Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, campaigning Wednesday in Sacramento, again put aside conventional political subtleties and cut right to the point: “I think we need a Latina in the U.S. Senate.”
Sanchez, speaking at a candidate forum hosted by the Latino Journal, said she spoke Spanish when she met with leaders in Central and South America. Responding to a question from Ruben Barrales, a former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush, about strengthening business ties with Mexico, Sanchez said too few senators have an impetus to turn southward and build bridges, and are able to sit down and work on issues other than military aid.
“I can stand up as a congresswoman. Xavier (Becerra) can stand up. Lucille (Roybal-Allard) can stand up.” But when talking about Mexico, she said, a senator has more influence than a member of the House of Representatives.
“You get a United States senator to stand up and say something, all of a sudden the world hears. They listen. And you can really begin to move an agenda. That’s on my to-do list.”
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Sanchez used the forum to draw other contrasts with the contest’s front-runner, Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, a career prosecutor who did not attend the Latino Journal event, citing scheduling conflicts, including a meet-and-greet event in Stockton.
“Ms. Harris I believe does not have the experience that I have,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think she grew up in a seven-kid family where we stood in line to get the Velveeta cheese block, with parents who were not educated, but who sacrificed and put their kids through” school.
“I am very proud of my Mexican American roots; of my ability to speak Spanish; of my ability to move between,” Sanchez continued. “I am one of those, if you think of an immigrant kid, you go into the house and it’s kind of all Spanish ... and you walk out and it’s America, right? Those are the experiences of so many people up and down the state of California. It’s not just Latino. It’s the immigrant experience. And I have experienced it.”
The two other candidates participating Wednesday, Republicans Rocky Chávez and Duf Sundheim, also took glancing blows at Harris. Chávez, an Oceanside assemblyman and retired Marine colonel, dismissed her as an “affluent attorney,” while Sundheim said Harris is siding with unions and taking the wrong position in a high-stakes teacher tenure lawsuit out of Los Angeles. But it was Sanchez who more consistently took aim at her Democratic rival.
Harris is scheduled to host another event with Democratic activists Thursday in Sacramento, and her campaign released a prepared statement responding to the challenges. Her camp has previously pointed to endorsements from a long list of current and former Latino elected leaders, from former Assembly Speaker John Pérez to Speaker-elect Anthony Rendon, as well as labor icon Dolores Huerta.
“It’s no surprise that Kamala Harris’ opponents are resorting to negative political attacks,” Harris spokesman Nathan Click said Wednesday. “Every indicator – from endorsements to grass-roots enthusiasm to polling – shows her record winning victories for California families as a prosecutor and her results-oriented approach are resonating with Californians.”
Sanchez, meantime, seized on a question about a line from Harris’ recent appearance in Los Angeles, where Harris said she doesn’t consider herself “in any position” to advise President Barack Obama on how to handle Islamic State.
“Absolutely,” Sanchez said of her willingness to advise Obama, pointing to her nearly two decades in Congress.
“I have worked through this. I have been there. I have met with the world leaders of almost every country,” she added. “I know all of my counterparts in Europe ... I tell the president all the time what I believe he should do. And I have advised three presidents when I have spoken to them about what we should be doing on particular issues. Sometimes they listen; sometimes they don’t.”