District 28 State Senator Jenny Oropeza, whose representation included Long Beach, died Wednesday night at Long Beach Memorial Hospital at the age of 53. After being diagnosed in May with an abdominal blood clot that led to a build-up of fluid in her lungs, Oropeza missed most of this year’s session. The former state assembly member, whose name will remain on the November ballot as a Democratic candidate, was pursuing a second term as senator, and she was expected to defeat Republican John S. Stammreich, her sole challenger. (If she wins, a special election will determine who will fill the position.)
Oropeza had been diagnosed with liver cancer in 2004, and, after undergoing surgery, was declared cancer-free the following year. Her cancer diagnosis had prompted her to introduce several bills that would help reduce pollution around the Port of Los Angeles. She was also known for championing other health and environmental causes, including unsuccessful legislation that would have prohibited smoking in state parks.
Oropeza launched her political career as student body president at California State University Long Beach, and she was later appointed to the university’s board of trustees. She served on the Long Beach Unified School District Board from 1988 to 1992, Long Beach City Council from 1994 to 2000 (as its first Latina member), and on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board from 1996 to 2000. Elected to the state assembly in 2000, Oropeza chaired the Budget Committee during two of the worst deficits in state history while simultaneously campaigning to become the first female Democratic Speaker. She lost that race by a narrow margin but garnered the position of Transportation Committee chair.
She and her husband Tom Mullins had been married since 1977.