Aguilar Captures Third Most Powerful Spot Among Democrats In The House Of Representatives

Congressman Pete Aguilar this week continued his meteoric political rise, achieving what is widely considered to be the third highest-ranking position among Democrats in the House of Representatives.
For Aguilar, the accomplishment was welcome but somewhat bittersweet, as it comes within two weeks after late returns in a handful of close congressional races confirm that Republicans will hold a majority of the House seats during the 118th Congress that is to convene on January 3, 2023 and last until January 3, 2025, a change from the current 117th Congress, wherein the Democrats had a House majority.
On Wednesday, November 30, House Democrats selected Aguilar as House Democratic Caucus chairman. His advancement was part of a complete makeover of the Democratic leadership in the House, as he is replacing Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who was the majority leader during the 117th Congress; Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York is to replace Nancy Pelosi, who was Speaker of the House, as the Democratic Party leader; and Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts is to replace James Clyburn of South Carolina as Democratic Whip on January 3.In a prepared statement, Aguilar said, “I’m grateful to my colleagues for the faith they’ve placed in me and for the opportunity to continue our work putting people over politics. As we honor the legacies of Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, and prepare for a new generation of leadership, our caucus is more united than ever. I look forward to bringing together all the voices in our party to safeguard the progress we’ve made.”
He took the opportunity to needle his Republican rivals – who on January 3 will constitute a majority of the members of the House of Representatives – as “extremists.”
Aguilar said, “House Democrats are committed to a legislative agenda that lowers costs, protects abortion rights, strengthens Democracy, and tackles gun violence. While the American people want both parties in Congress to work together, we are prepared to fight back against Republican extremism and their plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, to give tax breaks to wealthy corporations that ship jobs overseas and to enact a national abortion ban.”
The Democratic Caucus consists of all Democrats in the House. Aguilar’s assignment as caucus chairman will be to preside over weekly caucus meetings, where party policy and legislative strategy is discussed. The chairman is elected by the caucus and limited to two consecutive full terms.
Earlier this month, as the outcome of the November 8 election was being firmed up, Pelosi, who led the Democratic party in Congress for more than 20 years as the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House, announced she would step down as House Democratic leader at the end of the year. Jeffries, who is to succeed her, is the first African American to lead a major political party in Congress.
Though he has enjoyed a string of 12 electoral victories against a single loss over a decade-and-a-half, with seven of those victories in general elections and five in primaries, Aguilar did not begin his public office career through the electoral process but rather was boosted by two crucial appointments to posts very early on. In 2001, just after graduating from Redlands University, Aguilar was appointed by then-California Governor Gray Davis to serve as the deputy director of Davis’s Inland Empire regional office. He acceded to the position of interim director just before suffering the setback of Davis’s 2003 recall from office. Having once been escorted into the inner sanctum of governance without having to face the voters, Aguilar in 2006 again wangled a key appointment, this time to the Redlands City Council as one of 11 applicants competing for the post, in the aftermath of Susan Peppler’s resignation from that panel.
In 2007, Aguilar was elected to the council in his own right and was twice rotated into the ceremonial position of mayor by his council colleagues. He was benefited with a one-year extension in office when Redlands moved to even-year elections, such that he did not need to compete to remain on the council in 2011, as was previously scheduled, with his term lasting instead to 2012. That year, he competed against three other Democrats and two Republicans for Congress in California’s 31st Congressional District. That would prove his only loss to date, with both of the Republicans – incumbent Congressman Gary Miller and State Senator Bob Dutton – beating him in the primary and ending his Congressional hopes for that year. Having stumbled, Aguilar did not fall, as he ran for reelection to the city council that November, and was handily reelected.
In 2014, when Miller opted out of seeking reelection, Aguilar again ran for Congress in the 31st, and was joined in that effort by three Democrats – Eloise Gomez-Reyes, Joe Baca Sr and Danny Tillman, two bona fide Republicans – Leslie Gooch and Paul Chabot – along with a Democratic plant masquerading as a Republican, Ryan Downing. As Gooch and Chabot were the best-financed of the seven candidates, expectations were that both would monopolize the Republican vote and capture a significant percentage of the unaffiliated voters and those members of the more marginal political parties, so that the Democrats would be shut out of the general election, which would feature Gooch and Chabot going head-to-head. Chabot, concerned about Gooch’s status as the policy director on Miller’s congressional staff and the endorsements she was picking up from the Republican Party mainstream, ran a primary campaign that ignored all of his Democratic competition and featured attack ads against Gooch. This garnered him first place in the voting and hurt Gooch, who slipped into third place behind the second-place finisher, Aguilar. Thus, Aguilar found himself in the November general election in a district with a slight but less than overwhelming Democratic voter registration advantage. Chabot, having successfully captured first place and a berth in the final go-round, had nonetheless, by his savaging of Gooch, offended and antagonized the Republican donors he would need to prevail in that November election. Ultimately, without a sufficiently funded campaign in November 2014, Chabot fell short, with 48,162 or 48.3 percent of the 99,784 votes cast, while Aguilar eked out an unlikely and narrow victory, with 51,622 votes or 51.7 percent. The fashion in which he cut his sister Republican, Gooch, off at the pass to advance to the general election against a Democrat and then failed to capitalize on that strategy essentially brought an end to Chabot’s political viability.
That was demonstrated two years later when Aguilar and Chabot found themselves up against one another in the 2016 primary, which also featured Republican Sean Flynn, Democrat-turned Republican Joe Baca Sr and Democrat Kaisar Ahmed. Aguilar and Chabot finished first and second, respectively, to make it to the November 2016 General Election, in which Aguilar again vanguished Chabot, more convincingly that time around, with 121,070 or 56.1 percent of the 215,936 votes cast to Chabot’s 94,866 or 43.9 percent.
In 2018, the primary field in the 31st District had shrunk to Aguilar, Flynn and Ahmed. In the November 2018 General Election, Aguilar hammered Flynn, 110,143 votes or 58.7 percent to 77,352 or 41.3 percent .
In 2020, Aguilar was challenged by a single alternative candidate, Republican Agnes Gibboney, on both the primary and general ballots. He cruised to an easy 175,315 vote or 61.3 percent victory in November over Gibboney, who polled 110,735 votes or 38.7 percent.
This year, Aguilar vanquished three Republicans – John Mark Porter, Rex Gutierrez and Ernest Richter – in California’s open June 7 Primary and then defeated Porter 30,949 or 57.7 percent to 22,695 or 42.3 percent on November 8.
Over the last two years, the Democratic Party has done much to promote Aguilar. This included Speaker Pelosi appointing him as one of eight House members to the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th [2021] Attack on the United States Capital. On June 16, 2022, which came nine days after the California Primary, Aguilar along with John Wood, a lawyer for the select committee, led the committee’s third televised hearing, focusing on then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence into decertifying the 2020 presidential election.
The Sentinel spoke with a former Republican legislator who represented San Bernardino County and served multiple terms in office before returning to the private sector. The legislator asked to not be quoted by name because she/he did not want to be perceived as being on speaking terms with the Sentinel.
The former legislator put little stock in the observation that Aguilar’s advancement to a position of influence in the Democratic Party has come only after the Democrats lost the majority position in the House.
“What you are seeing is the progression of time and the retirement of the Old Guard,” the former legislator said. “The New Guard is stepping up.”
Moreover, the former legislator said of Aguilar, “He was taking on more and more of a leadership role under Pelosi the last few years.”
It was true, the legislator said, that Aguilar had not been perceived as a political heavyweight previously, and that the general impression was that he had moved ahead largely on the basis of the general rise of Latino officeholders over the last two decades. Nevertheless, the legislator said, it was a reality that Aguilar is now quite powerful.
“It is hard to argue with results,” he/she said. “It has been a long time since the Inland Empire had someone as highly placed as this. It is not a bad thing that we have someone with that much pull in Congress. Of course, we [i.e., local Republicans] would rather that it be a Republican.”
There is no mistaking that Aguilar is a Democrat, first and foremost, the legislator said, but he is less strident in his partisanship than many other Democrats, the former legislator said. That is partially because early and midway in his career, Aguilar was assisted by Republicans, she/he said.
“It was a Republican [city] council, or more of a Republican council than a Democratic one, that appointed him to the city council before he was ever elected,” the legislator said. “Pat Gilbreth supported him. Before he went to Congress, he wasn’t what you would think of as a hardcore Democrat.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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