Local Politics

Saturday, Oct 26 2013 07:00 PM

Champion needed for Chavez national park

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    By AP Photo/Fresno Bee, Richard Darby

    Cesar Chavez, farm labor leader, eats a piece of bread to end his fast at Delano March 11, 1968. About 4,000 farm workers joined him in a symbolic bread-breaking ceremony marking the end of their leader's fasting for the principle of non-violence. With him are Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who came from Washington to take part, and Chavez's wife, left, and mother.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Official designation of a Cesar Chavez National Park would take an act of Congress. But who -- if anyone -- would actually act and carry the legislation to create it?

It probably won't be Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.

The congressman who represents Delano -- the city where Chavez's history as a farm labor leader began and where two of five sites were recommended for a park Thursday -- is focused on other priorities.

Valadao's office issued a statement to that effect on Friday.

"During his first nine months in Congress, Congressman Valadao has not concentrated on the establishment of National Parks and instead has focused on immigration and water issues," he said. "However, Congressman Valadao recognizes the significant role Cesar Chavez played in America's civil rights and labor movements."

It isn't clear if other San Joaquin Valley congressmen might take up the cause.

Calls to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, the third-highest ranked Republican in the House of Representatives, and Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno were not returned.

Costa is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, the House committee to which the National Park Service on Thursday submitted the Cesar Chavez Special Resource Study. The study recommended the creation of a national park commemorating Chavez and the farm labor movement.

The report highlighted five sites it said were best-suited to be included as part of the park:

* McDonnell Hall in San Jose, where Chavez was first introduced to community organizing.

* Filipino Community Hall in Delano, headquarters for the Latino and Filipino grape worker unions during the 1965 strike.

* The Forty Acres National Historic Landmark in Delano, which became the first home of the United Farm Workers union.

* Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz in Keene, the current headquarters of the UFW and the place where Chavez lived and is buried.

* The Santa Rita Center in Phoenix, where Chavez held a major fast to draw attention to the plight of farmworkers.

Committee on Natural Resources staff indicated Friday that the process by which the report could be converted to a bill would take an uncertain amount of time, even if a member of the House does take up the idea, writes the bill and submits it to the floor of the House.

Fewer than 10 reports, like the one issued Thursday on Chavez's historical legacy, are submitted to the Committee on Natural Resources each year, but the majority of them become bills, committee staff said.

A review of National Park bills already in the congressional pipeline shows current proposals that would establish Harriet Tubman National Historical Park to recognize the woman who smuggled African American slaves to Canada in the 1800s, would create the Manhattan Project National Historical Park recording the work of scientists who developed the first atomic bomb and also a bill that would create the "Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park on the Moon."

The timeline to get a bill from submittal to the president's desk can be uncertain, especially now that a bitterly divided Congress is focused on major debates over the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform.

But in the San Joaquin Valley, the history of the farm labor movement and honors for Chavez could become a campaign issue.

Amanda Renteria of Sanger, a former staffer in the U.S. Senate, has launched a campaign to challenge Valadao, whose seat covers territory that has traditionally been Democratic and is highly Latino.

Renteria, a Democrat, issued a statement Friday as well.

"As we learned the hard way during the government shutdown, national parks bring jobs to the Central Valley," the statement said. "As the daughter of Mexican farmworkers, I believe that creating a park in Cesar Chavez's honor is a win-win. I'm disappointed to hear that David Valadao will not work with our local community to create jobs or to honor a Mexican-American icon."

Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which follows competitive political districts in California, said he's not sure carrying a national park bill honoring Chavez would get Republicans like Valadao and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, much traction.

"There has been a lot of talk about what (Republicans) do to make inroads with Hispanic voters," said Hoffenblum, who built a career managing Republican candidates.

But the biggest supporters of a Cesar Chavez National Park aren't likely to ever vote Republican, he said.

"The type of Latino they need to pick up are the members of the Hispanic chambers -- people who are pro-business and conservative," Hoffenblum said. "Those voters probably do not have really strong views about whether there should be a Cesar Chavez National Park."

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