Ruben Barrales, Party Guy

RNC Communications - May 8, 2013

When President Obama told students in Mexico that without the support of U.S. Latinos he would not be president, he wasn't talking about the GOP's Ruben Barrales. But Barrales gets the message. He is the son of immigrants, and San Mateo County's first Latino supervisor. Mexico gave him its Ohtli medal, for his work on behalf of Mexican Americans. Once a Democrat, he went to work in the George W. Bush White House and ran San Diego's regional chamber of commerce. His principal task now, as head of GROW Elect, is cultivating Latino Republican elected officials in California, not exactly fertile soil for the GOP of late. He has his ideas why, and what to do about it.

This year, Latinos will become the majority in California. How can you get more of them into your party and elected?

The joke is, I'm representing a minority within a minority: Latino Republicans. We can probably have our convention right here in your office.

GROW Elect is going to add what I hope will be real competition for the Latino vote, because right now, one party is taking the Latino community for granted and the other has really not done anything. To Latinos who happen to be Republican, [I] say, "You care about fiscal responsibility or education reform or doing something different in your community? Then I want to provide a support network." Democrats have had a stronger message. They've been more inclusive in the ethnic communities.

You concentrate on California candidates and local politics, nonpartisan and not.

I've seen a lot of outreach models; I'm done with outreach. The GROW Elect model is inclusion. How do you change a party? How do you reflect the community? You help get them elected. Then they are the party. In a few years I want to be able to point to Latinos and Latinas who are standing up for free enterprise and budget reform and pension reform.

As of March 5, we've helped to elect or reelect 33 Latinos to office. I'm looking to raise that to hundreds. And I'm not just interested in winning elections. That's just politics. I'm interested in a network that gives Latinos an opportunity to be on school boards or city councils and make a difference. I want to see both parties there competing for the vote. Show us what you got! Bring it on!

California Republicans dug themselves a hole long ago with Propositions 187 and 209. In 1998, when you ran for state controller, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson wouldn't meet with you.

Let's just say I was honored to have the support of [then-Texas ] Gov. Bush; Jack Kemp, one of my political heroes; John McCain; and other national Republicans. They understood we need to represent everybody.

Bush got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004 compared with Mitt Romney's 27% in 2012.

I was drawn to Bush because of immigration reform. He talked about immigration as a positive thing for the U.S., which I believe it has always been, although it's been polarizing at times. And he talked about education reform, helping black kids and Hispanic kids and poor kids. To me that was appealing, for a Republican to talk like that.

Tone matters. Latinos have this impression that the Republican Party doesn't care about them. One way to bridge the gap is Latinos who are elected officials, who can communicate with the Latino community.

I was working for President Bush when my mom came to visit. We were in front of the Vietnam Memorial, and she's saying, "Hijo, look at all the Latino names on the wall." [The numbers] really struck me.

It's an analogy to what we're trying to do. We want Latinos represented in the party, to be able to see themselves in the party, so the party can represent them more.

What kind of immigration reform do you embrace?

The spectrum: H1B visas — if you come here and study or come with a special expertise to help our high-tech innovation economy; all the way to temporary workers — if you're willing to work hard in jobs quite frankly that a lot of Americans won't take, in agriculture and other work, and you want to go back to your home country. Let's develop a program that lets you do that. That was part of the bracero program.

Does immigration reform mean citizenship?

Maybe for some, but I don't think for all. I know this is a big debate. I know for some that's important; for others, they just want legal status — they still want to be citizens of their home country. I'd like to see a path to citizenship, and definitely to legalization. Not amnesty, but something to become eligible to become a citizen.

What about the Dream Act?

GROW Elect doesn't take positions on policies, [but] personally I think it's important to allow these dreamers the opportunity to become productive citizens here. I was at an event with some of these kids — some of them are so inspirational, so driven, so intelligent, and they just want an opportunity. We're going to be in a position where we need to bring more immigrants in to bring our workforce to a level that's growing our economy.

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