Representing California’s 31st District
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, persons of Hispanic or Latino origin make up 16.3% of the total U.S. population. Future estimations conducted by the Census Bureau predict that by 2030 there will 73 million Hispanics in the country, making up 20.1% of total population. In a political sense, these numbers show a growing Hispanic influence and a population that must be taken seriously. With this in mind, we profile a rising star in the Democratic Party. The only Hispanic member of the deficit-reduction supercommittee, Xavier Becerra is young, charismatic liberal with close ties to Nancy Pelosi. Vice chair the Democratic Caucus since January 2009, Representative Xavier Becerra is our Member of the Week.
Hailing from Sacramento, California, and the son of working-class immigrants, a young Xavier Becerra grew up in one-room house with three sisters. His father was a blue-collar laborer, spending most of his career shining shoes, canning tomatoes, and working construction. Xavier inherited his father’s work ethic and showed unbridled determination from a young age; he taught himself golf and made his high school’s golf team and learned how to play poker well enough that he was offered a job as a Las Vegas casino dealer. Despite, moving up considerable rungs on the socioeconomic ladder, Becerra has not forgotten his working-class roots; he still wears his father’s wedding ring as a constant reminder of his upbringing.
After graduating from C.K. McClatchy High School in 1976, Becerra attended Stanford University, becoming the first person to attend college in his family. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts in economics, followed by a juris doctorate from Stanford’s law school. Before entering Stanford Law School, Becerra undertook a yearlong fellowship in the office of California Senator Art Torres. Xavier’s connection to Torres was not short lived; after working with individuals with mental impairments in Massachusetts (his wife was attending Harvard Medical School), he moved back to California in 1986 to run Torres’ Los Angeles office.
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It only took four years before Becerra ran for public office. In 1990, he won a seat in the California legislature but two years later saw his chance to move up to the national stage when Edward Roybal, California’s first Latino congressman, retired. With Roybal’s endorsement, the heavily Democratic 31st District was Becerra’s to lose. He won the House primary with 32% of the vote and the general election with 58%. Since then, his reelection has never been in doubt.
Since coming to Washington, D.C., Becerra has held a series of positions that have garnered him “rising star” status. He became chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 1997, despite causing a stir when he visited Fidel Castro in Cuba prior to the election – this move prompted the only two Republicans in the caucus to quit after Becerra was elected. In addition to his position in the Hispanic Caucus, he was given a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee in 1997.
Notwithstanding a failed run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001, Becerra’s political evolution has been relatively smooth. In 2006, after the Democrats gained a House majority, Nancy Pelosi chose Becerra to be assistant to the speaker, making him the highest-ranking Latino in the House Democratic leadership and allowing him to shape the party’s politics and agenda. In 2009, Becerra became the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, after Caucus Vice Chair John B. Larson became the chair following Rahm Emmanuel’s move to the White House.
As a member of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and part of the Progressive Caucus, Becerra votes nearly 98% of the time with his own party. He is generally a supporter of free trade and a staunch advocate of immigration reform. Early in his career immigration issues were vital. In 1993, he was involved in a verbal showdown with then-chair of House Ways and Means Rep. Dan Rostenkowski because Rostenkowski wanted to cut welfare benefits for legal immigrants. A year later, Becerra came out against California’s Prop 187, which was designed to deny services to illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Xavier Becerra is not only the future of the Democratic Party; he is the exemplification of a new breed of Hispanic politician. Power driven, calculated, with an eye always to the past, Representative Becerra is surely not done in his upwards progression in the national political spotlight.