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1988 Republican National Convention : Gaddi Vasquez’s Role: an ‘American Dream’ on GOP Prime Time

Times Staff Writer

In the opening of the movie “La Bamba,” a young Latino man is riding a motorcycle to a migrant farm worker camp in Northern California when he passes a rusted signpost that says Pacheco Pass--a quick scene, probably lost on most of the film’s audience.

But Orange County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez saw it. He knew that sign.

“I held my breath, and I choked,” he said. “That was me, that was my life. I remembered it just like it was yesterday.”

Vasquez spent much of his early childhood traveling the farmlands of the western United States, playing with his younger brother in the fields while his parents picked beans, apples, cotton or strawberries.

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But that was a long time ago.

Today Vasquez, the county’s first Latino supervisor, is in New Orleans, preparing to give a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention on the night Vice President George Bush is to be nominated for the presidency.

Gaddi Holquin Vasquez, now 33, has impressed a lot of people in his short life.

Bee Molina, national president of the Mexican-American Political Assn., a largely Democratic organization, says, “If anybody would be running as a minority for higher office (in California), it would be Gaddi Vasquez.”

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And Gov. George Deukmejian, who hired Vasquez as an aide in 1985 and appointed him to his seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors last year, reportedly views him as one of the leading contenders for the vacant state treasurer’s job.

Vasquez, who won his first election only two months ago, is an “American Dream” Republican. He preaches about the opportunities he has had in his life--opportunities that do not come, he says, from the dependency created by the government handouts of the Democratic Party platform.

People should be free to work and achieve their own opportunities, he says. The role of government is to ensure that the opportunities are available.

Vasquez is certain of one thing happening at the convention: that he will be asked hundreds of times to explain why he is a Republican. Recently, when he was profiled by a national news network, the announcer introduced him as “a Republican who looks more like a Democrat.”

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But Vasquez says that the stereotype that all Latinos are Democrats and Catholics is changing. The traditional beliefs of the Latino community--"in family, in God and country"--are actually more consistent with the Republican Party, Vasquez maintains.

The supervisor’s parents are both longtime Democrats. And although Vasquez lives by their teachings of discipline and compassion, he has translated that message into a Republican context.

“My dad lived by the Scripture, ‘If you sow, ye shall reap,’ ” Vasquez said. “And there’s only one way that you sow--you get out there and you work. If you work, you will reap the benefits. If you loaf, you are not going to get anything in return--and you don’t deserve it.”

Even during the difficult times of his childhood, Vasquez said, there was no resentment in his family against landowners or the government. Guadalupe Vasquez, who was trained as an Apostolic minister in Mexico City, taught his children to be thankful.

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“I was raised that this is a good country,” the supervisor said. “You honor your country, you pray for your leaders and you are grateful for what you have. Here’s my little house, sitting on the dirt in Watsonville. But you know what--you’ve got a roof over your head. So you give thanks to God for that roof.”

Those messages are still the foundation of Vasquez’s character. He does not drink. He is the only Orange County supervisor who does not accept gifts or meals--or allow his staff to accept gifts or meals--from business contacts. He is known as a fair and conscientious listener and a very hard worker.

In high school, much of his extracurricular time was spent studying and training for speech competitions, of which he eventually won more than 30 throughout the West. When he was 14, he became an active Explorer Scout with the Orange Police Department, where he would become an officer in 1975.

His church has also consumed much of Vasquez’s time over the years. He was elected to the maximum of two terms, each lasting two years, as international president of the Apostolic Church’s youth program, and he traveled worldwide to address young audiences about leadership skills and the development of their ideals.

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“What I would do typically is catch a plane on a Friday evening, go to Houston, New York, Miami or Denver and be back on Sunday night for work on Monday,” Vasquez said. His church duties also took him to Europe, South America and Central America.

Vasquez, who has lived in Orange County since his father founded a church in Orange when he was 5, married a childhood friend, and they now have a 9-year-old son, Jason.

A short time after their marriage, Vasquez went to work for Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande. He was recruited from there by Southern California Edison Co., which wanted him for a high-paying executive position. But he held that job only four months before he was lured to Sacramento by Deukmejian for a job as the governor’s liaison with the Latino community.

He soon became an appointments secretary and worked closely with the governor in that job, screening hundreds of candidates for gubernatorial appointments to various boards and committees.

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In April, 1987, while still a governor’s aide, Vasquez was appointed to the supervisor’s seat left open by Nestande’s mid-term resignation. The timing of the appointment meant that he would have to face the voters barely a year later, and there was open skepticism--even among Republican ranks--as to whether he would survive the June, 1988, election.

But he raised more than $400,000 in campaign contributions and, when the day of truth came, he faced only one minor opponent. He won so easily that the achievement did not attract a lot of attention.


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