Blanca and Susan Rubio were deported as kids; now they’re California lawmakers
They spent their childhood on both sides of the Mexican border, on both sides of U.S. immigration laws. Dad was a factory worker, mom a housekeeper. The family spoke little English.
In high school, in the 1980s, when Blanca and Susan Rubio expressed interest in college, a high school counselor suggested they look instead at home-economics classes to get ready for marriage and children.
The Rubio sisters did not grow up imagining careers in elected office.
“I used to believe you could only be in politics if you were related to a Kennedy,” Susan Rubio said recently.
What a difference education, persistence and a lot of teamwork can make.
When Susan Rubio, a Democrat, defeated a more established Democrat in November’s election for a state Senate seat representing the San Gabriel Valley, she and second-term Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, also a Democrat, became the first sisters to serve together in the California Legislature.
It might take a while before the Rubios are thought of as a political family on the level of the Kennedys, or the Bushes, Browns, Hahns or Sánchezes. But one political analyst is already calling the Rubio sisters two of the 25 most powerful political figures in the region — emphasis on two.
“Those are two of the new power brokers in L.A. County,” said Alan Clayton, a Democratic redistricting expert who has worked to elect Latino candidates but wasn’t involved in the Rubios’ campaigns. “Because they’re a duo.”
Clayton noted that either of the Rubios could be well-positioned to run for the 32nd Congressional District seat if Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte, who’s 82, were to retire.
Blanca embraces the idea that they can be a potent team.
“We are going to be a force to be reckoned with,” she says. “I’m tenacious and Susan’s tenacious. Can you imagine us together?”
Blanca Rubio, 49, and Susan Rubio, 48, both born in Juarez, Mexico, attribute their political success mostly to hard work.
“We knew we weren’t the anointed ones,” Blanca said. “We knew we had to work harder.”
While Blanca, D-Baldwin Park, ran unopposed in last year’s race for the 48th Assembly District, she walked precincts to help Susan, D-Baldwin Park, defeat Mike Eng for the 22nd Senate District. Blanca says she lost 35 pounds in the effort.
Susan’s 4.6 point victory was a surprise to most observers, even in a district where more than half the population is Latino. Eng, a former Monterey Park mayor and six-year state assemblyman who is the husband of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, had the support of the California Democratic Party, many of the area’s top Democratic elected officials, and labor unions.
But Susan Rubio made the fundraising race competitive by drawing donations from business groups that saw her as their best option in an election without a Republican contender. Her top 10 campaign contributors, according to Votesmart.org, included oil, realty, construction, trucking and pharmaceutical concerns.
“It gives me a lot of optimism,” said Covina Mayor Walter Allen III, a Republican. Though Allen supported Eng, he views the campaign as an indication that his new senator will be friendly to local business interests.