Ruth Luevanos Photo courtesy of Ty Chen
First-term Simi Valley City Councilmember Ruth Luevanos says she’s seeking higher office.
The 47-year-old Democrat entered the fray this week to challenge Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) for his seat in California’s 25th Congressional District.
Though she’d still be eligible to seek a second term on the City Council should she finish out of the top two in a June 2022 primary, Luevanos said she has no plans to run again for city office.
“I want to pass the baton to someone else. I’m very happy to support other leaders who want to run for council,” she said.
Luevanos, a high school teacher, made history in November 2018 when she became the first Latina elected to the Simi council.
She’s used her time on the dais to advocate for the rights of immigrants and to denounce racism and police violence, positions that have won her legions of fans but also staunch critics (she was briefly the target of a recall effort after she put out a video advising illegal immigrants of their rights should ICE agents appear at their door).
Luevanos said she won’t temper her passion for immigration reform if she’s elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“People are relying on me to be their voice. (They know) I’m not willing to back down when it comes to policy issues. . . . I think my record (and actions) speak for themselves,” she said.
If she did seek another term on the council, Luevanos would be facing a different outlook than the one she did in 2018. Because council seats are now broken down by districts, Luevanos would have to face off against Councilmember Mike Judge, as they both reside in District 2.
Judge, the top vote-getter in the 2018 race and one of Luevanos’ most outspoken critics, told the Acorn Thursday that he plans to run for a fourth term on the dais.
Luevanos is one of four Democrats who have filed paperwork so far to run for CA-25, which encompasses Simi, most of the Santa Clarita Valley and parts of the San Fernando Valley.
Garcia, 44, a former Navy fighter pilot and defense industry executive, was elected to represent the district in May 2020 to finish out Katie Hill’s term after Hill resigned.
He was reelected in November for a full two-year term by a narrow margin of 333 votes against Democratic challenger Christy Smith, 51, who is already in full campaign mode in her third attempt to defeat the Republican representative.
Democrats Rhoda Nazanin of Los Angeles and Christopher Bellingham of the Antelope Valley are also running.
Controversies and advocacy
Asked about her time on the council, Luevanos said she has been working to engage youth, create more workforce and transitional housing, provide cleaner water sources and push for cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Lab.
If elected to Congress, the teacher at John R. Wooden High School in Reseda said she would work to improve public education and ensure that every person, regardless of race, gender, age or background, has a good-paying job with a safe work environment. Luevanos also supports “Medicare for All.”
In regard to immigration policies, she wants to expand pathways to citizenship and ensure that undocumented people are protected.
In July 2019, just six months after joining the City Council, Luevanos caused an uproar with a video she filmed at City Hall in which she informed immigrants that they had the right to resist arrest by federal agents. She also doubled down on allegations that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had conducted a raid in Simi that summer.
In fall of 2019, she filed a complaint against Mayor Keith Mashburn and Councilmembers Judge and Dee Dee Cavanaugh, alleging that their conduct “subjected (her) to a hostile work environment, based on race and/ or gender,” but an investigation later deemed the accusations were unfounded.
“I hope voters don’t reward her bad behavior on the Simi Valley City Council by promoting her to Congress,” said Simi resident Joe Piechowski, who was one of the people leading the failed recall effort.
Luevanos made waves again in February when she claimed during a public meeting that Piechowski, who is one of 17 people recently appointed to serve on the city’s four neighborhood councils, had used “coded language” to promote white supremacy on social media.
“She’s been a disaster for the city,” Simi Mayor Keith Mashburn said. “It’s an absolute embarrassment to this entire country that she would be on any ballot,” he said.
Other residents appreciate the council member’s candor.
“I support Ruth because she is constantly fighting for marginalized communities in her work and on the council,” Cassandra Douglas told the Acorn.
“We see her fighting and questioning the council, making sure that they’re on point and everything that they’re doing is legal and transparent. She’s a fighter and she will be someone who will stand up for marginalized communities and for transparency in Washington.”
Luevanos said her supporters live in all parts of district, not just Simi Valley, and their voices have yet to be represented in Congress.
“I have a lot of people in the community who were asking me (to run) . . . to a point where you have to answer the call—very much like when I ran for council,” she said.
Given the near 50/50 split between registered Democrats and Republicans in the 25th District, it’s likely one of the Democratic candidates will face off against Garcia in November 2022.
Hill, who resigned in the fall of 2019 following allegations of inappropriate behavior with staff members, had flipped the 25th District blue in 2018 when she prevailed against Republican Steve Knight.
Smith said her focus is to make the 25th blue again.
“Ultimately the real goal is changing leadership and beating Mike Garcia,” she told the Acorn on Monday.
“On Jan. 6, we saw the real Mike Garcia. He sided with insurrectionists and against the people of our community,” Smith said in a campaign video recently posted online. “I can’t sit by and watch any longer. Defending democracy shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
Because Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley are pivotal pieces of the 25th District, Smith said it could be challenging for anyone who doesn’t live in those areas to break through.
“I’m pretty confident that based on the relationship we’ve developed in Simi Valley, we’ve got plenty of ground to stand on,” she said, noting that she was glad to have Luevanos’ endorsement in the 2020 Congressional race.
In a March 31 statement, Lance Trover, spokesperson for Garcia’s 2022 campaign, said Smith is clearly hoping the third time’s a charm, but no matter how many times she runs and how many times she tries to reinvent herself with voters, the facts are clear.
“Mike believes his record of fighting for lower taxes for CA- 25 families is exactly why they elected him to office and why he will be re-elected,” Trover told the Acorn Thursday.
“He supports service to country and encourages all Americans who want to serve to be involved. It’s clear CA-25 Democrats understand Christy Smith’s support of AB5 and higher taxes is a disaster for working families.”
A first-generation American whose father immigrated to the U.S. in 1959, Garcia believes in a strong national defense and is pro-business.
According to Garcia’s office, the median income in CA-25 is $76,866 and about 46% of its residents are white, 35% are Hispanic, 8% are Black and 8% are Asian.
Nazanin, who launched her campaign April 8, said she’s not a politician nor did she imagine running for Congress. But after the attack at the U.S. Capitol, and Garcia’s response to it, Nazanin decided to enter the race.
“As Democrats, we can’t afford to lose this seat again and our democracy depends on beating Mike Garcia,” the 35-year-old told the Acorn on Tuesday. “I believe voters deserve real representation that reflects their diverse life experiences.”
As an immigrant, former pastor and queer woman of color, Nazanin believes she can best represent the people in CA-25 who haven’t been given a voice.
Details about Bellingham were not available at press time.
Following the 2010 census, most of Simi was moved into the 25th Congressional District, while Camarillo, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks and a small sliver of Simi became part of the 26th Congressional District.
Redistricting is done every 10 years for elective offices following the U.S. census. Current districts were drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in August 2011.
With the 2020 census now complete, the 25th District boundaries will likely change again, but it’s too soon to know what the new map will look like and how that may affect the 2022 election.
“It’s taking them too long to gerrymander it,” said Republican Elton Gallegly, a former Simi mayor, who represented the city in Congress when it was part of California’s 24th District, which at the time covered much of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, as well as the earlier 21st and the 23rd districts that Simi fell into before that.
“It’s possible that Simi Valley won’t be in the 25th District because it’s an appendage now,” said Gallegly, who represented Simi Valley for over 20 years.
While the law allows candidates to run for a district they don’t live in, the voters probably aren’t going to support that, he said.
The top two CA-25 vote-getters during the June 7, 2022, primary election will advance to the midterm election later that year on Nov. 8.
Melissa Simon contributed to this report.