise victory in the Nov. 4 election continues to fascinate California politics watchers.

After Lopez dispatched then-Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, a well-funded incumbent and a fellow Democrat, theories for the upset proliferated. Some people suggested that Lopez appearing above Bocanegra on the ballot confused voters who didn't realize they were choosing between two Democrats for the 39th Assembly District.

A simpler explanation came from someone closer to the race than any Sacramento prognosticator: one of Lopez's primary opponents, who said he and Lopez banded together to topple Bocanegra.

“I really did think there was a decent possibility for a David and Goliath kind of movement,” said Kevin Suscavage, a substitute teacher and a Democrat who finished third in the June primary.

Based on the results of that election, Bocanegra appeared positioned to coast to a second term. Suscavage and Lopez scraped together about 7,800 votes between them, more than 5,000 short of Bocanegra’s total.

But they had something Bocanegra did not: each other. Shortly before the primary, Lopez said, they discussed forming an alliance to replace an incumbent they viewed as a Sacramento insider.

“I approached him at the time and I said, `We’re working together to get the same position,’” Lopez said. “If you get it I will support you, and if I get it and I finish in good position in June, maybe you can come and help me.”

When the votes were tallied, Lopez had secured a spot in the general election by finishing second about 2,100 votes ahead of Suscavage. He reached out to her about a month later and offered his help, which Lopez said included Suscavage making introductions in the part of the district where he resided and had built a base.

“He really helped me in his area,” Lopez said.

Suscavage said he urged his supporters to back Lopez. They fanned out to town hall meetings and coffee houses, participated in phone banks, knocked on doors and “just hammered that message away: people, not politics.”

“When people said I’m sorry you lost, and they would message me on Facebook and things, I would say ‘thank you, but we have to support Patty Lopez now,’” Suscavage said. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s go with Patty, and could you tell five other people who are voting to go with Patty as well?”

Lopez’s campaign committee does not list any donations on the California secretary of state’s website, but she estimated she spent about $10,000 on the effort.

That is a miniscule sum compared to the over $600,000 Bocanegra banked over the course of 2014. To Suscavage, Lopez’s victory despite those numbers testifies to the power of a grassroots campaign.

“You name it, we did it,” Suscavage said. “As long as it did not require tons of money.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.