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A young Latino ‘Boomer’ challenges Assemblyman Tom Daly in last reelection race

Bulmaro "Boomer" Vicente is running against Daly for the 68th Assembly District.
Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente is the policy director of Chispa, an organization that seeks to be the voice of young progressive Latino activists. He’s running against Daly to represent the 68th Assembly District.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente knows what it’s like to be dismissed on account of his age.

As a 19-year-old sophomore at UC Berkeley, he served on the city’s Police Review Commission, much to the chagrin of the city’s sliver of conservative voters and officers on the force. During one ride-along, a police commander even chided the new civilian commissioner about his supposed youthful inexperience.

But Vicente credits his two terms on the board, before graduating in 2017 with a degree in political science and returning to his native Santa Ana, as an important introduction into the realm of public policy.

“Coming back home, I felt a sense of responsibility to use my experience to create change here in the community,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to help do that through Chispa.”

Chispa, which translates to “spark” in English, set out five years ago to become the political hub of progressive Latinos, like Vicente, in Orange County. He joined the nonprofit in 2019 and later became its policy director at the helm of numerous issue-orientated campaigns, from rent control in Santa Ana to supporting police accountability legislation in Sacramento.

Now, the 26-year-old self-described queer “research nerd” is looking to leap from activist to assemblyman.

Vicente announced his candidacy to represent the newly redrawn 68th Assembly District this week, which sets up a primary challenge to incumbent Tom Daly, one of the most established Democratic names in the county.

The Assembly bid was inspired, in part, by the campaign to pass Senate Bill 2, a new state law that allows for police officers to be decertified for serious misconduct. Chispa visited the offices of O.C. Assembly members, circulated petitions and phone-banked in support of the bill that passed last fall.

“It showed the power of young Latinos mobilizing, not just here in Orange County but across the state,” Vicente said. “It showed me the political will for progressive change. But it also showed me how far back we are as a state when it comes to progressive policies. California was one of four states in the nation that lacked a process to decertify bad officers.”

The vote also illustrated something else to Vicente.

He saw O.C. Democrats in Sacramento as “moderates” standing in the way of change; all of the county’s Democratic Assembly members abstained on SB 2, except for Daly, the lone “yes” vote.

Even though Daly delivered on what Chispa campaigned for, Vicente counts him as a moderate out of step with the changing progressive politics of the current 69th Assembly District he represents — as well as the incoming district that would mark his final reelection campaign before terming out in 2024.

“Those are just labels,” Daly said. “Proper lawmaking and governing is the result of much give and take and necessary compromise. The police decertification bill was the result of months of negotiating, haggling and compromise. There were progressive and moderate elements in that bill and many others.”

Vicente grew up in Santa Ana and hopes to spark progressive change through his Assembly campaign.
Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente grew up in Santa Ana and hopes to spark generational, progressive change through his Assembly campaign.
(Kevin Chang/Staff Photographer)

The new 68th District still encompasses Santa Ana, Anaheim and a larger share of Orange while shedding its portion of Garden Grove. Largely intact, the district favors Latinos, who comprise 56% of the eligible voters, and registered Democrats. Beyond its baseline demographics, Vicente argues that the district is also home to progressive politics.

Its overlapping core in Santa Ana helped secure California’s delegates for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2020 presidential primary campaign. Locally, the passage of rent control in Santa Ana last year as well as an Anaheim Resort “living-wage” law in 2018 that Sen. Sanders lent his support to, Vicente argued, shows a progressive pulse.

“The district still remains one of the youngest and most progressive in the state,” he said. “There’s a really strong base of progressive young people waiting to turn out and create change. This district should be represented by a progressive leader.”

Daly has represented residents of the current 69th District for a decade. Before that, he served as a two-term mayor of Anaheim from 1992-2002, the last Democrat to hold the seat since, and as Orange County Clerk-Recorder in the decade that followed. Daly was the only Democrat elected in all of county government at the start of his tenure.

And defeating Daly has proved daunting for all who’ve tried.

Tom Daly awaits results for the Anaheim mayoral race in 1998.
(Karen Tapia / Los Angeles Times)

“I know the people that I represent,” he said. “I was born and raised in Anaheim. I’ve been close to Latino families since my Little League days. It’s just been part of my life.”

He hasn’t faced any Democratic challengers since first running for Assembly in 2012, a race that saw him best two young Latino Democrats in a blanket primary. The incumbent has breezed through four Assembly reelection races afterward, dispensing of Republican and Libertarian Party candidates alike by overwhelming margins along the way.

Daly’s been an elected official longer than Vicente’s been alive. He proudly points to his legislative record on transportation and veteran issues as well as securing park funding for Anaheim and Santa Ana.

“Notably, in my first term I was able to change state law so that transportation agencies, like OCTA, are able to combine the design and construction process for major projects,” he said. “Specifically, OCTA has taken advantage of the law that I championed to save at least $100 million on the widening of the 405 freeway. It’s certainly progressive for taxpayers because it saved them a lot of money.”

But experience isn’t everything, his opponent argued.

“We’ve seen our state leaders fail us when it comes to COVID relief,” Vicente said. “We needed our state leaders to protect tenants from being evicted — and we didn’t see that. We saw politicians, like Daly, side with landlords, who were evicting tenants late in the pandemic.”

If elected, Vicente said that COVID-19 relief, in the form of returning supplemental pandemic paid sick time to workers, issuing new stimulus checks and reinstating eviction moratoriums, would be his top priority. It joins a progressive platform that includes single-payer healthcare for all Californians, including undocumented immigrants, criminal justice reform, affordable housing and expanding investment in youth.

Growing up the son of working-class Oaxacan immigrants, Vicente saw the “school-to-prison” pipeline flow through his friends who were expelled from Santa Ana public schools. He credits playing handball at Memorial and Chepa’s Park for keeping him on track.

“I was fortunate enough to find mentors, teachers and be involved in youth sports,” Vicente said. “I was one of those youth that were invested in. It molded who I am today.”

Though he hasn’t run for elected office before, Vicente became a Soros Justice Fellow in 2019 and worked on Santa Ana Police Department accountability issues. Last year, he received the Orange County Young Democrats’ “Rising Star” award at the annual Obama Awards ceremony.

As an Assembly candidate, Vicente promises a grassroots campaign free of corporate donors and hopes to be a turning point for young Latino progressives in the 68th District.

“Now is the time for us to become political players,” he said. “That’s the next step.”

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