Araceli Martínez Ortega, La Opinion
SACRAMENTO—Nine Latino legislators in California, eight Democrats and one independent, are leaving office this November, taking with them years of experience and leaving a gap in the state legislature that will take time to fill.
In the Senate, Denise Moreno Ducheny of San Diego is terming out of office eight years after being elected in a special election. She is considered by many to be the most experienced legislator when it comes to balancing the budget.
The two most experienced of the group, who have served 12 years in the legislature, are Sen. Dean Florez of Fresno and Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles.
Six Latinos are leaving the Assembly after spending six years in office: Juan Arámbula of Fresno, who is the only independent; Joe Coto of San José; Héctor de la Torre of South Gate; Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara; Lori Saldaña of San Diego and Alberto Torrico of Fremont.
Some, like independent Juan Arámbula, plan to retire from politics. "I’m taking a year sabbatical," he told La Opinión. Although he seems pleased, he isn’t entirely satisfied with his record, noting that many of his proposals did not become law. "I tried for at least two years to get them to recognize the Matricula Consular (the ID issued by other countries for their citizens) at currency exchange offices and universities, but Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed it," he said.
Like many legislators, Arámbula came into office full of enthusiasm, but became frustrated when he saw that not all of the bills introduced were able to move forward. "The obstacles come from special interests, from outside and from within, from legislators who are the voices of those interests," he said.
One of most important laws Arámbula introduced this year came in the wake of the unprecedented rise in cases of whooping cough. AB354 will require schools to vaccinate their sixth grade students against whooping cough.
Joe Coto of San José, who is planning to run for senator in 2012, introduced 126 bills during his six years in the Assembly, 40 of which became law. Among the most important are two laws that allowed the state to qualify for the federal economic stimulus package, and extended federal unemployment insurance for 20 weeks. Coto also wrote a law that requires continuing medical education to include courses on ethnic diversity to help patients feel more comfortable with their physicians.
Although the last three years have been tough for the state's economy, Democratic Assemblyman De la Torre said he has been able to achieve his goals of cleaning up government operations and expanding opportunities for people in health care. About 20 of his bills have become law. The one he is most proud of prohibits insurance companies from taking away people’s health insurance when they get sick. "It's also one of the achievements that President Obama is most proud of," said De la Torre.
The biggest obstacle, he says without hesitation, was Schwarzenegger, who he considers to be "a myopic man" who only signed bills that would attract media attention. De la Torre isn’t planning to run for another political office for the time being. He is committed is to continue working to clean up the corruption in Bell. "I have no interest in any position in Bell, as it’s been rumored," he clarifies. Perhaps De la Torre’s greatest legacy is the California State Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review, which he created two years ago to point out the excesses and efficiencies in the administration.
Among Nava’a achievements are a law requiring banks to work with customers and help them prevent foreclosures. Another important law requires that the interests of mobile home residents be taken into consideration before their space can be turned into condominiums.
Thirty-two of the bills introduced by Alberto Torrico have become law, including a law that requires landlords to give tenants 60 days to vacate their homes, and a law that ensures that children won’t lose their health care benefits.