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Election Could Deliver a Latino Governor, But Not the First

May 11, 2018

By Arturo Castañares

The campaign to replace outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown is heating up among five candidates that sound like the who’s who of politics; the Lt. Governor, a former Mayor of LA, the state Treasurer, a former state superintendent of public instruction, a State Assemblyman, and a former candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Among the top candidates is Antonio Villaraigosa, the former LA Mayor and Speaker of the State Assembly, who looks positioned to make the general election against front-runner Gavin Newsom, the State’s current lieutenant governor. Villaraigosa enjoys strong support in Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Central Valley, good counters to Newsom’s strong base of support in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

Latinos throughout California are excited that the largest state in the country and the only state with a majority minority population could soon elect a Latino to lead the state.

Although the victory would be a huge win for Latinos that have long fought for more represent-ation in politics, Villaraigosa would not be the first Latino to sit in the Governor’s chair.

The state’s first Latino governor may be long lost in history, but his story is an impressive tale of the many government positions held in the 1800s by Romualdo Pacheco.

Born in 1831 in Santa Barbara, then part of Mexico, Pacheco was the son of a prominent Californio family. Educated in Hawaii for a time, Pacheco returned to California and later participated in the Gold Rush of 1849.

After California became a state in 1850, Pacheco entered politics when he was elected judge of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court in 1853.

After becoming active in Democratic politics, Pacheco was elected to the California State Senate and served three terms between 1857 and 1863.

While he was in the Senate, Pacheco was appointed by Governor Leland Stanford to serve as Brigadier General and commanded the First Brigade of California’s “Native Cavalry.”

Pacheco later returned to his duties in the Senate.

During the Civil War, Pacheco denounced slavery and changed his registration to Lincoln’s Republican Party, then was elected in 1863 to serve as the State’s Treasurer. Three years later, Pacheco was again elected to the State Senate.

In 1871, Pacheco was elected California’s Lieutenant Governor under then-Governor Newton Booth, but, just four years later, when Booth was elected to the US Senate in 1875, Pacheco ascended to the governorship to serve out the remaining 10 months of Booth’s term.

After his short stint as governor, Pacheco was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1877, but that, too, was short-lived.

Pacheco only won his race by one vote, and his election was challenged in front of the House’s Committee on Elections. During the debate, House Republican Leader James A. Garfield (later elected President) defended Pacheco, but, after a year of challenges, Pacheco was finally booted from his congressional seat in 1878.

Not deterred by his loss, Pacheco once again returned to run for Congress in 1879, winning two consecutive terms. While in Congress, Pacheco served on the Select Committee on the Death of President Garfield in 1881, the very man that had defended his contested election just four years earlier. Pacheco then served as Chairman of the House Committee on Private Land Claims, becoming the first Latino in Congress to chair a committee.

Pacheco retired from Congress in 1883 and moved to northern Mexico to raise cattle, but his public service wasn’t over yet.

In 1890, Pacheco was appointed U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Central American States, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica. He served in that role for three years, finally returning to California in 1893. Pacheco passed away in Oakland in 1899.

The history of our first Latino governor is a great example of leadership and public service. Through his many roles in government, Romualdo Pacheco exemplified the virtues of service for others, and always stepped forward to help lead his city, state, and nation.

It’s been 143 years since a Latino held the governorship of California. That man had served in various government roles before landing in the governor’s office, and he went on to serve in several more roles before his ultimate retirement.

California may again soon have a Latino governor. Antonio Villaraigosa has already served as a State Assemblyman, Speaker of the Assembly, LA City Councilman, and as LA’s first Latino Mayor. His career mirrors that of Pacheco in many ways. And maybe Villaraigosa, too, may someday serve in other higher roles.

But, for now, his sights are set on the statehouse, and California would be well served by a Governor Villaraigosa.

And, in what may be another sign of destiny, when Villaraigosa was elected to the LA City Council, he beat out an incumbent Councilman by over 17 percent. That man’s name? Pacheco.

Election Day is June 5. Please remember to vote. And, please consider voting for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor.

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