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California’s Roybal-Allard joins Democrats planning retirement

First Mexican American woman in Congress was first elected in 1992

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., will not seek a 16th term in the House next year.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., will not seek a 16th term in the House next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican American woman to be elected to Congress when she won her seat in 1992, won’t seek a 16th term in next year’s midterm elections.

Roybal-Allard, who represents the Los Angeles-area 40th District, has served in the House for nearly three decades and was the first Latina to head the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. 

“Serving my Constituents in Congress has been the single most distinguished honor of my life,” she said Monday in a statement. “After thirty years in the House of Representatives, the time has come for me to spend more time with my family. Therefore, I have decided not to seek reelection.”

A draft of California’s congressional map would merge Roybal-Allard’s East Los Angeles seat with that of fellow retiring Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal in nearby Long Beach. The state commission, one of the few independent commissions in the country, faces a Dec. 27 deadline to finalize its map.

Roybal-Allard has been a loyal vote for Democrats during her years in office, voting 99 percent of the time with her party on votes that divided Republicans and Democrats, according to CQ Vote Watch data from the past two decades. She belongs to the Congressional Progressive and Hispanic caucuses. 

Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas is next after Roybal-Allard in seniority among Democrats on the appropriations subcommittee, which controls funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s three immigration agencies.

Two other House Democrats — Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Albio Sires of New Jersey — said Monday they were not planning to seek reelection in 2022. Roybal-Allard is the 23rd House Democrat to say she’s not seeking reelection. 

Roybal-Allard held just under $75,000 in her campaign account as of Sept. 30, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

She has championed immigration matters and was an original co-author of the DREAM Act of 2001, aimed at giving legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Apart from immigration, Roybal-Allard regularly focuses on health care and labor legislation. 

Before entering politics, she worked for the United Way and was an assistant director on the Alcoholism Council of East Los Angeles. 

Roybal-Allard’s career includes a successful effort to expand the definition of rape in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In October 2011, she wrote a letter to then-FBI director Robert S. Mueller III saying the definition unfairly excluded victims who were drugged or impaired by alcohol and “explicitly excludes men.” The definition was officially changed in 2012 to include victims of any gender and instances where drugs or alcohol are involved.

Roybal-Allard was familiar with political life, and some of its drawbacks, from a young age. Her father, Edward R. Roybal, first won public office when she was a child. She recalled open discrimination against Mexican Americans intensifying after her father became a public figure.

“The racial slurs and not-so-quiet whispers directed at him and our family when we attended events and dinners remain vivid in our minds even today,” she said in 2008.

Her family’s political legacy spans nearly seven decades. In the late 1940s, Roybal-Allard’s father became the first Mexican American on the Los Angeles City Council, and he built on that distinction by serving 30 years in the U.S. House, where he founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and became the group’s first chairman.

When Roybal-Allard was in her mid-40s and her children were approaching college age, she started looking for the next step in her life. A state assemblywoman gave up her seat to run for the Los Angeles City Council, and Roybal-Allard decided to run for the vacant seat.

“They said my father was buying the election, and all these things that to some degree I experienced when I was younger,” she said. “But I walked door to door, did everything that needed to be done, and I fortunately got elected.”

Kate Ackley and Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

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