With His Fifth Electoral Attempt Baca Resurrects In Rialto From Political Oblivion

A decade after being toppled from the political pedestal he occupied for a quarter of a century, Joe Baca Sr is back, not too far from where he started more than four decades ago.
On Tuesday, the old lion was elected to the Rialto City Council in a five-person contest, replacing incumbent Karla Perez.
Adversity, perseverance and triumph has been the pattern throughout Baca’s storied political career, one in which he has soared to significant heights and dived to crushing depths.
In 1979, he cut his political teeth when he was elected to the San Bernardino Valley College District Board of Trustees, the first Latino to hold that post.
A Democrat, Baca nonetheless remained boxed in by his quintessential rival, Jerry Eaves, a unionist Democrat. Baca’s political ambition led him to challenge Eaves, who served as a Rialto city councilman from 1977 until 1980, Rialto mayor from 1980 to 1984 and as a member of the California Assembly from the 66th District from 1984 to 1992. Eaves turned back each of Baca’s challenges. In the 1988 Democratic Primary, Eaves captured 15,944 votes or roughly 54.87 percent to Baca’s 13,112 or 45.13 percent. In the 1990 Democratic Primary, Eaves with 13,336 votes or 56.45 percent outdistanced Baca, who polled 10,287 votes or 43.55 percent.
In 1992, Eaves elected to leave the Assembly and make a run, one that was ultimately successful, for Fifth District San Bernardino County supervisor. In doing so, Eaves designated his protégé, then-Rialto Mayor John Longville to succeed him in the Golden State’s lower legislative house. Eaves’ previous employment at Fontana’s Kaiser Steel Mill where he was heavily involved in union activities provided him with the solid backing of the Inland Empire’s labor unions, which dominated Democratic politics at that time. Despite the advantage of superior funding Eaves was able to vector to his ally Longville from a host of donors up and down the state, ones Eaves had access to as a consequence of his time in the state legislature, Baca pressed forward, engaging in a hard-fought battle against Longville. As it turned out, Baca handily prevailed over Longville in the Democratic primary, getting 8,293 votes or 35 percent, well beyond the 4,485 votes Longville managed, which was good enough only for third place, as Lois Carson outpolled Longville with 5,929 votes or 25 percent in the five-person contest. Baca went on to an easy victory in the heavily Democratic district in that November’s race.
Baca remained in the California Assembly for six years. In 1998, just as he exhausted the three terms he was eligible to serve under the state’s term limit law put in place in 1990, he was conveniently able to transition and step up into the upper legislative house, succeeding Ruben S. Ayala in the California Senate’s 32nd District.
Just a few months after Baca was elected to the state senate, California 42nd District Congressman George Brown, Jr., the venerable 33-year veteran of Congress who had represented portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties from just after his first election in 1962 with a two-year hiatus from January 1971 until January 1973 brought on when he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 1970, died. Baca seized the opportunity this provided and ultimately prevailed with 22,766 votes, or 51.7 percent against Republican Elia Pirozzi who had 19,194 votes, or 43.6 percent, while two minor party candidates polled 4.7 percent. He won the seat more convincingly with 59 percent of the vote in 2000. After the 2000 census, Baca was reapportioned into California’s 43rd Congressional District, a majority-Hispanic district. Baca was easily reelected in this redrawn district in 2002 and was handily elected there throughout the remainder of the first decade of the Third Millennium.
Baca obtained berths on the House Financial Services Committee, where he was a member of the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises, and the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit; as well as on the House Agriculture Committee, where he was the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Departmental Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. As a member of Congress, he championed increasing Hispanic representation on corporate boards and in executive suites, doing so as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He created and co-chaired the Congressional Sex and Violence in the Media Caucus. He was also an animated member of the Military/Veterans Caucus, and participated in the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, the Native American Caucus and the U.S.-Mexico Caucus.
After the 2010 United States Census, California’s congressional map underwent a significant redrafting, and most of the 43rd District was folded into the 35th District, although Baca’s residence in Rialto was placed into the 31st District. Nevertheless, Baca opted to use that provision of federal law which requires only that a Congress member live within the state of the district he represents so that he could remain as the congressman to the lion’s share of the constituents he had been representing, declaring his candidacy in the 35th District. In the 35th it seemed Baca would be safe, given its heavy Democratic and Latino demographics, his incumbency and his name recognition. It appeared that he stood a strong likelihood of remaining in Congress at least until the next reapportionment in 2022, or perhaps beyond that.
Because of those favorable demographics and his incumbency, Baca felt himself to be at liberty to indulge his foray toward what is conventionally considered to be conservatism on at least some issues, his support of Second Amendment gun rights among them. In this way, Baca proudly celebrated his membership in the so-called Blue Dog Coalition, commonly known as the Blue Dogs or Blue Dog Democrats, a caucus of Democratic Congressman who self-identify as political conservatives.
This put Baca at odds with billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the one-time Republican mayor of New York City whose term in office had been marred by recurrent gun violence, and who had become the leader of a crusade to enact stronger federal gun control laws and regulations. In one respect, this put Bloomberg out of step with his own party, and he had unabashedly appealed to Democrats, whom he saw as his allies with regard to effectuating gun control legislation. In 2012, Baca appeared poised to remain in Congress and to comfortably transition into being the House member in the newly drawn 35th District. In that year’s primary election conducted under California’s all-party primary rules in which the top two finishers regardless of party affiliation qualify for the November general election, Baca captured what appeared to be a commanding victory with 12,619 votes or 47.17 percent, as opposed to the 9,078 votes or 33.93 percent picked up by Gloria Negrete-McLeod, a Democratic California state senator, and Anthony Vieyra, a Green Party candidate, who polled 5,58 votes or 19.9 percent. Having outdistanced McLeod in the primary by well over 13 percentage points and figuring he needed to capture less than one-sixth of the votes that had gone to Vieyra in the June election to be victorious in November, Baca was confident that he would return as a member of the 113th United States Congress, the 2013-2014 meeting term of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, and that his reelection in November 2012 would prove a mere formality.
In September 2012, however, with little fanfare, Bloomberg had an independent political expenditure committee he endowed and controlled provide Negrete-McLeod with $2 million. Outfitted with that money, the Negrete-McLeod campaign went into high gear virtually instantaneously, purchasing newspaper ads and sending out mailers touting her and her candidacy, augmented with hit pieces demonizing Baca. It was not until October that Baca and his political team recognized what was upon them. After being rocked back on its heels, the Baca campaign began to regroup to respond, whereupon Bloomberg three weeks before the close of the campaign gave Negrete-McLeod another $1.2 million. The Baca campaign was yet seeking to get back on track when a final blitz of negative advertisement targeting Baca hit, this time in the form of radio and television spots that buried the incumbent. When the votes were tallied, Negrete-McLeod had vanquished Baca, 61,129 votes or 54.36 percent to 51,319 or 45.64 percent.
Two years later, Baca attempted to stage a comeback but, having lost the magic of incumbency, he was thwarted in the June 2014 primary when he ran for Congress in the California 31st District, again as a Democrat, placing fifth overall, with 11.18 percent in a seven-candidate race behind two Republicans and two Democrats, including the eventual winner, Democrat Pete Aguilar.
Particularly galling to Baca was that Negrete-McLeod, after a single term in Congress, claiming she was wearying of the transcontinental flights between Washington, D.C. and Southern California every two weeks, opted out of running for reelection to Congress in 2014, instead vying, unsuccessfully, for Fourth District San Bernardino County supervisor, losing to Republican Curt Hagman. Norma Torres, a Democrat and the one-time mayor of Pomona who had gone on to serve in the California Assembly and then acceded into Negrete-McLeod’s state senate position in 2012 when she ran against Baca, filled the void in the 35th Congressional District.
Having been knocked once again from his horse, Baca showed determination in getting right back up, looking to regain office. This time, having relocated his residence to Fontana, Baca ran against the incumbent mayor there, Acquanetta Warren in the November 2014 race. Warren, who by that point had established herself as one of the most prolific fundraisers in San Bernardino County, held better than a nine to one monetary advantage over Baca and the three other candidates in the race. Baca, with 3,364 votes or 18.91 percent, was able to finish second, but was well off the pace that Warren, with 10,773 votes or 60.57 percent, had set.
Baca determinedly vied for Congress again in 2016, running in the June primary against Aguilar, hoping to be able to make his way into the November general election against the younger man and perhaps appeal to voters in a toe-to-toe slugfest in which he might make a case that his considerably greater experience and longer list of contacts in the nation’s capital would be more advantageous to the district than Aguilar’s. Well before he declared his candidacy, Baca changed parties, saying he had come to identify with the GOP in that it reflected his “core Christian” values. But though Baca, with 14,020 or 12.45 percent made a stronger showing in the 2016 five-man primary race than he had in 2014, Republican Paul Chabot, with 25,534 votes or 22.67 percent was able to capture second place behind Aguilar, the first-place finisher with 48,518 votes or 43.08 percent, shutting Baca, who finished third among five candidates, out of the general election.
In August 2016, Baca changed his voter registration from Republican to no party preference.
In 2018, having returned to the Democratic Party fold, he ran for Congress once more, that time not in the 31st District, as he did in 2014 and 2016, but by again seeking the 35th Congressional District post he lost to Negrete-McLeod in 2012. Vying against the incumbent Democrat, Norma Torres. Torres, with 24,632 votes or 48.6 percent trounced him, as he brought in 7,725 votes or 15.24 percent, less than half of the performance of Republican Christian Lionel Valiente’s 18,324 votes or 36.16 percent.
In the meantime, a second generation of Bacas, his sons, Joe Baca Jr. and Jeremy, had gone out into the political world on their own, having, in one of those cases, an easier go of it on account of the trailblazing his father had engaged in and the name recognition he had created. In his first attempt, Joe Baca Jr was elected to the California State Assembly in the 62nd District in 2004, and served for one term. Two years later, he made an effort to move up the political evolutionary chain, running for State Senate, as fate would have it, against the Baca Family bete noir, Gloria Negret McLeod. McLeod prevailed in that year’s Democratic primary. Without missing a beat, Joe Jr ran for a position on the Rialto City Council in that November’s race, successfully, it turned out. Joe Jr remained on the Rialto City Council until 2020, when he successfully vied for Fifth District San Bernardino County supervisor, where he is now serving.
Jeremy Baca in 2006 sought to move into his brother’s Assembly seat when Joe Jr ran for the State Senate. Jeremy lost in that bid to Wilmer Amina Carter. In June 2007, Jeremy ran as one of seven candidates in a special election for the District 3 position on the Colton City Council. He outdistanced five others but lost to Vincent Yzaguirre.
It now seems Joe Natalio Baca Sr benefited in some measure by his sons keeping the Baca name fresh in the minds of the voters, in particular those of the succeeding generations. Now a great grandfather, Joe Baca Sr was returned to office by the voters of Rialto, who were faced with five candidates running for the two positions on the council up for election this year, the ones held by perennial Rialto Councilman Ed Scott and Karla Perez, who was appointed to replace Joe Jr when he departed to become supervisor two years ago. Also in the race were Kelly Erving and Andrew Seyfried.
As of today at 4 p.m., Baca had 4,101 votes or 31.58 percent for a sure place on the council; Scott had 3,806 votes or 29.3 percent for second place and another berth for four more years on the council; Perez claimed 2,487 votes or 19.15 percent for third place, which means she will leave the council next month; and Erving and Seyfried ran in fourth and fifth place with 13.15 percent and 6.78 percent of the vote, respectively.

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