Chat & Selfie

L.A. political leader Arturo Vargas has high hopes for Latinos in Washington

The Times talks with political leader Arturo Vargas on Latinos' strong, and growing, presence in politics

California recently rode shotgun with Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and its educational fund, on a quick tour of his childhood neighborhood in L.A.'s Pico-Union district. The place has changed in recent years, with the downtown skyline looming ever closer and Korean barbecues rubbing up against pupuserias. We chatted over breakfast at Rodeo Mexican Grill, then emailed the Stanford grad a few questions. We've crunched the conversation into this:



Arturo Vargas: In the March 29 California section, the headline with a Chat & Selfie interview of Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, described him as an L.A. native. He was born in El Paso, not Los Angeles. The online headline, which called him L.A.-born, has been corrected.


You had a hot Oscar-night Tweet.

"Great #Oscar2015 #immigrationreform and #votingrightsact take center stage" — my most retweeted tweet! @ArturoNALEO

Your organization is nonpartisan. But come on, aren't Latino Republicans as elusive as chupacabras?

You'd be surprised. There is a growing number of Latino Republicans in local offices, school boards and city councils. The GOP is investing at the local level. The Democratic National Committee could learn some things.

Politics is a rough sport — but didn't the NALEO Educational Fund's first offices have a boxing ring?

The late congressman Edward Roybal purchased the old Resurrection Church campus in Boyle Heights from the L.A. Archdiocese. He converted the church hall into the organization's offices, the rectory into a women's shelter and the sanctuary into a boxing gym where Oscar De La Hoya got his start.

When is California going to have a Latino governor?

2018, but don't hold me to it. The U.S. Senate races are creating an interesting dynamic.

A Latino president?

I used to say that my work would be done when we had a Latino U.S. senator. There have been five in the past 15 years. I then thought that in my lifetime maybe there would be a Latino on the U.S. Supreme Court; now Justice Sonia Sotomayor sits on the high court. So, I now say we will absolutely have a Latino president within my lifetime, and I want to be a special guest at her or his inauguration.

You've been the boss at the NALEO Educational Fund for 20 years. What's taking so long?

Hey, give me a break! I've been working on the U.S. Senate (with its five Latino members), Cabinet members (nine), statewide elected officials (12 this year) and Supreme Court justices (one). The Oval Office and Naval Observatory are next on the list.

Washington, D.C., vs. Los Angeles: Which town is more politically cutthroat?

Washington, D.C., hands down. At least in L.A. we can get some things done!

It sounds like you spend half your life in the air. LAX or Burbank?

Burbank, unless I want a nonstop to D.C., which is about twice a month.

What does your staff make fun of you for?

Ha! My penchant for strong coffee in the morning (two cups) and my compulsive need to edit any and every document placed in front of me.

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