Luis Chavez has come quite a distance in a few years.
Two years after his election to the Fresno Unified School Board, he sprung up to challenge freshly-elected Sen. Andy Vidak in 2014. His bid, while falling short in a heavily Republican year, has set Chavez up for a big opportunity in 2016.
And he’s likely to take the plunge again, this time for California State Assembly in the 31st District. If Chavez jumps in, there’s reason to worry if your name is Joaquin Arambula.
1. An easy one: He’s run for political office more than once
The simple truth is: first-time candidates often make tactical and logistical errors that cause a collapse before the polls close.
Good candidates learn the lessons from a loss and avoid the pitfalls during their mulligan.
While Joaquin Arambula comes from a deep-pocketed political family, Chavez has the everyman story that is more relatable to key Democratic voters in the smaller communities in the district outside of south Fresno.
2. He’s well-liked among Democratic leadership
It’s not easy to drag newly-crowned Senate Pro Tem Kevin deLeon to Fresno to stump for your campaign. And it’s equally difficult to get Gov. Jerry Brown to cut an ad for a nascent campaign for a guy with little track record in state politics.
Chavez managed both feats in 2014 against Andy Vidak.
While Amanda Renteria, the other marquee Valley Democrat in 2014, watched her campaign fall apart in embarrassing fashion due to lack of financial support from the DCCC in Washington, Chavez received hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures from Democratic affiliates.
Those are the kinds of resources that will make the June primary in 2016 worth watching (whether you like it or not).
3. But he can still position himself as an outsider
So far, Arambula’s campaign has begun fundraising off of easy targets: special interest PACs. With five-figure contributions dribbling in from medical industry special interest groups, Arambula could unintentionally position himself as pandering to the special interests without getting to know his own district.
That gives Chavez an opening to make the Man-of-the-People sales pitch to voters and activists, arguing that the Assembly seat is not a crown to be passed between the Arambula and Perea families.
Painting Arambula as a Sacramento insider wouldn’t be all that hard during a contested battle in June, and one that could prove deadly for the first-timer.
4. He knows what matters to the district
Touting his credentials as an emergency room doctor in Selma, Arambula stated his focus was to increase health care quality in the Valley. It’s an important goal, no doubt. Sadly, the problems Valley voters care about are more economic than health-oriented.
The election will likely center on economic issues in one of the poorest districts in the state. Chavez has the opportunity to tout his record of improving education and opportunity for Fresno kids on the Fresno Unified School Board.
The winning narrative would center on a simple equation: education and opportunity equals success. Chavez would spend his campaign laying claim to at least one-third of that equation and asking voters for the opportunity to deliver the other two in Sacramento.
Again, the distance between what Arambula believes matters to voters and what actually matters to voters presents another opening for Chavez.
With David Valadao scaring top-tier Democrats out of challenging him for Congress, and Lee Brand commanding a sizable advantage for Mayor of Fresno, the 31st Assembly race is shaping up to be the contest of 2016. Luis Chavez adds a new element of excitement and upset potential.