At the Latino Issues Forum for the 26th Congressional District at the Oxnard Courtyard by Marriot last Thursday, April 5, the crowd swelled so large, a partition was raised to make room. For the first time in 26 years, this district will be represented by somebody other than conservative Elton Gallegly, who has seemingly done little for the Latino community though 43 percent of the 26th Congressional District is Latino. Judging by the fervor of the crowd, the prospect of new representation had the room buzzing with the same type of current that charges a venue just prior to the dimming lights signaling that a concert is about to begin.

And when this proverbial concert began, candidate and soon-to-be-termed-out Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, emerged as sort of the arena performer, who has had a taste of the big time, opening up for some of the bigger acts in the business. During the forum, she often mentioned her bills that Gov. Jerry Brown signed during her time in the Assembly, an act that no other candidate sharing the stage with her has ever experienced. If elected to Congress, Brownley would likely have no problem making the adjustment because she has been in the fold for years. There was something familiar about Brownley’s stage presence, which may be exactly what some Dems are looking for.

It seemed as though Brownley, however, was playing the same brand of music that has been played over and over again on the left, shelling out what seem to have become canned statements about immigration reform and job growth, canned statements that too often lack veritable tenacity. It would have been encouraging to see her go on the offensive when asked if she could legitimately represent Ventura County, having only just moved to the area. If she had responded with, “Yes, I moved here weeks ago because I realized I am the only person with the experience and political might in this race to defeat Tony Strickland, and this county deserves a truly representative strong and powerful voice in D.C.,” Brownley might have shown she is on her way to achieving rock stardom for the Dems. But instead, she plainly stated, “About eight weeks or so [ago] I made a decision to run for Congress. Once I made that decision, I moved to Oak Park and that is what I did.” It was an adequate response, but may have left some wondering if Brownley’s act will be worth the price of admission.

 
If Brownley was the arena performer of the group, another Democratic candidate, Jess Herrera, commissioner at the Port of Hueneme Oxnard Harbor District, was the club/small venue performer who can put on a thrilling local show. But could Herrera have the same impact on a national stage? He spoke more eloquently and intellectually about issues facing the local Latino community than any other candidate. In regard to immigration reform, he spoke out against a bracero program in Ventura County, saying it only pits one immigrant worker against another, and said that hate crimes should indeed be prohibited by federal law, noting that 61 percent of hate crimes are against Latinos. There’s no doubt that Herrera, winner of the forum’s straw poll with 83 votes (Brownley came in second with 45 votes), is capable of putting on captivating performances in his own backyard. But what would happen to Herrera on a bigger stage, faced with broader issues? Could he deliver the same type of message? And most importantly, could he win the vote without the name recognition that Strickland and Brownley have established over the years?

Linda Parks, a Ventura County supervisor, who is running with no party preference, was surely the indie rocker of the forum’s candidates. She beat that indie drum loudly during the forum, never missing a chance to tell the audience that she was beholden to nobody and would always be in the aisle between Dems and Republicans, no matter what, always listening to both sides. If elected to Congress, Parks said, it would symbolize a new era of bipartisanship, a breaking down of the barriers in Congress. While Parks’ message was loud and clear, and totally understandable, her “indie” ideals became mildly irritating. She was like those indie rockers who keep going on so much about how independent their music is from the influence of major labels, that you forget what their music is even about. Parks said she doesn’t view people in terms of color or ethnicity, that she would not vote on anything in Congress if she did not have time to read it completely — even a bill that was 2,000 pages — and did not answer how she would vote in the upcoming presidential election because she did not want to be labeled. Her idealism is laudable, but at some point voters have to have some understanding of what their candidate stands for.

David Cruz Thayne, a Democrat and Westlake Village businessman, was also on the stage. Think of Thayne as a guy taking guitar lessons because he dreams of being recognized as a player one day. Unfortunately for Thayne, he doesn’t quite have the chops yet. But in four years, if he keeps at it, he may just be ready.

State Senator Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, did not respond to invitations to attend the forum. Candidates in attendance were asked if the Republican candidate’s decision not to be at the event is typical treatment the Latino public should expect to receive this election season.

“You know what Mr. Strickland is saying? He is saying you don’t vote,” said Herrera in reference to the Latino community that represents 43 percent of the voting district. “He is saying, ‘I don’t have to worry about you because you don’t vote.’ … He’s not disrespecting me, he is disrespecting us. So if you care enough this election, you will get out and you will vote.”

Maybe Strickland isn’t worried about performing for the Latino crowd. Maybe he knows his fan base is big and loyal enough that he can continue to play the same tune and still win the popular vote. Time will tell.

Democratic candidate Al Goldberg also did not respond to invitations to attend the forum.

The Stage Show column will feature election coverage throughout 2012, a reporter’s candid analysis of forums and related events.