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DOWNEY - After being termed out of office in 2012 following six years in the California state Assembly, Tony Mendoza is enjoying his time away from Sacramento these days.
"I'm taking a two-year break. I had return rights with Los Angeles Unified School District so I'm teaching kindergarten to middle school -- substituting," Mendoza said. "It's given me an opportunity to get reconnected with the community."
However, the 42-year-old married father of four is quickly revving up for the 2014 campaign for state Senate in the newly-drawn 32nd district, a crowded race with formidable candidates and big fundraising dollars.
Nonetheless, Mendoza says it's always been his intention to run for state Senate.
"It's been my plan to run for Senate for years. I was going to run last year," said Mendoza who was unable to after redistricting maps altered the district and pushed the election back to 2014. "I had a great experience in the state Assembly -- I want to continue the work I did."
After three terms on the Artesia City Council, Mendoza won a seat in the Assembly in 2006 and served the 56th district, representing the communities of Artesia, Buena Park, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Los Nietos, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, South Whittier and Whittier.
"The work I did as an Assembly member was unparalleled to others -- they didn't do the things I did," he said. "Representing these communities, I went above and beyond."
Mendoza heralded his Woman of the Year and Cesar Chavez awards as well as his young legislators program, which mentored a select group of high school seniors every year, teaching the students about state government and relevant political issues.
"I did this program every year I was in the Assembly and I will continue it as a senator," Mendoza said. "It's not just about what you're doing now, it's about the next generation -- leaving a legacy."
If elected, Mendoza said he wishes to focus on public education, jobs, and the economy.
Mendoza approved tough budget cuts during his terms in the Assembly, but the Los Angeles native hopes to be a part of the solution as the economy slowly rebounds.
"The recession hit us hard, but some affluent communities like Cerritos were only slightly effected, but cities like Norwalk and South Whittier lost trade and construction jobs," he said. "We have to continue to drive employment with training for potential trades like solar power...and projects like the I-5 Freeway expansion."
Mendoza, the first in his family to graduate from college, also plans to continue advocating for public education.
"Public education was hit with more than $22 billion in cuts statewide, classes are overfilled. Prop 30 will help with funding, but how is it going to be invested," Mendoza asked.
Mendoza, who taught elementary school in East LA for more than 10 years before being elected to the Assembly, has a bachelor's degree in Political Science: Public Administration from California State University, Long Beach and a Multiple Subject Bilingual Teaching Credential from California State University, Los Angeles.
Currently, he is enrolled at the University of Southern California for an executive master's degree in Leadership.
Semi-annual financial statements filed last month reveal Mendoza's campaign committee, "Mendoza for Senate 2014," received $52,428 in contributions between the period of Jan. 1 to June 30.
With nearly $604,000 cash on hand, Mendoza, who lives in Artesia, is getting a head start in fundraising.
While Mendoza received many small donations from business leaders and educators within the 32nd Senate district, his largest contributions have come from political action committees, corporations, and unions outside district boundaries.
"If you're a smart candidate, you start ahead," said Mendoza with a smile. "This district has over 450,000 registered voters, it's never too early. If you're serious, you have to know the issues, build a base, develop relationships...not just wake up and decide to run."
Mendoza will likely face off against former Assembly members Sally Havice and Tom Calderon as well as Downey Mayor Mario Guerra, Hacienda-La Puente school board member Jay Chen, Democrat Kevin Perez-Allen, and businessman Noel Jaimes, who are all either declared or presumed candidates.
The lifelong Democrat says he's ready in case the wide-open race gets negative.
"I don't like to get negative unless I have to," he said. "They've done that before. Nine months before the election, the Calderons smear you, playing defense to hide their stuff. But I'm preparing myself and if I have to get negative, I will."
Mendoza also took aim at Havice, critical of her absence from the political and community stage.
"She's been out of office for 12 years and hasn't reached out. She's been a no-show," he said. "Voters don't like it when you only show up when you need something."
Mendoza acknowledged his depth of experience in Sacramento politics, but maintained he is not entrenched in its political trappings.
"I served my six years and I've shown that I'm not just a Sacramento politician," Mendoza said. "I'm there to serve the constituents and do what's good for the state and the district. I take each vote issue by issue, keeping it in mind that I sometimes have to do what's best for the state, not the district.
"See who has a proven record and has shown they are one to best represent the community. My record proves I serve for one purpose in Sacramento," he said. "I end all my letters with 'working with you and for you.'"
On June 3, 2014, the two top vote-getters in the primary regardless of party affiliation will face off in the general election on Nov. 4, 2014.
The 32nd Senate district includes the communities of Artesia, Bellflower, Buena Park, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Hacienda Heights, Hawaiian Gardens, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, Lakewood, Los Nietos, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Rose Hills, Santa Fe Springs and South Whittier.
Published: Aug. 29, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 20