Democratic California Congressman Xavier Becerra is among those urging Republican colleagues to support - and not block-immigration reform.

Democratic California Congressman Xavier Becerra is among those urging Republican colleagues to support – and not block-immigration reform. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

California lacks Hispanic political star power

LOS ANGELES — California has more Hispanics than any other state, by far, but you’d have to look elsewhere for those being talked about as ascending stars on the national political stage.

Florida has U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American once considered a possible running mate to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and who later introduced Romney at the GOP National Convention. Texas is sending its first Hispanic to the U.S. Senate; Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant.

Nevada and New Mexico are led by Hispanic governors: Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez. Spanish-speaking George P. Bush, the grandson of one former president and nephew of another whose mother is from Mexico, is considering a run for office, possibly Texas land commissioner. Texas is also home to the Mexican-American Castro twins: Julian, the San Antonio mayor who delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and Joaquin, who is headed to Congress.

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More than 1,300 Hispanics hold elected office in California. Nine Hispanics were elected to Congress this year from the state, and four of the last seven Assembly speakers have been Hispanics.

So, in a state once considered a launching pad for presidents, where is California’s Latino Kennedy or Reagan? Or even the next Romualdo Pacheco? (Pacheco was the only Latino to serve as governor of the state, in 1875.)

To Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the absence of a homegrown Latino leader mentioned alongside Rubio and the Castro brothers is not coincidental. Despite the state’s reputation for diversity, California has elected only a single Hispanic to statewide office in the modern era — a lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante. A second Hispanic also held that office during Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure, Abel Maldonado, although he was appointed.

“That is the one threshold Latinos in California have yet to surpass,” Vargas said.

California’s 14 million Hispanics are poised to become the largest ethnic or racial group in the state, surpassing whites, and there are plenty of powerful Hispanic officeholders, including Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, chairman to the House Democratic Caucus, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, another Southern Californian.

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The trajectory of California’s multihued electorate suggests it will be only a matter of time before more Hispanics reach the state’s loftiest offices. According to the Field Poll, the number of registered voters in the state increased by 3.5 million between 1994 and 2012; Latinos and Asians accounted for 90 percent of the jump.

Despite those numbers, the two state politicians most frequently mentioned as rising political stars in California are not Hispanic: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is white, and Attorney General Kamala Harris is the daughter of a black father from Jamaica and a mother from India.

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