How did you get interested in the subject of Latino
I came of age in the 1970s at the height of the farmworkers movement. I did
my thesis on the history of the Mexican American Political
Association and participated in rallies at the Capitol
demanding the passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations
The other part is I married a Latina whose father helped
organize the GI Forum in California in the 1950s. Through my new family I had access to many of the
early Latino politicians. What I discovered is that
no one had told their story.
Sounds like you had some interesting experiences back
in the day.
Yes. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I was active
in the anti-apartheid movement, worked for the United Farm Workers,
and turned a summer internship with the Senate Democratic
Caucus into a paying gig for a semester.
I also attended the 1980 Democratic convention as a Ted Kennedy delegate. I
flew to New York with Dolores Huerta. She was an icon,
even back then. We were walking down the hall and ran
into Bobby Kennedy Jr. He invited us to go to Studio
54 as his guest, which at the time was the most exclusive
nightclub in New York. It was an amazing experience.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, I attended the Kennedy
School of Government at Harvard. That summer I went
to Washington with Congressman Bob Matsui as his Lyndon
B. Johnson intern. We were the only interns in Congress
who got a paycheck, even if modest. It was the time
in your life when you look for the receptions so you
don't have to buy dinner.
Later I had the honor of getting to know a number of
"old-timers" in politics. I got to know Carlos McCormick, a Santa
Barbara native and the architect of Viva Kennedy, who
was the first Latino to advise a president of the United
One of the other treasures was Gus Hawkins, the first
Democratic African American Assemblyman in California
history. He was elected in 1934. Gus said to me, "You won't believe this, but I was elected by white folks." Back in the 1920s and '30s, most blacks were Republicans because of Abraham
Lincoln. Hawkins started his race with support of the
black unions and then reached out to the sizable number
of Dust Bowl refugees in the Central Los Angeles district.
He told them, "You're for Franklin Roosevelt and so am I." He won with these white votes and got rid of a black
Republican establishment. I love those kinds of old
Tell me more about the book. Did you get any pushback
from people who thought this book should be written
by a Latino?
No, I didn't. In fact, the old-timers were so happy to have someone to talk to about
this because some of their own kids were getting tired
of hearing the stories. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
graciously wrote the foreword to "The Search for a Civic Voice."
What the book shows is that Latino politics began earlier
than it is commonly assumed. It goes back to President
Roosevelt and the New Deal. Latinos helped elect Governor
Culbert Olson in California in 1938. He rewarded them by appointing a Latino judge and
naming a couple of activists to state boards and commissions.
You worked for Willie Brown. Have you read his new
I haven't, but I plan to. Mr. Brown loved the art of the deal.
He also lived life on a grand scale. I recall one staff
meeting where he spent nearly an hour describing in
rich detail his interaction with the Southern gentry
at the Kentucky Derby.
I was in Member Services. I'd go off the payroll and do campaigns. I took the photo
of the "security guards" hired by Curt Pringle to intimidate Latino voters
in Orange County. I said, "I've got to shoot this because otherwise no one will
believe us." I got my hands on a Polaroid camera. Pringle and the
Republicans eventually settled out of court for $400,000.
You also worked for John Garamendi.
Yes, during his first term as insurance commissioner,
in the early 1990s. We sought to make the department the most consumer-friendly agency in the nation. We also sought to use
the office to shape public policy. I organized health
care and redlining forums, and dealt with earthquake
insurance. It was an exciting time because the commissioner
was also gearing up to run for governor.
Tell me more about what you're up to these days.
For the past 10 years, I've been the political director for the California Federation
of Teachers. In fact, I'm the first and only political director they've had. My job is to oversee the endorsements of state
legislators and constitutional officers. I also spend
a lot of time focused on voter initiatives.
Policy questions also interest me. For many years I
have served on the board of the Pat Brown Institute
and am a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. And my two
kids keep me busy. My son, Stephen, is 16 and Kate, my daughter, is 11. It was exciting to take them to the last Democratic
convention in Boston.