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Parra unveils early bid to challenge Valadao in 2022 congressional election

Nicole Parra (copy)

Nicole Parra

Republican Congressman-elect David Valadao hasn't taken office yet and already a Democrat has stepped forward to challenge him in 2022 with a strike-first strategy that is raising eyebrows in local political circles.

Former 30th District Assemblywoman Nicole Parra announced late last week on social media she hopes to take on the Hanford dairyman whose narrow defeat of Rep. T.J. Cox, D-Selma, in California's majority Democratic, heavily Hispanic 21st Congressional District was a reversal from election results two years earlier.

Parra's declaration even before the district's boundaries are redrawn next year was viewed by political observers as a bold if possibly premature effort by a recognizable candidate looking to return to the family business and become the district's first Hispanic congresswoman.

"You never have enough time" to work on a political campaign, said the daughter of former Kern County Supervisor Pete Parra. Announcing her intentions early helps anyone supporting, endorsing or otherwise investing in her candidacy, she added, saying, "I don't want to grab endorsements at the last minute."

Cox could not be reached for comment Monday and it was unclear whether he wants to run again to unseat Valadao after their bitter contest this fall.

The chairman of the Kern County Democratic Central Committee, Christian Romo, said that as of Monday afternoon Parra had not contacted him about challenging Valadao, which he called "kind of odd."

"I would at least wait until (Cox) is out of office and packed up his stuff," Romo said. Any talk about whom the committee should endorse for the seat is probably still a year out, he said, adding more than one Democrat will probably be interested in trying to unseat Valadao.

Committee Vice Chairwoman Tracy Correa Lopez said it will take more to win the seat than simply being a Hispanic woman but "it's refreshing" to see a woman run for the seat. The last was Sanger Democrat Amanda Renteria's unsuccessful effort against Valadao in 2014.

Kern County Republican Party leader Cathy Abernathy asserted it's "very premature" to discuss the 2022 race. She said Parra has been out of the spotlight for years and her name recognition may have faded some, while Valadao has an opportunity to enhance his record in the next two years.

University of Southern California political scientist Christian Grose, a specialist in political campaigns, said Parra's announcement stakes an early claim.

"I think, strategically, getting out as early as possible is smart," he said.

Cal State Bakersfield political scientist Mark Martinez characterized Parra as a "strong, proven candidate" who as an oil-industry supporter won't placate the far left but will "pull independents and moderate Republicans who like what she did while in the Assembly."

Parra, despite rankling some Democrats in 2008 by endorsing a Republican for her former Assembly seat, said her bid for the 21st District seat has already won the support of several Central Valley elected representatives.

She said she divides her time these days between Bakersfield and Sacramento and that her motto is to "go where the work is." She would not be required to live in the district she represents.

Parra ticked off a list of job assignments since she left the Assembly. She worked in economic development for the administration of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for about 18 months, and she helped the Kern Community College District win voter passage of a bond-sales measure that brought the agency more than half a billion dollars.

She also taught political science at CSUB, worked for a renewable energy startup that failed to get off the ground and worked in government relations for local oil producer Marathon Petroleum Corp.

Although she endorsed Valadao when he successfully ran for the Assembly in 2010, she said she no longer supports him because of what she termed his partisanship and vote against the Affordable Care Act.

A spokesman for Valadao declined to address Parra's announcement but sent an email Monday saying, “Congressman-elect Valadao is fully focused on the COVID-19 crisis and helping Central Valley residents and businesses who desperately need assistance now.”

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf