L.A.'s new Democratic congressman has been in the majority his whole career. Now he's going to Washington

In his six years in the state Assembly, Jimmy Gomez wrote legislation that expanded California’s landmark family leave law, served as Democratic whip and chaired the powerful appropriations committee.

Gomez has spent his entire political career as a member of the majority party. When he’s sworn in as central and northeast Los Angeles’ newest member of Congress in July, he’ll be the most junior Democrat — 194th out of 194 — in Congress.

“A lot of people think I’m crazy, you know, leaving a Democratic supermajority state to go to the superminority in Congress. They say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Gomez said at his primary campaign kickoff in Eagle Rock in February.

Gomez, 42, will be free of the term limits in the state Legislature that can stymie political ambitions, but he’ll have to find a path forward in a Congress dominated by the opposing party. Even if Democrats win back control, he’ll have hundreds of more senior and just as eager colleagues ahead of him in line.

In Sacramento, Gomez was known as a “progressive’s progressive,” said former Assembly Democratic Caucus director Charu Khopkar. Gomez was part of the historically large freshman class that came to Sacramento in 2012 after Assembly districts were redrawn, and he quickly rose to become majority whip.

“He was an excellent fundraiser. He came out of organized labor, and he knew that personal relationships matter. But he took his policy work seriously,” Khopkar said.

Gomez even appeared to put off his Assembly resignation so he could provide an extra vote for the extension of the state’s landmark climate change program, a delay that caused consternation between House Democratic and Republican leaders. 

Although it can take years for a bill to get a hearing in Washington, almost every proposed bill gets at least a hearing in Sacramento, and often a vote in the full Assembly, said Khopkar, who worked on Capitol Hill as a staffer for seven years.

In Congress, “Jimmy is going to find that his legislative work is going to be much more frustrating. He’s going to realize very quickly that being in a minority is significantly different,” Khopkar said. “Even if Democrats were in charge it’s not as easy to come up with a legislative concept and have it considered and become law.”

As chairman of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee, Gomez had the power to review, and even stall, most bills that might have a financial impact on the state.

In Washington he’ll be the lowest-ranked member of whatever committees House leaders assign him to. He’ll get a few moments to question witnesses at the end of hours-long hearings, often after most of his colleagues and the media have left.

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