Ed Hernandez has begun a five-month sprint to the June primary for lieutenant governor. But why?
The 60-year-old West Covina state Senate Democrat has more than a decade of California legislative accomplishments behind him, a prosperous San Gabriel Valley optometry business, a daughter who has entered politics and grandchildren. As for the lieutenant governor job, the current occupant derides it as a ceremonial post with no real authority.
But Hernandez disagrees.
“I believe lieutenant governor is the most important constitutional office in the state of California, outside of the governor, and I think previous lieutenant governors haven’t taken advantage of that,” he said in a recent interview. “I want to take all those years of legislative experience and business experience into that office and make something of it.”
First elected to the Assembly in 2006, Hernandez won a seat in the state Senate in 2010. As chairman of the health committee, he was one of the primary architects behind the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California. Recently, he took on Big Pharma by passing a groundbreaking transparency law to help combat the skyrocketing and unsustainable prices of prescription medicine in California.
As an optometrist, he knows how important health care access is and how difficult it can be for some. He supports the goal of universal health care, but says there needs to be the political will to take on difficult choices:
“The real, true conversations are about market reform, and how do we control cost. The second is our two-tiered health care system, where poor people don’t have access to healthcare, and wealthy people do. Those are the conversations we have to have.”
The political climate has been especially contentious lately. The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Hernandez said the anger in the Latino community reminds him of when Prop. 187, which he fought against, was approved. The 1994 proposition cut off state services, including health care and public education, to those in the country illegally. It was later overturned.
“I’ve never seen so much political activism. I started traveling the state to talk to people about the Affordable Care Act, and there were hundreds and thousands of people showing up at town halls,” he said. “And we had done town halls before that, for Covered California, and you would get maybe at most 100. Now, these were packed houses, in gyms and high schools. There is a lot of anger out there, but also among the Latino communities and population.”
An unprecedented number of strong minority candidates are on the ballot, he noted. If all win — Antonio Villaraigosa, running for governor; Kevin de León, for U.S. Senate; Xavier Becerra, for attorney general; Ricardo Lara, for insurance commissioner; Fiona Ma, for state treasurer; and Betty Yee and Alex Padilla, running for re-election as state controller and secretary of state — all the offices would be non-white for the first time ever in California.
“I’m predicting that you are going to see a large voter turnout of Latinos that could propel these candidates to higher office,” he said.
Hernandez also said he expects that the current movement exposing and ending sexual misconduct in California, and across the country and industries, will change the culture forever.
“No one, male or female, should ever be subjected to any kind of inappropriate advances, and no one should take advantage of an individual because they have some type of influence over them for any inappropriate reason,” he said.
If Hernandez wins, in eight years, he would still be younger than Jerry Brown when he ran for governor in 2010. Would the La Puente native run for an office that has more “real authority”?
“I don’t know. We’ll see,” he said. “Right now, I’m totally concentrating to be the next lieutenant governor and supporting whoever our next governor’s going to be.”