GOP ad­vi­sor guides Demo­crat’s bid

Un­likely po­lit­i­cal al­liance be­tween Demo­crat and GOP con­sul­tant could shape state’s 2018 gov­er­nor’s race

The Mercury News Weekend - - LOCAL NEWS - By Lau­rel Rosen­hall CAL­mat­ters

One wants to end the death penalty. The other thinks capital pun­ish­ment is just. One cam­paigned for tax in­creases that the other op­posed. One tried to put Hil­lary Clin­ton in the White House. The other helped elect Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

What both men be­lieve, how­ever, is that Lati­nos— Cal­i­for­nia’s largest eth­nic group — suf­fer dis­pro­por­tion­ate lev­els of poverty in part be­cause they barely turn out to vote.

That com­mon ground helps form the ba­sis of an un­likely po­lit­i­cal al­liance that could shape the 2018 race to de­ter­mine the next gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia. Demo­crat An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa — a for­mer mayor of Los An­ge­les and speaker of the Assem­bly— has hired a Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant to work on his cam­paign to be­come Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor.

“I brought him on be­cause I want a broad cross sec­tion of

eyes and ears to help me nav­i­gate through what ad­mit­tedly is tough ter­rain ahead,” Vil­laraigosa said in an in­ter­view. “I make the de­ci­sions ul­ti­mately. But I’m smart enough to know I don’t know ev­ery­thing.”

The GOP con­sul­tant, Mike Madrid, is a widely rec­og­nized ex­pert in Latino vot­ing pat­terns who has long urged Repub­li­cans to reach out more to Latino vot­ers. He was the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can Party’s po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor in the 1990s and, more re­cently, has been paid by the state party to re­search lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions. But Madrid has been so turned off by Don­ald Trump that he says he did not vote for a pres­i­dent last year and has be­gun crit­i­ciz­ing his party for adopt­ing a na­tion­al­is­tic tone.

Though work­ing across party lines is not un­usual in gov­ern­ing, it is less com­mon in the more com­bat­ive realm of elec­toral pol­i­tics. Vil­laraigosa had a Repub­li­can chief of staff when he was mayor of Los An­ge­les. Madrid has done re­search for the Leg­is­la­ture’s Latino Cau­cus, which is only open to Democrats. But this race marks the first time ei­ther man has for­mally joined forces with some­one from the op­po­site party dur­ing a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign.

“Isn’t that what’s wrong with pol­i­tics right now — the scream­ing, the po­lar­iza­tion?” Vil­laraigosa said. “I think peo­ple are look­ing for uniters. And I am a uniter.”

Their bi­par­ti­san al­liance comes as Cal­i­for­nia has shifted to an open­pri­mary sys­tem, in which the “top two” vote-get­ters on the June bal­lot will ad­vance to the gen­eral elec­tion— even if they are from the same party. So far four Democrats and two Repub­li­cans have en­tered the gov­er­nor’s race, and the most re­cent poll shows Vil­laraigosa in sec­ond place to fel­low Demo­crat Gavin New­som, the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and for­mer mayor of San Fran­cisco.

The “top two” sys­tem was de­signed to nudge can­di­dates to ap­peal to vot­ers be­yond their own party, although Vil­laraigosa said it was not a fac­tor in his de­ci­sion to hire Madrid.

The two men share sim­i­lar bi­ogra­phies — the grand­chil­dren of Mex­i­can im­mi­grants, both grew up in work­ing class fam­i­lies in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. But long be­fore they joined forces, they were po­lit­i­cal ri­vals.

In the 1990s, Vil­laraigosa was speaker of the Assem­bly andMadrid was the press sec­re­tary to the Assem­bly Repub­li­can leader. As a con­se­quence of a po­lit­i­cal spat nei­ther leader can ex­plain to­day, Vil­laraigosa had stopped is­su­ing pay­checks to the Repub­li­can leader’s staff. Af­ter a few months, Madrid — whose job re­quired him to live in Sacra­mento, away from his South­ern Cal­i­for­nia home — was go­ing broke and de­cided he had to con­front Vil­laraigosa.

“I said, ‘Look, I’ve got a preg­nant wife at home and I’m sleep­ing on my friend’s couch. I need to getmy pay­check ap­proved. Can you help me out?'” Madrid re­called. “He looks at me and says, ‘ Let me see­what I can do.’ Very non­com­mit­tal.”

But Vil­laraigosa was moved by Madrid’s ap­peal and im­me­di­ately re­leased the pay­check. “So that’s where the re­la­tion­ship started,” Vil­laraigosa said.

The Assem­bly Repub­li­can leader at the time, Rod Pacheco, didn’t know that Madrid is now work­ing for Vil­laraigosa un­til a re­porter told him.

“Are you kid­ding?” he replied.

Af­ter fur­ther re­flec­tion, Pacheco said the ar­range­ment makes sense given the de­cline of the Repub­li­can party in Cal­i­for­nia and how the state’s open pri­mary is shak­ing up tra­di­tional par­ti­san dy­nam­ics.

“An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa doesn’t need a Latino con­sul­tant to tell him about Lati­nos,” Pacheco said, adding that Madrid’s “value is re­ally as a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant, and he knows Repub­li­can pol­i­tics very well.”

In a tra­di­tional pri­mary, the four Democrats run­ning for gov­er­nor would be go­ing af­ter the party’s lib­eral base. “In a ‘ top two,’ I’m as­sum­ing An­to­nio is look­ing at how can he pull vot­ers (out­side) of the base,” said Dana Wil­liamson, a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant who is not work­ing on a gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign. “I think he knows he is at a po­lit­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage with the left.”

Both Vil­laraigosa and New­som have pro­gres­sive track records — sup­port­ing gun con­trol, mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion and gay mar­riage. But Vil­laraigosa clashed with la­bor unions dur­ing his ten­ure as L. A. mayor and blamed teacher unions for low per­for­mance in the city’s schools.

In their race for gov­er­nor of this over­whelm­ingly Demo­cratic state, New­som has won en­dorse­ments from the teach­ers’ and nurses’ unions, while Vil­laraigosa is po­si­tion­ing him­self as more of a cen­trist. He fre­quently talks about the state’s eco­nomic di­vide and has called for lim­it­ing statewide reg­u­la­tions, themes Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans have used to at­tack rul­ing Democrats.

If Vil­laraigosa em­braces the Repub­li­can argument that de-reg­u­lat­ing in­dus­try will lead to more jobs, “that’s go­ing to be a big prob­lem,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the Cal­i­for­nia La­bor Fed­er­a­tion, a pow­er­ful union um­brella group that has not yet en­dorsed a candidate in the race.

“(It) is go­ing to do noth­ing to al­le­vi­ate poverty but is a boon to big busi­ness in­ter­ests.”

Madrid shares Vil­laraigosa’s in­ter­est in ex­pand­ing jobs in de­pressed re­gions and en­gag­ing Latino vot­ers. But he said he does not ad­vise Vil­laraigosa on pol­icy po­si­tions, in­stead fo­cus­ing on sta­tis­ti­cal vot­ing mod­els that could help ex­pand his reach.

“That won’t pull him to the right, it will ex­plain his record to a broader base of vot­ers,” Madrid said.

MAX WHIT­TAKER — CAL­MAT­TERS

Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial candidate An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa, left, and Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Mike Madrid in the of­fices of Grass­roots Lab in Sacra­mento.

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