The Latino Legislative Caucus elected Assemblyman Ricardo Lara as its new chairman today, replacing Assemblyman Tony Mendoza.
A leadership transition involving the two Assembly Democrats will begin immediately, with Mendoza, of Artesia, officially stepping down March 9, said Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Montebello.
Calderon declined to discuss reasons for the caucus' decision to replace Mendoza with Lara, saying only that "the chairman and the body of the caucus were just going in two different directions."
Mendoza said he was stepping down as caucus leader to run in June for a seat on the Central Basin Municipal Water District.
But dissatisfaction with Mendoza's leadership contributed to the change in caucus leadership, other legislative sources said.
Some of the caucus's 23 Latino members had been concerned about Mendoza's performance in matters ranging from fundraising to a controversy last year involving the caucus' failure to identify donors to its nonprofit foundation. Mendoza ultimately reported donors to the charitable group after Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez requested that he do so.
More recently, controversy was sparked by machinations surrounding a caucus vote to endorse former Assemblyman Tom Calderon - brother of incumbent lawmakers Charles and Ronald Calderon - in his current race for the Assembly, sources said.
Mendoza, in a written statement, characterized himself as an independent politician "who does not go along to get along," qualities that he says can serve the water district well in years ahead.
"I know I have ruffled a few feathers as I fought for my constituents rather than doing what was easy," he said. "I want to take that same questioning of the status quo to the water district."
Lara, of Bell Gardens, is a former legislative staff member who was elected to the Assembly in 2010. He currently is running for the state Senate.
Lara declined to discuss any past caucus friction.
"We want to look forward," he said. "I'm definitely humbled and honored to have the support of my colleagues and have the united support of the caucus behind my chairmanship."
* Updated at 2:30 p.m. to add quote from Assemblyman Tony Mendoza. Updated at 3:30 p.m. to add reaction from Assemblyman Ricardo Lara.