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Napolitano retirement sets off scramble among Democrats

At 86, Californian is oldest member of the House

California Democratic Rep. Grace F. Napolitano over the weekend said she would not seek reelection next year.
California Democratic Rep. Grace F. Napolitano over the weekend said she would not seek reelection next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Clarified July 11 | Democratic Rep. Grace F. Napolitano of California announced her retirement over the weekend, setting off a wave of interest from Democrats in the blue district.

“My focus has always been representing my district, first; state, second; and nation, third,” Napolitano said in a statement. “We still have a year and half more of work to do, and I will give 110% every day fighting for the San Gabriel Valley in the United States Congress.”

At 86, Napolitano is the oldest member of the House. She was first elected to the 31st District seat in 1998, after serving in the California Assembly.

Her retirement had been the subject of speculation, especially after her first-quarter fundraising report listed $20,000 in total contributions. 

While the open seat likely won’t shift the balance of power in the House, it already has sparked the interest of a number of Democrats, including state Sens. Bob Archuleta and Susan Rubio. Napolitano endorsed Archuleta after making her retirement announcement.

“I have known Bob for over 30 years,” she told Los Cerritos Community News. “I endorsed him when he ran for Pico Rivera City Council, where he did a great job, I endorsed him for his current state senator position, where he continues his passion for serving, and now I am proud to endorse him for my congressional seat.”

Mary Ann Lutz, a former mayor of Monrovia, Calif., and former staffer in Napolitano’s office, had previously filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and said she would run if Napolitano retired. Baldwin Park Planning Commissioner Ricardo Vazques has also filed. Former Rep. Gil Cisneros, who served two terms in the House before losing to Republican Rep. Young Kim, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate. 

President Joe Biden won the district, which includes the suburbs and bedroom communities east of Los Angeles, by 31 points in 2020. 

Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, said the district is unlikely to flip to Republicans. But because California gives the top two vote-getters a spot on the November ballot, regardless of their party affiliation, a Republican could win the primary if a large field dilutes the Democratic vote.

“This is … a seat that would be very difficult for a Republican to win,” Rubashkin said. “As with the rest of the state, it was a little more favorable to Republicans in 2022, but not so much that there’s a real path to victory” for the GOP.

Latinos make up a majority of the district, which also has a significant population of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Napolitano, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant raised in Brownsville, Texas, is the former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She has been an advocate for immigration throughout her career, and four years ago the House passed a measure she co-sponsored that would require mental health screenings of people detained by Customs and Border Protection.

As a senior member of subcommittees overseeing water policy on both the Transportation and Infrastructure and Natural Resources committees, Napolitano has advocated for water recycling and the preservation of aquifers to store groundwater. 

In the last Congress, she voted with Biden 100 percent of the time, according to a CQ Roll Call vote analysis.

She noted that it was fitting she made her retirement announcement Saturday at a ribbon-cutting for a nature education center in La Puente that was named in her honor. She has represented the city for her entire 25-year career in Congress.

The source of Napolitano’s quote endorsing Archuleta is clarified in this report.