Whittier is a long way from the waves. But that’s where Ian Calderon grew up and that’s where the one-time state surfing champion is running for the California Assembly in a bid to extend a three-decade long political dynasty. The 27-year-old Democrat faces Noel Jaimes, 57, a rare Latino Republican looking to put a new face on the GOP.
As a kid, Calderon says he stayed out of trouble because he understood his actions reflected on his father, State Assemblyman Charles Calderon. Standing inside his own campaign headquarters, the political neophyte recalls being raised on the campaign trail.
“I can remember literally being in my father’s arms when he was giving speeches,” Calderon says. “We were always with him on stage.”
Calderon’s father – and political hero – was first elected to the state legislature in 1982. He's termed out now, and his son his hoping to inherit the seat – and extend his family's long presence in Sacramento. Ian's uncles are Ron Calderon, a state senator, and Tom Calderon, a former state assemblyman who lost a bid earlier this year to return to the legislature.
But the young Calderon says it’s not fair to call his family a political dynasty.
“It's just like saying: ‘Oh, it’s a birthright,”’ Calderon says. “The reality is that this is a democracy.”
This is a democracy fueled by money, and more than $600,000 has flowed into Calderon’s campaign war chest from myriad state industries, lobbyists and labor unions — thanks largely to his father. Charles Calderon concedes the family name helped.
“I don’t doubt it,” he says. “But whatever I can do for him, I can’t close the deal. He’s got to close the deal.”
Ian Calderon took the first step toward closing the deal in June when he defeated a family rival, former Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, by 223 votes in a bitterly fought primary. Bermudez, a fellow Democrat, has refused to back Calderon in the general election.
Now Calderon faces Republican Noel Jaimes, who says no one else from the GOP wanted to run against the Calderon machine.
“They asked me to run as their last choice,” he says.
Jaimes won the biggest percentage of the vote in June (43% to 29%), but the turnout was low. He faces an uphill battle this time. He’s raised less than $10,000, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by 20 percentage points.
But in some ways, Jaimes – a real estate agent and former teacher – is quite different from his party. Take immigration, for example.
“The rhetoric is killing the Republican Party,” he says. For Jaimes, who holds a Christian education degree from Biola University, any anti-immigrant message is morally wrong: “Scripture is clear on this. We are to take care of the widow, the orphan and the alien.”
At the same time, Jaimes opposes state tax increases and supports deep cuts to government programs to address the budget deficit.
“I am asking for you to let me cut off your arm for you to survive,” Jaimes says. “All I can tell people is that I will cut off some funding, but I will be there for you.”
Then he offers a novel fundraising idea for groups hurt by budget cuts.
“I’ll stand on a water tank and let them throw balls at me for $1,000 a ball just to raise money.”
Latinos comprise just six percent of registered Republicans in California. For them, Jaimes is a breath of fresh air in a mostly white party. Raphael Wheeler, who owns a company that installs and repairs commercial bakery equipment, likes Jaimes’ compassion for immigrants, combined with his fiscal conservatism –something he says the economy needs.
“A lot of my customers have to deal with high diesel fuel prices,” Wheeler says.
Jaimes and Calderon differ along party lines on most issues. Jaimes supports Proposition 32, which would limit labor unions’ ability to collect dues for political purposes. Calderon opposes the measure. Jaimes opposes abortion rights. Calderon supports them.
More important, Jaimes maintains, it's time for voters to select someone other than a Calderon to represent them: “Calderons historically are those kind of kings and queens that last for a couple of generations until the people are ready to change leadership.”
The latest Calderon to seek office, Jaimes insists, is also just too young and inexperienced.
“He is a wonderful young man," Calderon says. "But he is still too young. He has no life experience.”
Calderon, who graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a political science degree in 2009, says working as a regional marketing director for the clothing company Hurley, and as an aide to a state legislator, is experience enough.
“My motivation to run is to at least be that representation or that ambassador from the next generation,” Calderon says. He has a message for Sacramento: “‘OK guys, maybe lets pump the brakes for a second.’”
Pump the breaks on education cuts. Pump the breaks on partisanship, said the scion, who hopes voters aren’t ready to pump the breaks on the Calderons.
Ian Calderon answers interesting questions on a surf blog a few years ago.