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Leadership races begin as Cárdenas announces bid for assistant speaker

Democrats’ current No. 4 leader, Ben Ray Luján, running for Senate

Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., announced Friday he is running for assistant speaker, the fourth ranking position of Democratic leadership.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., announced Friday he is running for assistant speaker, the fourth ranking position of Democratic leadership. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Let the leadership races begin. California Rep. Tony Cárdenas announced Friday that he is running for assistant speaker, the fourth ranking position in the Democratic leadership.

Cárdenas is the first House Democrat to officially launch a campaign for a leadership position in the next Congress.

Assistant speaker is the only high-ranking Democratic leadership position in which there won’t be an incumbent to challenge. New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the current assistant speaker, is running for U.S. Senate.

Cárdenas cited Luján’s departure as one of the reasons he’s interested in the post because Luján is the only Latino on the Democratic leadership team.

[House Democrats’ New Elected Leadership Team Is More Progressive and Diverse]

“If we truly want to have success as a caucus fighting for the American people and ensure that no one gets left behind, we must have diversity at every level of the House,” Cardenas said in a letter to his colleagues announcing his candidacy.

House Democrats have not yet set a date for their leadership elections but they typically occur a few weeks after the November elections, often timed with new member orientation. Because members-elect get to participate in the leadership elections, any delay in election results from counting mail-in ballots could delay new member orientation and the party leadership elections.

Cárdenas has served in leadership before. In 2016, Democrats created a seat at the table for a representative of members who’ve served five or fewer terms, and Cárdenas was the first member elected to the post. The position is limited to one term, so Cárdenas could not run again in 2018.

For the past three Congresses, Cárdenas has served as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s political arm, BOLD PAC. In his letter to colleagues, he said he hopes to bring the “experience, determination, and resourcefulness” he devoted to that role to Democratic leadership.

“In two election cycles, we increased the number of Hispanic members from 25 to 39 and raised $17 million to elect Democrats,” he said. “In this 2020 cycle, we are on track to raise more than $13 million and, once again, increase Hispanic representation in Congress. I am proud of our achievements and we are sharing our success beyond the CHC as we have endorsed and contributed to more than 130 non-Hispanic incumbents and candidates over the past six years.”

Cárdenas, who’s serving in his fourth term in the House, said his mission as assistant speaker would be to fight to maintain the Democratic majority in the House and accomplish the caucus’s legislative priorities. He also said he wants to tackle the long-standing staff diversity problem.

“I know that I can get this done and I have the track record that proves it,” he said, citing his championing of diversity issues in the Los Angeles City Council, the California state legislature and now Congress.

In a more personal appeal, Cárdenas spent part of his note to colleagues talking about his background growing up on the poor side of town in Pacoima.

“Every night, my 10 siblings and I came home to parents who encouraged us to follow our dreams and told us that our circumstances did not determine our futures,” he said. “My immigrant parents had very little formal education, yet, they were the best teachers and mentors I have ever known. They taught us the value of hard work and service, and I have carried those very values throughout my life and why I became a public servant.”

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