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All the candidates lining up to replace Rep. Grace Napolitano

By LARRY WILSON | lwilson@scng.com | Pasadena Star News

PUBLISHED: July 19, 2023 at 10:16 a.m. | UPDATED: July 19, 2023 at 10:53 a.m.

With Grace Napolitano — such a kind and honorable woman; such a pleasure to visit with during the three or four times I’ve sat in editorial boards with her over the last 15 or so years — announcing that she will retire from Congress next year, there has naturally been a flurry by local politicians filing to replace her.

Cush, important job, representing the vast center of the San Gabriel Valley in the House of Representatives.

What a diverse group of communities the 31st Congressional District encompasses: El Monte, West Covina, Covina, Baldwin Park, Azusa, Bradbury, Duarte, Irwindale, South El Monte, Industry, La Puente, Avocado Heights, West Puente Valley, Valinda, Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne and Monrovia.

As staffer Georgia Valdes reported last week, Napolitano, now 86, worked on a Ford assembly line after moving from Texas to California with her husband and five children. She was elected to the Norwalk City Council in 1986, moving on to the state Assembly in 1992 and Congress in 1998.

As a former union leader and champion of working people, Grace has concentrated on their issues. But not just in general — I like her career-long focus on water in Southern California, and on mental health care for everyone. I like what county Supervisor Janice Hahn said about her career: “she has been perhaps the single greatest champion in Congress on all things water, from access to safe clean drinking water to investing in our port infrastructure.”

Water for drinking and irrigation, water floating the ships in the Long Beach port — why not.

Valdes notes Napolitano’s service on the House Committee on Natural Resources, advocating for conservation, water recycling, desalination and groundwater management as solutions to our valley’s dire water needs.

It was indeed fitting that when she announced her retirement July 8, it was at La Puente’s new Nature Education Center, named in her honor.

So a well-deserved retirement to her, with great thanks for her service to the SGV.

As for the race to replace her, with four well-known candidates jumping in quickly so far, the only thing we know for sure from the district demographics is that it will be a Democrat who will do so. (A Republican, lawyer and Damien High educator Dan Martinez, whose website calls him a “Progressive dreamer grounded in Libertarian reality,” is also entering the race.)

The early contenders are strong ones: state Sen. Bob Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, Citrus Community College Trustee and former Monrovia Mayor MaryAnn Lutz, Baldwin Park Planning Commissioner Ricardo Vazques and state Sen. Susan Rubio, D-West Covina.

El Monte and West Covina are the big cities at 110,000 in the mix. For those from the smaller in-the-flats communities and the perhaps more insular foothill cities mostly north of the 210 Freeway such as Monrovia and Glendora, it can be hard for a pol to get name recognition throughout the district.

Certainly Archuleta has been on the scene a long time, serving on the Pico Rivera City Council before being elected to the Legislature in 2018. At 78, making a first bid for Congress, age could be an issue — but Grace has already endorsed him, so that’s a hand-up.

Vazques, also a Baldwin Park teacher who has run for City Council there, looks to be the youngest of the candidates.

Lutz, who formerly worked as a policy advisor for Napolitano, was always such a resource and great pleasure to work with when she was on the Monrovia City Council and served three terms as mayor there. She’s a classic civic volunteer who has plunged in at so many levels of SGV politics.

Rubio, whose state Senate district, in addition to going way east to Pomona and Ontario, also already almost mirrors much of the congressional district, may have it easiest on the name-recognition front for local voters. With her sister, local Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, the pair make up a powerful one-two punch in the valley. She has strong ties here with two degrees from Azusa Pacific, a long career as a schoolteacher and Baldwin Park City Council member before being elected to the Legislature. She’s a business-friendly Democrat, which makes her attractive to Republicans such as Monrovia’s Tom Adams, who has endorsed her.

Bless Grace. Her retirement is going to make for some interesting politics around here in the run up to the November 2024 election.