Ruben Barrales, President GROW Elect
Related Story: Latinos May Be Key To Future Of GOP In California
ST. JOHN: The Republican party holds its state convention in Sacramento this weekend. The party is picking up the pieces after a pretty disastrous election last November. Both Houses of the State Legislature are now Democrat-controlled, the Governor is a Democrat. Here in San Diego, the Republicans lost the 52nd congressional race, the mayor's race, and the key seat on the county Board of Supervisors. What does the party have to do to get back in the saddle? The key might be connected to the Latino vote. Our guest is Ruben Barrales who is now president of the relatively new grassroots group called Grow Elect, which is dedicated to recruiting and electing Latinos. Thank you so much for joining us.
BARRALES: Thanks for having me.
ST. JOHN: Now you have a pretty amazing resume. Your parents came to this country from Mexico, you were the first in your family to attend and brought from college.
BARRALES: That's right.
ST. JOHN: Then later in your career, you became an aide to former president George Bush. You've been named as one of the 100 most influential Latinos in the country. What is it that you see in the Republican Party that other Latinos are not seeing?
BARRALES: Well, the reason I'm a Republican, and being a Latino, a minority within a minority, so to speak, for me it relates to the whole idea of growth and opportunity in this country and the opportunity that this country provides for immigrants and for people who have grown up here all their lives. I truly believe in the private sector as in politics, competition is so vital to bring out the best in folks. Obviously it can bring out the worst, some types of competition, but it really brings out the best. And for me growing up in a neighborhood that as my family moved into the neighborhood, it became over time a Latino community, I saw the problems on our streets, the problems with violence, crime, and infrastructure. And in a predominantly Democratically controlled neighborhood, those problems continues to fester, continued to grow. So that's where for me as a young person I said I think we need to create some competition for the vote, some competition for the Latino community. And I eventually ended up running for office and became a county supervisor in San Mateo, was able to work on the issues of crime and education and those kinds of things. And I don't think any one party has all the solutions, but I think competing for the vote and actually working on issues makes a difference.
ST. JOHN: So you have held public office but what made you decide now not to run for public office?
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: But to help other people run for public office?
BARRALES: That's an easy answer. Deciding not to run because I already have. I don't think anyone should run for public office if they don't have the fire in the belly, if they're not really wanting to go through what it takes to help their community and do what it takes. I'm looking for those Latinos, Latinas who have that fire in the belly who want to improve their community. What I'm doing is identifying a new generation of Latino leaders in California and helping them. It would have been a great support for me to have a support network of folk who is have done it before, folks who can help with funding, help introduce donor, and really hope to make them the most effective elected officials possible.
ST. JOHN: How long has Grow Elect been on the road and how successful?
BARRALES: It's been around for just over a year, and after an election cycle that was considered on the Republican side a disaster from the local level, the state level, the federal level, basically the Republican party was wiped out for all intents and purposes, Grow Elect ended up with 30 Latino Republican elected officials throughout the state on a shoestring budget. And as I've looked around for models, efforts to address this whole issue of the gap between the Republican party and the Latino community, I've seen a lot of "outreach." But it's not about outreach. That's not going to do it. To me it's about inclusion. If you want more Latinos in the Republican party, you have to bring more Latinos into the Republican party. That means being the office holders, being the face of the party.
ST. JOHN: And the Democratic Party has been reaching out to the Latinos very consistently, I think. So what do you think is going to work? What is your strategy for bringing more Latinos? How important is money?
BARRALES: It's very important. Candidates need some financial support just to run. Money is critical in politics, that's pretty clear. But you also need sometimes help with how to run a campaign. And then again I'm interested also not just in the electioneering of it, but in helping them be more effective once they're in office. How can they build coalitions to get things done, focus on the things that are most important to the Latino community?
ST. JOHN: Now the state Republican convention is helping this weekend in Sacramento. Are you going?
BARRALES: Yes, I'll be there.
ST. JOHN: Who are you looking forward to hearing? Who are some of the speakers that might bring some fresh energy to the party?
BARRALES: Well, I'm not aware of the entire slate of speakers. I do know Karl Rove will be there, I'm interested in hearing his opinion.
ST. JOHN: But isn't he symptomatic of what has gone wrong in the party? Is that the new voice you're looking for?
BARRALES: Well, I don't know. I know that Jim Brulte will be the chair of the party. Looking forward to hearing from him, hearing about their ideas, and we're going to be bringing a number of our Latino candidates, those who were success. Some that weren't, they're bringing them to the convention. We are really working step by step to change the Republican party, to bring more Latinos into the party. And obviously it's not just Latinos. Diversity, women, the Asian community, and others. African Americans. The party needs to reflect the demographics of California. California is changing. By July of this year, Latinos and Anglos will be a parody, and before the end of this year, Latinos will be the single largest ethnic group in California.
ST. JOHN: Okay. Apparently 1/3 of San Diego County's residents are Latino, and I think it's accurate to say about 18% of the electorate of the registered voters.
BARRALES: I believe so. I don't know exactly. But that sounds right.
ST. JOHN: So your job will be to build that up.
BARRALES: Well, yeah. And it's not just for the sake of campaigns or elections. It's hopefully to have a more inclusive democracy. I don't think one party rule is healthy, and I'd like to see more competition for the Latino vote.
ST. JOHN: So just going back to the platform which will presumably be discussed at this weekend's convention, do you think it's -- do you think the problem last year leading up to now is the way the message is being put across, is it the message, is the platform that needs to change?
BARRALES: I think it's a huge problem, it's everything, it's like a big elephant in the room. And how do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time. I'm bringing these people in, and if you add some salsa, that helps.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: Great line, okay. Representative Diane Harkey, she represents Dana Point just north of us, she wrote that flexibility in policy and values is not the way to go, that would be the downfall of Republican candidates. Do you think now is the time to be sticking to your guns? Where do you think it's appropriate to be flexible and where is it not?
BARRALES: Well, I'm a very flexible person. I think you need to work with what God gives you and what the voters give you. And I think we need to look at issues in a way not about red and blue and winning and losing, but hopefully about getting things done in our communities. So whether it's in our -- in the United States with immigration reform, whether it's in our neighborhoods regarding education reform or filling potholes, whatever the case might be, fixing problems, that's what I'm about. And I don't think anyone can say California overall is in good shape in terms of our governance. And my point is we can do better, but I think we do better if we have more competition in our system and if we engage more people in the system on both sides.
ST. JOHN: Isn't it true to say that a lot of the increase in Latinos who are now eligible to register are very young because they're the children of Mexican parents who were born in this country and are now growing to be an age where they can vote. So you're dealing with a lot of young voters. That's where I would challenge you and say maybe that was a problem. You've got immigration, you've got the party's position on abortion, gay rights, how are you going to appeal to that younger generation?
BARRALES: Well, we're going to talk to them about things that they care about. And yeah, there are different sides to different issues. I'm encouraged as I go around and young people who identify themselves as Republican or GOP-positive, they might say. We have to deal with the issues as they come. I'm not interested in getting to debates about these social, mortgage issues. Will I'm interested in getting to the heart of the problem. Education, infrastructure, I'm interested in governance issues that we're facing here in California.
ST. JOHN: Well, Latinos have supported the health reform, Obamacare as it's known. So Republicans oppose that. This is a key issue for a lot of families. How are you going to tackle that?
BARRALES: Well, again being very flexible, I understand it does no good to howl at the moon. Right now, California is moving forward in terms of implementation. So I want to make sure that we have elected officials who are relevant, who can address the issue in a fiscally prudent manner, ones that understand the key here is providing health at an affordable cost that's accessible to the community. So how do we do that? And actually identifying where problems, where we see problems in the implementation. I don't think it's healthy to have a huge new change in a system and not have constructive criticism, not have a critical eye on how it's being implemented if you just have a dominance of one side or the other.
ST. JOHN: I think moderates become a dirty word in the party. The tea party is in a sense defining the party more than perhaps people like yourself would like, is that true? How can you get a position on these hot-button issues like immigration and birth control without flexibility, moderation, all those things?
BARRALES: That's a great question. There's no other guest here to answer that? It's just me?
[ LAUGHTER ]
BARRALES: I don't know! Abortion is definitely an issue. Women's rights, obviously those are issues. But the problem with California today in my opinion, No.1 problem is not the issue of abortion. Our No.1 problem is we're in a fiscal mess in Sacramento, we need to improve our economy, we need to deal with the infrastructure challenges we're facing, we need to figure out how to provide the services that people need. I don't mean to belittle any issue at all, but I guess my point is I'm not interested in getting in debates about the overall philosophy of either party or any particular strand within those parties. I'm interested in trying to solve problems. And the only way I know to solve problems as I did as an elected official is you actually get elected and then you work with people in the neighborhoods on the issues they care about. In east Palo Alto, the FBI called it the per capita murder capital of the United States. And we worked regardless of party lines wallet mayor and the council of this city and community activists there to help the community create a safer neighborhood. And those are the kinds of things that drive me.
ST. JOHN: And just to touch on methods for a minute, the Republican party has also faced criticism for being a bit old fashioned and not keeping up with the digital age, for example. Romney's strategist Stewart Stevens apparently could be one of the last guys to run a presidential campaign who never tweeted.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: That's something that I read. There is just such a whole new way of campaigning out there. How much will your group be working with different strategies for the Republican party?
BARRALES: A lot. That was an unfortunate, I guess. I don't know. I have to hire a 14-year-old to help me figure out how to be most effective. But I do know that that is the way we need to communicate. We need to be online. But again it's got to be a multi-level approach for both sides. You've got to be knocking on people's doors, talking at community meetings, but also using technology.
ST. JOHN: Great. The new president of a new grassroots group called Grow Elect, it's been a pleasure having you.
BARRALES: Thanks, Alison.