Negrete-McLeod’s Animus Toward Torres Shaping State Senate Succession

Gloria Negrete-McLeod’s lingering animus toward fellow Democrat Norma Torres is a major dynamic shaping the mad scramble to replace the former as state senator in the 32nd District.
Two years remain on the term in the California Legislature’s upper chamber Negrete-McLeod was elected to in 2010. She will not spend that time in Sacramento, but rather in Washington, D.C.
In an extraordinary come-from-behind victory, on November 6, Negrete-McLeod overcame longtime Congressman Joe Baca, another Democrat, in the race for Congress in California’s redrawn 35th Congressional District.
Negrete-McLeod’s vanquishing of Baca was unexpected, given that Baca had been in Congress 13 years, having been elected in a special election to succeed the late Congressman George Brown in the old 42nd District after Brown’s death in office in 1999. Following redistricting based on the 2000 Census, Baca successfully ran for reelection in California’s 43rd Congressional District five times. Last year, he opted to run in the newly configured 35th Congressional District, which was slightly afield from the old 43rd, but his incumbency and perceived fundraising advantage over all other challengers, including Negrete-McLeod, appeared to give him a leg up on the competition. And indeed, in the June open primary polling, Baca bested Negrete-McLeod by what seemed a more-than-comfortable margin, 12,619 votes or 47.7 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent. A third candidate in the race, Anthony Vieyra polled 5,058 votes or 18.9 percent. Given that this year California had switched to an open primary, the two top finishing candidates qualified for the general election, despite party affiliation. In this way, the stage was set for a showdown between Baca and Negrete-McLeod, both Democrats, in the November race.
In the final weeks before the general election on November 6, Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was infused with $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which paid for a $2.3 million television advertising blitz during the last week of the campaign. Baca, who throughout most of the campaign had been complacent, was caught flatfooted and saw the election slip away, with Negrete-McLeod capturing  61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to his 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent.
In the run up to the November election, Torres, a former Pomona mayor and the incumbent 61st District assemblywoman who was vying for reelection in the newly drawn 52nd Assembly District, faced the unenviable dilemma of having to choose to endorse either Baca or Negrete-McLeod. Since the conventional wisdom at that time favored Baca, Torres sided with the incumbent congressman.
Torres was successful in her reelection bid, transitioning from representing the old 61st, which encompasses Pomona, Claremont, La Verne, Ontario, Montclair and parts of Fontana, to the new 52nd Assembly District, which encompasses Chino Valley, Pomona, Montclair and Ontario.  With the vacuum created this week with Negrete-McLeod’s departure to the nation’s capital, Torres is anxious to vault into the state senate to succeed her.
For Torres to achieve that coup, however, she will need to do so not only without Negrete-McLeod’s assistance but in the face of Negrete-McLeod’s active opposition. Within days of her victory over Baca, Negrete-McLeod was militating to ensure that Torres would not succeed her, the Sentinel has learned. She approached Larry Walker, who is currently the county treasurer-tax collector/auditor-controller and formerly Fourth District county supervisor and Chino mayor, to entice him into running. Walker has cottoned to the idea and is assiduously seeking endorsements. A Democrat, Walker is considered a strong candidate in his native Chino, where his father oversaw the school district for nearly a generation. In addition to her endorsement, Negrete-McLeod could endow Walker with the money remaining in her state campaign war chest which cannot be moved into her federal campaign coffers.
Another Democrat whose name was previously bruited about as a possible candidate was Wilmer Amina Carter, the just departed assemblywoman in the 62nd District, who was termed out of office and could not run for reelection last year. She, however, has lost interest in vying for the state senate position. It is said she was put off by the harshness of Negrete-McLeod’s effort against Torres.
Indeed, elements of the local Democratic Party have been trying to attenuate Negrete-McLeod’s bitterness toward Torres, endeavoring to remind the 71-year-old who began her political career as a board member with the Chaffey Community College District that she should be magnanimous in victory rather than vituperative toward a member of her own party. “There are consequences to elections,” Negrete-McLeod responded, saying she is committed to ensuring that Walker replaces her in Sacramento as opposed to Torres.
One other potential candidate to replace Negrete-McLeod, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, is watching the contretemps in the Democratic Party with growing interest. A Hispanic Republican, Leon sees a positive prospect in a scenario in which he, Walker and Torres vie for the vacancy in the 32nd State Senatorial District.  If no one candidate polls a majority in such a race, a runoff between the two top vote-getters would ensue. A majority of the voters in the 32nd are Hispanic and Leon is looking forward, despite his party affiliation, with going toe-to-toe against Walker in an electoral matchup.

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