Political Notebook

Tulare County native Connie Perez enters 21st Congressional race

Democrat Connie Perez announced Friday via a slick video that she would enter the 21st Congressional District race. Fellow Democrat Daniel T. Parra is already in the race. Both are trying to knock off incumbent Hanford Republican David Valadao.
Democrat Connie Perez announced Friday via a slick video that she would enter the 21st Congressional District race. Fellow Democrat Daniel T. Parra is already in the race. Both are trying to knock off incumbent Hanford Republican David Valadao.

Democrat Connie Perez on Friday used a slick campaign video that mixed Spanish- and English-language messages and featured scenes of her time growing up in Tulare County to announce she was running for Congress in the 21st District.

“I’m not a career politician,” Perez says in the video. “I’m a woman that was raised here and is ready to lead.”

Perez, 39, enters a race that already has one Democrat — Fowler Mayor Pro Tem Daniel T. Parra, who officially announced his candidacy six months ago. Both Perez and Parra are trying to knock off incumbent David Valadao, the Hanford Republican who has already routed two Democratic Party challengers, one of them a well-funded Latina who had a huge campaign war chest.

Only two of the three will emerge from the June primary, in which the top two finishers, regardless of political party, advance to the November general election. Valadao will almost certainly be one of those two, leaving Perez and Parra to battle for the other spot on the November ballot.

Even though Perez is just getting started, there are signs everywhere that her campaign is the one preferred by influential Democrats. It appears the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is involved in either backing or recruiting Perez, likely because Parra’s campaign finance numbers in July were dismal. In addition, at a United Farm Workers celebration earlier this month at the Forty Acres in Delano, UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta singled out Perez, according to Juan Esparza Loera, editor of The Bee’s bilingual sister publication, Vida en el Valle.

“Connie Perez,” Huerta told the crowd. “Don’t forget that name.”

Parra was also at the UFW rally, but went unrecognized.

And while Perez has yet to produce a campaign finance report, she has enough cash to not only produce the video, but also hire a prominent Los Angeles-based public relations firm to publicize her announcement.

Part of Perez’s video has her speaking in front of the Woodville Labor Camp where she grew up as one of three children — and where her father still works.

“The American dream to me is my life,” she says in the video. “I grew up in the Woodville Labor Camp, surrounded by a community of farmworkers, immigrants and families. We didn’t have much but my parents did their best through hard work and determination to achieve the American dream.”

Perez is now an accountant and a partner at the Bakersfield-based Brown Armstrong Accountancy Corporation, and she notes in the video that she likes numbers. She says that background would help her find fraud and abuse in government budgets.

The 21st Congressional District — which includes all of Kings County and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties — is a majority Latino district where Democrats hold a 17-percentage point registration edge over Republicans. President Barack Obama won 55.7 percent of the vote in 2012.

But here are some additional numbers that aren’t so kind to Democrats. In 2012, Valadao won 57.8 percent of the vote to Democrat John Hernandez’s 42.2 percent. Hernandez was perpetually broke and had almost no support from national Democrats. Last year, Democrat Amanda Renteria, a central San Joaquin Valley native with a sterling résumé and a Stanford undergrad degree, was much better prepared. She raised more than $1.7 million. The end result was exactly the same: Valadao won 57.8 percent of the vote, and Renteria got 42.2 percent.

The National Republican Congressional Committee responded to Perez’s announcement by republishing a comment to The Bee from Fresno County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Evans in support of Parra when word first came of a possible Perez congressional run. That statement touched on the fact that Perez has been living in Pasadena, which is outside the district, and suggested she was “a recent convert to the Democratic Party.”

On Friday, Parra — who is showing no signs of backing down — focused not on Perez’s entry into the race, but on Valadao.

“I welcome Connie Perez to the race because this campaign has never been about me, it’s about Valley families who are tired of the dysfunction and gridlock in Washington,” Parra said in a written statement. “It’s about the critical importance of removing Congressman David Valadao, a Republican extremist, from office. It’s about electing a new leader who will put our families first and billionaires last. I believe our progress as a nation should be measured, not by how many millionaires we make richer, but how many millions of Americans we help rise from the depths of poverty and dependency to find jobs for themselves, and a future for their families. David Valadao represents everything that’s wrong with Washington and it’s time for a change.”