Mario Rodriguez has been elected to serve as Vice Chair of the California Republican Party. Rodriguez was vigorously opposed in his campaign against Lois Godfrey by leading Latino Republicans, including Alex Burrola and Lee Avila, because Rodriguez, in his capacity as Chair of the Hispanic Business Round Table, endorsed Senator Diane Feinstein over Republican Tom Campbell a few years back. Rodriguez responded to his critics by claiming that the endorsement was by Hispanic Business Round Table, not by himself. Apparently he was able to dent the criticism in a very close win over Godfrey.
Rodriguez is a CEO of a successful company, and he cut his political teeth working on the George W. Bush presidential campaign. His critics knock him for being closely allied with Gerald Parsky, the wealthy attorney and Bush confidante, however sources indicate that State Senator Jim Brulte personally asked all of his associates to vote for Rodriguez, which may have won Rodriguez a few conservative votes.
Interestingly, Rodriguez? ally, Bill Back was defeated by Duf Sundheim in their heated race for the CRP Chairmanship. Sundheim is allied with outgoing CRP Chair Shawn Steel, who attacked Rodriguez for the Feinstein endorsement. Whether or not Rodriguez can get along with Sundheim, who was supported by Steel, remains to be determined.
Governor Gray Davis? consultant, Gary South, recently accused the CRP of being dominated by Anglo males, in a newspaper editorial. The election of Rodriguez will help to blunt such criticism, The rifts within the Latino Republican community that opened with the outing of the Feinstein endorsement, however, may take some time to heal.
There have been no shortage of Latino Republican legislative candidates in the last few years, but many have complained that the CRP does not pay attention to them if they are running in traditionally Democratic seats. Rodriguez has shown an ability to raise money for Republican candidates and he will now be asked to support his fellow Latino candidates. While Rodriguez has maintained that his main goal is to help President Bush to win California in 2004, it will be incumbent on him to stand up for his Latino peers, or else risk losing credibility.
Rodriguez will also be asked to help Latino Republicans in non-partisan races. Too many elected Republican legislators have engaged in endorsing Democrats, sometimes against Latino Republican candidates for school board and city council races. Rodriguez did not, for example, object when Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, a Republican, endorsed Nativo Lopez and John Palacio, both liberal Democrats, for the Santa Ana School Board. Lopez was recently recalled by a non-partisan committee, but the effort cost thousands of dollars and would not have been necessary if Carona had not endorsed Lopez in his reelection campaign, which he barely won.
Rodriguez will also have to further the party?s effort to reach out to Latino voters by establishing better working relationships with the Hispanic press in California. Moreover, he will be asked to lead registration efforts from Los Angeles to San Diego. While he may still be sore at Avila and Burrola, he will need to get them on his side and thereby unite the Latino Republican activists who will be counted on to help Bush in 2004.
I am willing to set aside my own misgivings about Rodriguez and work with him as we move into the next year. However, I will not settle for empty posturing. The CRP is in a world of trouble and we are all going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to work if Bush has any chance of winning our state in 2004.
Rodriguez has the opportunity now to bring us together and to achieve great things. Will he succeed? I hope so, but only time will tell if he can be an effective statewide leader in the CRP. Hopefully he will be the first of many Latino Republicans to ascend to leadership in the CRP in years to come.
Pedroza served as the inaugural Hispanic Outreach Director for the Republican Party of Orange County from '96-'98. He now represents the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction in L.A. & Orange counties. Contact Art at email@example.com.