By Raoul Lowery Contreras
The San Diego Republican Party hasn’t changed much in the past 50-plus years. It is still Anglo-centric, anti-minority, anti-modernity and still thinks it appeals to reasonable people.
Rear Admiral Leslie E. Gehres was County Republican Chairman when I became active in the GOP at San Diego State University in 1962.
Being 21 and a gung-ho “Young Republican,” I became the “gofer” for the admiral and the behind-the-scenes money men and women of the county GOP. I was tapped to be on candidate committees, being the “Mexican” face in each campaign and doing research at the massive new San Diego State library. Those were heady days for a young political junkie.
At one county committee meeting, I asked the admiral if he would name me a County Committee Associate Member. He looked at me for a moment, then asked: “Why?” I said, “Admiral, look around, I’m the only person here that looks like me.” “No,” he said, “you aren’t ready.”
I went on that year to serve as co-chairman of a statewide Richard Nixon for Governor Committee, served on three legislative campaign committees, the sheriff’s committee and was hired by a new Los Angeles campaign-management firm, Spencer-Roberts, in the campaign to re-elect a Senate GOP leader, Tom Kuchel.
Stu Spencer and Bill Roberts made Ronald Reagan governor four years later and President in 1980. I was in good company.
The admiral wasn’t looking forward, he was looking backward. He never imagined that California would be 40 percent or more Hispanic and that Hispanics would deliver million-vote pluralities against Republicans running for President. I did, and I told everyone at the time. They didn’t listen. They didn’t want to listen.
Aside: In 1972, County Chairman Gehres asked me to run for Congress in a 70 percent Democrat district against a ten-year Democrat incumbent. He didn’t put $50,000 into the bank, so I declined.
Fast forward to the other night at a beautiful hillside house overlooking the ocean in La Jolla Shores. Some 150 people showed up to a $500-a-couple fundraiser to help Hispanic Republicans run for office in California. Most were Anglos. Many were well-known San Diegans, including San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer, San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond, retired financier Kim Fletcher, County Supervisor Ron Roberts, former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis (now running for County Supervisor), current District Attorney Summer Stephan, Riverside County District Attorney Michael A. Hestrin, State Representative Marie Waldron, Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego councilwoman Lorrie Zapf and the world-renowned weight-loss pioneer Jenny Craig.
The GOP county chairman? I didn’t see him.
The fundraiser was organized to help “Grow Elect” that is run by Ruben Barrales, a former San Mateo County Supervisor, assistant to President George W. Bush and president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Moishe Moreno and Kevin Spillane work with him.
They school Hispanic Republicans to run for elective office from water districts up to and including the state legislature. They help with voter materials, strategy and money.
For example, Esther Valdes, a Hispanic immigration attorney who is a single mother raised in poverty by immigrant Mexicans parents, decided to run for the Coronado school board. She had no idea how to run. She connected with Grow Elect. They advised her and mailed numerous political pieces to Coronado residents. She won, the first Hispanic to win election in mostly Anglo Coronado. She won with 67 percent of the vote.
Valdes electrified the fundraiser with a fiery speech that rocked the mostly Anglo audience. They liked her. A year-ago she was walking precincts in Coronado on the advice of Grow Elect, just as material designed and paid by Grow Elect was reaching the voters she was personally meeting.
She is one of almost 200 Hispanic Republicans who have won offices throughout California in four or so years with Grow Elect help.
This effort is building from the bottom up, not top down. The GOP hierarchy is still thinking like 1960s Republicans — like the ones who criticized me for what they perceived as a huge chip on my shoulder and who wouldn’t listen to my message: Bring Hispanics in or lose.
Some, not all, are listening now as California Republican registration drops to only 25 percent and continues shrinking.
The ultra-mainstream New Majority Republicans of San Diego County have joined up. Businessman Ray Ellis presented “Grow Elect” with a New Majority check for $25,000 to add to the substantial amount raised at the beautiful house in La Jolla.
The fundraiser was in progress when the California Republican Party announced that former Trump advisor Steve Bannon — an avowed nationalist, anti-immigrant and “America First” firebrand — would speak at the State Party meeting 48 hours hence.
Which Republicans will win this epic struggle? Establishment-hater Bannon who revels in record-low Hispanic support or the “Grow Elect” people I stood among the other night?
Answer: Not Bannon, who is busy trying to overthrow the Republicans in the Senate. Grow Elect will because it is rebuilding the party from the ground up, and doing it with Hispanics — whose median age is 26. Grow Elect accepts the present, but sees and lives for the future.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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