Jim Smith

IN BRIEF: Your Senator Has Died

Quick now, what was her name?

If you guessed Jenny Oropeza, you must have heard the news that the 53-year-old state senator died Oct. 20. Her name will remain on the November ballot and she will likely win the election.

Oropeza won the senate seat – District 28, which includes Venice – in 2006, narrowly defeating George Nakano, who represented Venice in the state assembly for years before being forced by term limits to seek another position. The 28h District is gerrymandered in such a way that it nearly guarantees that a Democrat will win, although not necessarily a progressive one. It includes Brentwood, San Pedro, Inglewood, Dominguez Hills and a sliver of Long Beach. That sliver includes the home where Oropeza has lived since the mid-’90s. Redistricting took place after the 2000 census. How Oropeza’s home was included in a narrow finger of the 28th District is probably an interesting story. Or perhaps, it’s just coincidence.

Jenny Oropeza was a classic apparatchik in the Democratic Party, who devoted herself since college to moving up the political ladder. She held elective office as student body president at Cal State Long Beach, member of the Long Beach school board, the Long Beach City Council, and the state assembly.

Her political career employed two tactics. First, volunteer for every job, no matter how distasteful, within the Party, as a way to gain name recognition and supporters among political activists. Second, run for every office where she had a chance of winning. The latter tactic caused her to lose elections in Long Beach, but the odds were with her that she would eventually win one.

The state senate apparently was just a way station on the way to even higher office. In 2007, less than six months after winning the senate position, she announced for an open seat in Congress, but came in second to Laura Richardson. Her popularity within the Party resulted in numerous appointments, including as the student representative on the California State University Board of Trustees, and positions on the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the obscure Southern California Association of Cities.

Oropeza’s remarkable record of running for office outshined her actual accomplishments in office. Her legislative record in highlighted by bills for various cigarette smoking bans. There is no record of her initiating bills on major issues confronting the state, nor is there evidence that she was involved in any issues specific to Venice. She did author a bill to ban smoking on state beaches but it was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. She had been away from Sacramento since May due to medical issues relating to her battle with cancer that began in 2005. Even so, her death last month seemed to be a surprise, according to family sources.

Assuming voters on November 2 decide Oropeza can do a better job as senator than any living person on the ballot, she will be elected. However, she must show up, Dec. 6, for the first day of the new legislature. If she fails to show, the governor will call a special election for the seat that will probably be held in March or April.

-Jim Smith


Categories: Jim Smith, Obituary, Politics