The son of Mexican-immigrant parents and a native of east Los Angeles, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) was sworn into office Thursday, March 14 to serve the newly drawn 33rd senate district.
Lara, 38, now the youngest state senator, won the senate seat nearly unopposed in last year’s November election, receiving 80.5 percent of the vote over write-in candidate Lee Harrison Chauser. The former assemblymember announced his candidacy just weeks after Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal dropped out of the race to run for a second assembly term.
The new senate district, which has a Hispanic majority, represents Vernon, Maywood, Bell, Huntington Park, Southgate, Lynwood, Paramount and Signal Hill, as well as portions of Los Angeles, Lakewood and Long Beach.
During the swearing-in ceremony that drew a crowd of about 200 people, including local dignitaries, at the Museum of Latin American Art, Lara called himself a “true advocate for hard-working families” and gave credit to his parents, whom he said migrated from Mexico as teenagers and lived as undocumented citizens for 12 years.
“Only in our great country can the son of a seamstress and a factory worker now serve the eighth-largest economy in the world, which is the great state of California,” he said “… In this country, it’s still the land of opportunity for all of us. That is why people continue to fight so hard to come to this country.”
The Democratic former assemblymember was sworn in by 4th District Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, whom Lara pointed out is a Republican.
“I felt that it was important for us to set a new trend in California that we don’t care about political parties,” Lara said. “We care about communities.”
Knabe, who won a fifth term last year, spoke highly of Lara for working with the county on various issues, most recently helping to expedite the development of a new regional voice- and data-communication system for public safety and first responders in addition to introducing legislation, known as SB 804, that would help promote technology to convert trash into energy.
“He’s been one of the most effective lawmakers in the state, has fought to improve quality of life for all Californians and [brought] legislation that brought jobs and equal opportunities for working families as well as students,” Knabe said. “He’s a very important legislator here to us in the County of Los Angeles and our 10 million residents. He is someone we’ve been able to count on.”
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster also praised Lara, adding that he has had a chance to work with the new senator in the last couple of months.
“I have to tell you, on the few issues I have worked with him… he’s hard working and very smart, and he cares about the people he serves, so I am delighted he is now representing the city of Long Beach,” Foster said.
The senator, who has served as chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus and has had 24 of his bills pass and signed into law while serving as an assemblymember, thanked residents, organizations and government officials for their endorsements during his campaign. He especially thanked new constituents from cities that he didn’t represent in the 50th assembly district, such as Long Beach, which Lara called “one of the most diverse cities in this country,” Paramount and Signal Hill.
“It means a lot that you were willing to give this kid from east L.A. a chance to serve as your representative on the state senate,” he said. The young state senator also joked about his age. “I want other senators to join me and get some pep in their step,” Lara said.
The ceremony also provided a platform for Lara to deliver his legislative goals. One of his priorities in Sacramento, he said, is “ensuring that we protect our most vulnerable,” which Lara said are seniors, immigrants, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth and multi-cultural families, “who are just struggling to make ends meet.”
Serving a heavily industrial area known for its Gateway Cities, Lara noted that the new 33rd district now represents the Port of Long Beach, which is the sixth-largest seaport in the world and the second-largest in the United States, providing for one in eight jobs in Long Beach.
As the new chairman of the Senate Select Committee on California Ports & Goods Movement, Lara said it will be his “responsibility to craft a new vision for the state,” to make sure the local ports stay “competitive, as we ensure that the goods continue to move through our state and [as] we continue to leave a mark in goods movement in our country and throughout the world.”
On efforts to modernize the polluted and heavily congested 710 Freeway, he promised to continue fighting for a “balance” between the need for port operations and the well-being of residents who live near the freeway.
“We have to make sure we continue to provide the resources so that we can create healthier, sustainable communities, especially for those who live… amongst the freeway and [near] other heavy emitters in our community,” Lara said.
The senator added that he sees small business as a priority in Sacramento.
“I believe one of the most important things we can do is support our small businesses and our business community, “ Lara said. “We have to ensure that we move carefully and that we’re diligent in ensuring that over-regulation is not putting a stranglehold on our small businesses and our small mom-and-pop shops that are the true backbone of our economy.”
Lara also spoke about some of his new programs, including the inaugural Young Senators Program for the 33rd District and the Parents on Patrol program. As a field representative when first starting out, he encouraged representative staff members to envision a career as a politician.
“I want you to dream big, and I want you to enjoy what job you’ve been given,” Lara said. “I want you to see yourself in my shoes because this is what it’s all about.”