Man, what a week Loretta Sanchez is having. On Friday, she coyly threw out there that maybe President Barack Obama endorsed Harris over her because the two of them are African-Americans. But that wasn’t even Sanchez’s most bewildering moment of the past few days. That happened at the opening day of the Democratic National Convention, a confab she was not scheduled to address. Instead, it was her sister Linda—a firebrand progressive from Norwalk—who had a speaking slot, exhorting the party faithful to vote for Hillary Clinton. But near the end of Linda’s speech, Loretta silently slid behind her, grabbed her arm and raised it in triumph, clapped, then stood behind Linda through the rest of the speech with a hard grin and a steely stare. National commenters immediately wondered what the hell was Loretta doing there (while Willon is a good reporter, it’s unfair of him to say Loretta “crash[ed]” the stage; he’s obviously not an older sibling because we can punk our younger siblings at any time—it’s in the Constitution).
This should be Loretta’s year: leaving a congressional seat she’s held since 1996 for the big time, during a year in which Latinos matter more than ever before to the Democratic Party. A longtime supporter of Clinton, Sanchez is reportedly aiming for a high-level position in Hillary’s administration if she doesn’t win the Senate race. Local Democrats are in need of her support in key races. Instead, Orange County’s sole Democratic congresswoman seems to be ending her political career the way it started: as a joke no one ever took seriously.
In a county full of idiot congress people, no one has willingly, stupidly offered more rope to hang themselves than Sanchez. Dana Rohrabacher’s embarrassment of a career is almost excusable compared to what Sanchez has offered: someone who keeps doing and saying pendejadas despite knowing better. She infamously started her political years as a Republican named Loretta Brixey, unsuccessfully running for an Anaheim City Council seat in 1994 under her married name. One wonders how OC politics would’ve unfolded if she had won that race; GOP head Tom Fuentes probably would’ve marked her as a rising star in the party, there wouldn’t have been a Latina to run against Robert K. Dornan in 1996, and Dornan would’ve held his seat long enough for the Republicans to groom someone to replace him—maybe Brixey?
Instead, seeing the seismic shift in Latino electoral preferences, Sanchez ran against Dornan in 1996 using her maiden name—a genius move. But she decided to place on her campaign staff Howard Kieffer, a man who had served prison time for stealing the assets of an elderly woman. Sanchez denied his involvement, faxing a statement to the Weekly ‘s hard-pressing R. Scott Moxley . . . from a machine inside Kieffer’s office.
And her career went on like that—to borrow a favored Chicano aphorism, Sanchez became her own crab pulling herself down back into the bucket. In the previous decade, it was her unwillingness to co-sponsor the DREAM Act despite being called out about it publicly again and again by undocumented college students. This year, it’s her quixotic campaign to take on Harris, someone with far more statewide name recognition. She might’ve had a better chance if she had waited for Senator Dianne Feinstein to retire, but far more injurious to her chances is continued fights with her own party leaders. Her anger at Harris and Obama is a virtual repeat of her proposed fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion in 2000; the DNC chair took away her speaking role at that year’s convention, reinstating it only after she moved it to Universal Studios—and then she backed out of it altogether, dismissing it as just three minutes she could’ve spent better elsewhere.
Sanchez is not a failure at all. Her 1996 defeat of Dornan was one of the most important events in Orange County history—for that alone, she deserves a statue in Mile Square Park. The OC GOP has gone mad trying to defeat its Moby Dick since then, to the point that its leaders have given up even trying to court Latino voters anymore—a development Sanchez doesn’t receive nearly enough credit for.
But as she concludes her congressional—and most likely—political life, the best that can be said about Sanchez is that she proved one giant disappointment. She’s the Anaheim Angels of local politicians—one epic, unlikely victory, followed by years of underachievement and what-ifs. She could’ve been a contender, the person who could’ve galvanized the Democratic Party in Orange County to destroy the GOP once and for all. Instead, her influence on local politics has been negligible, her political machine nonexistent, the OC Dems as squabbling and impotent as ever.
Come on, Loretta. Please prove me right to that national reporter I talked to last week, the one who said you’re just one giant embarrassment. Por favor bounce back from this week, and whip OC Democrats into shape (start by endorsing progressive Bao Nguyen over nice-but-boring Lou Correa in the race to replace you). Don’t let your only legacy other than defeating Dornan be those wacky Christmas cards featuring your cat—you’re better than that. Right?