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Your guide to California’s Assembly District 53 race: Inland Empire

Photos of Robert Torres, Michelle Rodriguez, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Goytia and Nick Wilson
Assembly District 53 candidates, clockwise from top left: Robert Torres, Michelle Rodriguez, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Goytia and Nick Wilson.
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In California’s 53rd Assembly District, incumbent Democrat Freddie Rodriguez must leave the Legislature due to term limits and is now running for mayor of Pomona, his hometown.

The race for his Assembly seat pits the incumbent’s wife against the son of a congresswoman along with three other community activists.

Four Democrats and one Republican are running to represent the heavily Democratic district that covers a swath of the Inland Empire. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the March 5 primary — regardless of their political parties or share of the vote — will advance to the general election in November.

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Who are the candidates?

  • Carlos Goytia, Democrat, education activist.

Goytia is a lifelong resident of Pomona, where he has been the senior groundsman for the Pomona Unified School District since 2001. His campaign biography says he has revived youth sports in his hometown and spearheaded park revitalization projects. He is on the board of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board, where he said he focuses on securing clean water for his community.

He is endorsed by the Fontana Democratic Club, California Democratic Renters Council and Inland Equity Votes. He lives in Pomona.

  • Javier Hernandez, Democrat, social justice advocate.

Hernandez is executive director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, which advocates for immigrant rights in the Inland Empire. Hernandez is endorsed by the California Environmental Justice Alliance Action, Equality California and the California Nurses Assn.

His legislative priorities include investing in community safety, ensuring good jobs and quality schools, housing and universal healthcare, according to his campaign website.

Hernandez grew up in Pomona, Montclair and Ontario, all cities in District 53. He lives in Pomona.

  • Michelle Rodriguez, Democrat, a member of the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training.

Rodriguez is running to succeed her husband, incumbent Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez. Her legislative priorities include moving toward universal healthcare, addressing homelessness through property tax exemptions to developers who create 100% affordable housing units, and improving education by raising teachers’ salaries, according to her campaign website.

Rodriguez is endorsed by more than two dozen Assembly members, including Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister). Also endorsing her is U.S. Rep. Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco), who represents most of San Mateo County, and several law enforcement groups including the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. and the California Police Chiefs Assn. Her donors include law enforcement associations and commercial chains including Walmart, PepsiCo and McDonalds. Rodriguez did not respond to The Times’ survey request in time for publication.

  • Nick Wilson, Republican, nonprofit organizer.

Wilson served as a police officer for 13 years before retiring due to an injury, according to his campaign biography. He founded a nonprofit that focuses on first responder mental health and suicide prevention. In a campaign video he said homelessness, the financial crisis and families who struggle to put food on the table are issues he wants to address.

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“Nothing is more important than parental rights and how we raise our children. Our state should not be in the business of co-parenting,” he said in a campaign video, citing that as the main reason for running. Wilson gave testimony during a school board meeting in Chino this year in support of a now-approved policy that requires school staff to inform parents if a child shows interest in changing their gender identity.

For the record:

3:18 p.m. Feb. 5, 2024A previous version of this article said Nick Wilson gave testimony during a Rocklin Unified School District Board meeting this year in support of a now-approved policy that requires school staff to inform parents if a child shows interest in changing their gender identity. Wilson gave the testimony at a school board meeting in Chino.

He is endorsed by the California GOP and several local law enforcement groups. He has received donations from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

  • Robert Torres, Democrat, Pomona City Council member.

Torres is a Pomona City Council member and the son of Democratic U.S. Rep. Norma Torres, who represents portions of the district in Congress. In his campaign website biography, he said he was raised in a union household and was once a union warehouse worker. The California Democratic Party endorsed Torres with 72 % of the vote. He is also endorsed by Democratic Reps. Grace F. Napolitano, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff, as well as California State Treasurer Fiona Ma and SEIU California. His donors include SEIU Local 1000 and SEIU United Healthcare Workers West PAC.

His legislative priorities include expanding after-school programs, addressing homelessness by getting people off the street and into supportive housing with treatment, and creating equitable housing through good-paying construction jobs, according to his website.

He lives in Pomona.

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Where is the district?

About two-thirds of Assembly District 53 lies in San Bernardino County and about one-third is in Los Angeles County. The district includes the cities of Montclair and Pomona, as well as portions of Ontario, Chino and Upland.

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Housing and homelessness

With many California communities confronting rising housing costs and an increase in homelessness, The Times asked candidates how they would address the issue in the Legislature.

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Hernandez said he would “prioritize funding for affordable housing” by supporting bills that advance social housing. “I would also prioritize investment in mental health services for unhoused individuals and support making housing a constitutional right in California,” he said in a statement.

Torres said he would “fight to give local governments that directly deal with the homelessness crisis more authority to enact policies that make sense for their communities — so we can get people off the streets and into supportive housing with treatment and mental health services.”

Goytia said that as a young adult, he understood “the feeling of being housing insecure.” His campaign said he wants to help create more affordable housing, protect renters to prevent displacement and fund programs to help homeless people.

Wilson said state spending so far has not eased homelessness. “We need to build mental health & substance abuse facilities, and emergency shelters, then regulate public space. We need to also develop a governance model to regulate nonprofit contracts,” he said.

On the March ballot, Californians will also vote on Proposition 1, a $6.8-billion bond measure that aims to address homelessness by funding more than 11,000 new treatment beds and supportive housing units along with mental health and drug addiction treatment. Torres supports Proposition 1. Goytia and Wilson do not support it. Hernandez is undecided.

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Single-payer healthcare

California lawmakers have repeatedly considered overhauling the healthcare system to create a single-payer system that would insure all state residents. The Times asked candidates if there should be a change to the current healthcare system.

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Hernandez said he supports replacing the current system with a single-payer system.

Torres and Goytia both said they support a different change to the healthcare system.

Wilson said that he supports the existing system where people get health insurance through a mix of private companies and government subsidies.

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The state budget deficit

California is facing a budget deficit of tens of billions of dollars in the upcoming fiscal year, and shortfalls are also projected in years to come. The Times asked candidates how they think California should balance its budget.

Hernandez and Torres both said they support a combination of reducing spending and raising taxes.

Goytia said he supports raising taxes.

Wilson said he supports reducing spending on programs and services.

L.A. Times Editorial Board Endorsements

The Times’ editorial board operates independently of the newsroom — reporters covering these races have no say in the endorsements.

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How and where to vote

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Read more California election guides

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More election news

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