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Remembering Romualdo

As published in Flash Report

by Vince Vasquez

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This week marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, an appropriate occasion to recognize the California Republican Party’s historic roots with Latino voters. If the GOP seeks to make more inroads with the state’s largest and fastest growing ethnic group, it should consider channeling a powerful political pioneer.

In focus is Romualdo Pacheco, the only Latino to ever serve as Governor of California, and a registered Republican. Born in Santa Barbara in October 1831, Governor Pacheco was a son of a Californio family, the prominent ranchers who settled the original West Coast territory prior to its annexation in 1848 to the United States. Originally beginning his career as a registered Democrat, Pacheco passionately identified with the Unionist, anti-slavery planks of the GOP, and changed his party affiliation to Republican shortly after the GOP’s founding.

First elected as a Republican to the California State Senate in 1861, Pacheco’s public service career with the GOP stretched across three decades, including stints in Sacramento as State Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor. As acting Governor from 1875 to 1876, government records find that he championed higher education, and assisted with the development of the University of California system. In his lifetime, Pacheco achieved success as an elected official, a rancher, a diplomat, a judge, and even purportedly lassoed a grizzly bear. Governor Pacheco is also distinguished as the first elected Latino to ever represent a state in the United States Congress, having served three terms in the House of Representatives from 1877 to 1883. California Republicans and Latinos should take pride in Pacheco’s remarkable career and principled leadership, but few are aware of his accomplishments in today’s partisan political climate.

Over decades of hard work, candidate recruitment efforts and strategic issue positioning, the Democratic Party has cultivated a public perception as the “home” of Latino voters.

According to the latest estimates from the Public Policy Institute of California, 63% of state Latino voters are registered Democrats. This is not to say that Latinos are firmly fixed in the blue column; though only 19% of state Latino voters are registered Republicans, more than 1/3 (37%) lean ideologically conservative. Democrat and Independent Hispanic voters have also demonstrated a willingness to cross political aisles and support strong Republican candidates, as evident in the exit polling done after President Bush’s and Governor Schwarzenegger’s reelections.

Finding a starting point for dialogue with Latino residents (which now number about 14 million in the Golden State) can improve the California Republican Party’s (CRP) future chances as a competitive choice for Hispanic voters at the ballot box, and Governor Pacheco gives that golden opportunity today. This month, the California Republican Party should weigh the merits of starting a new fall tradition and passing an official proclamation recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month, along with the honorable career of Governor Pacheco. County central committees should be encouraged to follow suit in their respective September meetings.

With enough support from state party leaders and donors, ongoing recognition efforts for Pacheco could potentially be folded into a new legacy project in the fashion of President Ronald Reagan’s Legacy Project , which would press municipal governments and private institutions for recognition of Governor Pacheco along streets, parks, and public buildings of historical significance. It was Ronald Reagan after all who in 1988 gave America the current 30-day Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, expanding shorter recognitions authorized by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford.

Giving more California Latinos an opportunity to celebrate the life of Governor Romualdo Pacheco in their community should be on the agenda item of every state Republican leader, as well as every true Latino community leader. This Hispanic Heritage Month, the CRP should consider new ways to reach out to a constituency that has its deepest roots in its party’s history.