Former Congressman Gil Cisneros was nominated by President Joe Biden on Monday to be the next Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness at the Department of Defense, becoming only the latest prominent Californian to be nominated by the White this year.
Cisneros had served in the Navy from 1989 to 2000. Starting off as enlisted straight out of high school, Cisneros was part of Operation Desert Shield during the Gulf War before becoming an officer in 1994 through an R.O.T.C. scholarship. There he served as a supply officer before leaving as a Lieutenant Commander. Following the military he was a shipping manager at Frito-Lay before being laid-off in 2010. Cisneros then won the lottery later that year, collecting $266 million and becoming a philanthropist for the next 8 years, awarding numerous scholarships to Southern Californian students.
In 2018, Cisneros ran for the 39th Congressional seat as a Democrat, winning a close election against Republican Young Kim in the Orange County district and being part of the ‘blue wave’ of Democrats winning Republican held seats that year. In Congress, Cisneros was on both the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees, with his most notable piece of legislation being the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, which made sexual harassment a crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
However, Cisneros failed to hold the seat for more than a term, losing to Young Kim in 2020 by a similarly close margin and becoming one of several Democrats to lose their seats that night to the GOP in California.
If confirmed as Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, which would involve working in the Pentagon, Cisneros would be responsible for administering military readiness issues and to look after education and health care benefits for the Department of Defense. The position would also entail being the Pentagon’s advisor on component affairs for both the National Guard and other reserve components.
Cisneros’ nomination opens up the 2022 race for Democrats in the 39th district
Cisneros’ nomination, if successful, will also have the side effect of opening up the 39th district race in 2022, as most political experts had expected him to run again against Congresswoman Kim.
“It’s going to be redistricted in the next few years of course, but right now, CA-39 is one of the most vulnerable districts in the country,” noted Orange County-based pollster Carmela Fernandez to the Globe. “Orange County is fighting to be Republican right now, and has some radically shifting demographics in recent years. Look at the last two elections there. Narrow margins of victory with extremely diverse candidates from both parties.”
“With Cisneros now looking like he’ll be in Washington at an appointment capacity, Democrats now have an opportunity to pick someone new to challenge Kim next year. It’s going to be interesting who they pick, because Orange County seems to be retaining a lot more Republicans than the Democrats would like right now, with the GOP in particular eyeing to get the rest of the Congressional seats in the county not held by Republicans to be back at pre-2018 strength. Namely that means (Congresswoman) Katie Porter (D-CA).”
Since the nomination announcement on Monday, many Southern Californian Democrats have been working on finding a viable candidate to replace Cisneros. On Tuesday, Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) quickly backed veteran and President of the Board of Trustees for Mt. San Antonio Community College Jay Chen for a 2022 run, highlighting how contentious the district has been in recent years.
Cisneros is due to have a Senate confirmation hearing for the position in the coming months.