A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: The Emerging Controversy Behind Assemblywoman Patty Lopez in the San Fernando Valley

04/02/2015 12:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

Last November, an unconventional candidate with little political experience was elected to represent the East San Fernando Valley in the California State Assembly. The election of Patricia "Patty" Lopez was noteworthy to many in the community because she beat a sitting, well-financed incumbent in a David and Goliath-esque battle. But as the dust has settled and the noteworthiness of her unexpected victory has dried up, many in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere have begun to realize Ms. Lopez is not the political "breath of fresh air" she was thought to be.

The notion that Patty Lopez is an outsider -- unbeholden to the Democratic political machine -- is misguided. Instead, the indicators point to a larger conservative-leaning political strategy behind her -- one that was able to go largely unnoticed and undisclosed under the guise of political inexperience. Ms. Lopez' conservative alliances, weak stance on the issues, and lack of campaign transparency suggest a more extreme type of "Democrat" -- much further to the right of her corporately-aligned moderate colleagues.

During her campaign, Patty Lopez surrounded herself with Tea Party-aligned conservatives, even seeking campaign advice from Republicans, as reported in the Sacramento Bee. One of her biggest supporters and advisors is David Hernandez, a 9-time Northeast SF Valley political candidate who has had affiliations with the Minutemen, a right-wing anti-immigrant organization that promotes hate and violence against Latinos. Perplexingly, Ms. Lopez also ran her campaign alongside Republican Senate candidate Ricardo Benitez, who she later hired on as staff and has spoken for her at events. Lopez-supporters David Hernandez and Ricardo Benitez are individuals that actively advance issues and causes that go directly against the economic and social interests of the Latino community. And the fact that until recently, Ms. Lopez has had close and public associations with these individual is not only inconceivable but deeply shameful.

Assemblymember Lopez' district is heavily immigrant and has remained a Democratic Latino stronghold for decades. This history and constituency make it surprising and concerning to me that voters would knowingly elect a candidate with anti-immigrant Republican campaign advisors and staff, and a deeply entrenched association with a well-known member of the Minutemen. Upon hearing compounding allegations and community concerns, it is evident that Ms. Lopez and her advisors have misinformed voters.

In her first few months in office, Assemblywoman Lopez has already been fined for failing to disclose campaign donations, so we cannot yet fully say who has provided her with financial support but it is evident that right-wing operatives and failed Republican politicians have given her advice. Without a strong platform and public stance on the issues, who is to say who Ms. Lopez will be beholden to?

Most recently, I have been hearing community leaders calling on Assemblywoman Lopez to resign. I have also heard the word recall. A long-time parent organizer and community member who has known and worked with Ms. Lopez lamented, "This should have been a moment we should have been proud of -- an immigrant, a woman, a Latina. But the sad truth is that it's a total disappointment." Ms. Imelda Mendoza went on to say, "I met Patty many, many years ago volunteering for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the truth is that her views are totally extreme and anti-immigrant, completely out of touch with the needs of our kids, of our schools, and of our community. We need someone that can represent us well, that really loves the community," added Mendoza.

This was one of several community members that I spoke with, all of whom volunteered information about Patty's inexperience and questionable alliances. If all of the emerging allegations and calls for accountability continue to escalate, it is unclear how much the community will tolerate from this new political leader with close ties to anti-immigrant and conservative forces that go directly against the interests of her district. All the indications point to the beginning of a long and tough road ahead for Ms. Lopez.