On a day when Latinas boosted their numbers on the state Senate (with four new additions and a holdover) and held steady with a dozen on the state Assembly, it was the youngest of them all that drew the biggest crowd as the state Capitol swore in the newly elected state legislators.
State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, was followed for photos, congratulatory hugs and chats by five dozen supporters ranging from farmworker icon Dolores Huerta to fellow state Sen. Jim Nielson, a Republican from Tehama who grew up in Sanger.
“It’s still crazy!” said Hurtado, 30, who was a student at Sacramento State, about 4 miles east of her new workplace, not more than a decade ago.
“I’m still working hard, I’m still traveling the district trying to look for staff to fill the district offices,” said Hurtado, who was sworn into office Dec. 3 by state Supreme Court Justice Tani Cantil-Sakuye.
The day was historic for many reasons:
▪ Hurtado and fellow Democrat Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, are the first Latinas to represent the San Joaquín Valley in the state Senate.
▪ Baldwin Park sisters – state Sen. Susan Rubio and Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, both Democrats – became the first sisters in state history to serve in the Legislature. Susan was newly elected, and Blanca was re-elected.
▪ Los Ángeles labor heavyweight María Elena Durazo, who was born in Madera, was sworn in to the state Senate. Durazo was elected vice chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus; and Assemblywoman Lorena González Fletcher was chosen chair.
▪ The Latino Caucus, which began in the 1970s with five members, now has 29 members. Fifteen of them are women.
However, the day belonged to Hurtado, who spent time making sure her legion of followers felt comfortable in the labyrinth that is the state Capitol.
So far, she has met with state Senate Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins but no decisions have been made about committee assignments.
“At the moment, education, health care and economic development are a few I’m interested in,” said Hurtado, who upset two-term Republican incumbent Andy Vidak for the right to represent a sprawling district that stretches from Fresno to Bakersfield and covers parts or all of 19 cities.
“We’ve bounced some ideas around,” said Hurtado, who became the state Senate’s youngest member.
Hurtado, who trailed Vidak when the early votes came in but whittled the lead and took command of the race for the 14th state Senate District, said her mission will be to represent those who have been overlooked in the past.
During the campaign, she shared stories about individuals who felt left out.
“One was tied to health care, the other to jobs,” she said. “It is something that is near and dear to many in the district. It keeps me motivated.
“It’s not an easy thing to be able to fix things immediately in the state Senate, but I will continue to be a voice for them and all of the Senate district so that we all feel like we live in a healthy and safe and prosperous community,” said Hurtado, who worked as a health care advocate.
Hurtado was elected to the Sanger City Council in 2016.
She believes voters in the district, which is 71 percent Latino and where Democrats enjoy a 44 percent to 25 percent advantage over Republicans, “weren’t happy with the things were going at the moment.”
Hurtado credited part of her win to the effect of voters putting more trust in women as political leaders.
“I think people were waiting for women to lead in the Central Valley,” she said. “I’m thrilled the voters were willing to place their confidence in me and my fellow Sen. Anna Caballero to lead the Central Valley and move it forward.”
The state Senate will convene on Jan. 7.