With a population that is more than 70 percent Latino, California's newly created 21st District would seem fertile territory for Democrats. But Republican state Assembly member David Valadao, a third-generation farmer and dairy farmer of Portuguese descent, won the seat over Democrat John Hernandez with a message that he better understands the agricultural area's problems.
Valadao's father emigrated to California from Portugal's Azores Islands and started a small dairy farm in Kings County in 1969. When Valadao was 8 years old, the family moved to Hanford. In an interview, he recalled riding in the car with his parents the day that all three voted for the first time. He was 18 and a registered Republican; his parents, who became naturalized citizens, were Democrats, although they eventually switched parties.
Valadao worked on the family's farm, driving the tractor that carried feed for the animals and handling contracts and purchases. He attended the College of the Sequoias for two and half years on a part-time basis but did not graduate. The single political science class he took "piqued my interest in politics, but I never considered running for office," he said. In 1992, he became a partner in Valadao Dairy with his brother.