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Assemblyman challenging fellow Democrat Rep. Grace Napolitano in San Gabriel Valley

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D–West Covina) is challenging fellow Democrat Grace Napolitano for her 32nd Congressional District seat.

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D–West Covina) is challenging fellow Democrat Grace Napolitano for her 32nd Congressional District seat.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) cast himself as the hometown hero Saturday as he announced his bid to challenge Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk) in the San Gabriel Valley’s 32nd Congressional District.

Hernandez, a former West Covina city councilman who will leave his seat in the Assembly next year because of term limits, slammed the 79-year-old nine-term congresswoman for living outside the suburban district. Napolitano lives in Norwalk along the 5 Freeway corridor, about nine miles from the western edge of her district, which includes El Monte, Baldwin Park, West Covina and San Dimas to the east.

“I stand before you as a hometown boy,” he told supporters gathered at Galster Park in West Covina. “I am the only candidate in this race that actually lives in this congressional district, I am the only candidate in this race that actually owns property in this district.”

Flanked by his family and local union officials, Hernandez trumpeted a number of his bills as well as a state audit he requested last year that found the eastern San Gabriel Valley was underserved by a parcel tax for trauma centers and subsequently helped launch plans for a new center in Pomona. He stood beside a large framed poster of a San Gabriel Valley Tribune story about local older adult programs that he helped save from the state budget chopping block.

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Hernandez, elected to the Assembly in 2010, cast himself as an “activist” lawmaker, while grouping Napolitano in with an unpopular Congress. He promised to be more responsive to local concerns in Washington, including pushing for a new veterans hospital in the San Gabriel Valley.

“I respect Napolitano, but I think she is a little old,” said Mike Felix, a Vietnam veteran and post commander for VFW Post 10218 in El Monte who is also a Hernandez supporter. “Time has passed her by, we need fresh blood.”

Hernandez and Napolitano have ties going back to when she hired him as a field representative after she was first elected to Congress in 1998. He said he had been eyeing a congressional run for about a year and has been quietly seeking endorsements.

Napolitano’s campaign strategist, Chuck Fuentes, said she was in good health and ready for another run. He said Napolitano chose not to leave her Norwalk home after redistricting in 2011 moved her into a district currently represented by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whittier) out of concern for the health of her husband, who is in his mid 80s.

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Members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent.

Though Napolitano only declared her intent to seek reelection after Hernandez’s announcement was made public on Friday, she has raised $100,811 this year and has about $311,495 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, according to the latest federal campaign finance filings.

Napolitano, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, coasted to large victories against Republican opponents in the district in 2012 and 2014. Just over 46% of voters in the district register as Democratic, 25% as Republican and 24% have no party preference.

Under California’s primary system the top-two finishers in June’s primary advance to a November runoff, regardless of party, meaning Hernandez and Napolitano could both advance to the general election.

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Hernandez may have to answer questions about recent scandals during what could be a bruising intraparty fight. Last week, charges that political contributions were laundered to his 2010 Assembly campaign were dropped by the state Fair Political Practices Commission after the death of key witnesses.

In 2012, Hernandez was accused of physical abuse by a former girlfriend, though prosecutors decided not to file domestic violence charges against him. He was also found not guilty of drunk driving by a jury that year.

Fuentes said Napolitano’s campaign would remind voters of what he called Hernandez’s “baggage.”

“When you are in office you have to produce, it’s not just go out there partying and living the good life,” he said.

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Napolitano herself came under fire in 2009 when it was reported that she collected at least $158,000 in interest on loan she made to her 1998 campaign.

Follow @jpanzar

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics

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