Perhaps California's Most Powerful Non-elected Latino
Roy M. Perez recognized for his devotion, continued support of Latino causes and business by several Hispanic Chambers of Commer
Originally published at The Journal On Latino Americans
Published on LatinoLA: August 20, 2012
California's Latino population will become the majority within a couple of years and their growth can be seen in schools, businesses and local elected offices in nearly every community across the state. But being 40 percent of the state's population, Latinos have limited statewide public policy influence due to comprising only one-fourth of all California's voters and having too few elected legislators.
As a result, Latino organizations, public and private, have been leaning on lobbyists and advocates to assist them in fighting or supporting public policy being considered in the legislature, the governor's office, the constitutional offices, and among the dozens of boards, departments and commissions.
Among the many lobbyists and advocates working in Sacramento, California's State Capitol, there are only a handful of successful Latino-owned and operated firms that are making a difference in representing the Latino communities. One such successful government advocacy firm is RMP Strategies, whose CEO, Roy M. Perez, has been referred to as "perhaps the most powerful non-elected Latino in California."
Born in Madera, California and raised in San Jose, California, Roy grew up helping his family, first as a farmworker and then as a newspaper delivery boy as a teenager. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Vietnam where he completed his tour of duty. Upon his return, Roy focused on getting a college education and enrolled at California State University, Sacramento where he became politically and socially active, and provided counseling services for inner-city Latino youth.
In 1980, Roy married and moved with his spouse, Gloriamalia, to San Juan Bautista where they both worked for the internationally renowned "Teatro Campesino," and became parents to two children. However, it wasn't long before Sacramento came calling him back, this time to serve as Chief of Staff for Senate President Pro Tempore John Roberti.
As Chief of Staff, Roy honed his diplomatic and community activism skills by establishing collaborations among the state's Democratic and Republican leaders as well as between African American, Women, Asian, Latino and Native American groups. But in 1987, tragedy struck Roy's family that left him and Gloriamalia to care for and raise his sister's five children along with their own. Together, they worked at building their own ranch house where the seven children were raised, and where more recently, one of them married. Their success in raising the children was recognized by the first ladies of the California governor and the President of the United States, awarding them the distinguished "Hispanic Family of the Year."
Through his own company, RMP Strategies, Roy enjoys advocating for organizations like the American GI Forum and the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce (CaHCC). He was elected first as Vice Chair of the CaHCC, then as its Chair. He was recently bestowed an honorary Doctorate degree from San Jose State University and recognized by the American GI Forum of California with their "Lifetime Achievement Award."
Roy recently resigned as Chairman of the CaHCC due to personal reasons, yet he was given the "Lifetime Achievement Award" by the National Latina Business Women's Association of San Diego and by numerous individual Chambers at the CaHCC 2012 annual convention. His was recognized for the continued devotion and commitment to advancement of Hispanic businesses in California and the Latino community and ensuring California's economic growth. Roy's actions have made him a key Latino leader and perhaps the most powerful non-elected Latino in the state.
The Journal On Latino Americans (JOLA) had the pleasure of interviewing Roy and ask his perspective on key issues facing California:
Adrian: Roy, you were recently described by a couple of key Latino leaders as being "Perhaps the most powerful non-elected Latino in the State," how do you react to that?
Roy: Well, I don't know who said that, but I am humbled by that distinction. I have always seen my role as being a facilitator and have strived to connect people or at least share information that would help someone connect with the person that may be able to help them, and perhaps that's what they are referring to. I have to admit I do know a lot of people and enjoy being able to help our community as best I can.
Adrian: As a former Capitol insider, lobbyist and now advocate, your perspective on politics is unique. Do you think Latinos in California have made any political gains? Or, have we lost ground since we have decreased representation in the legislature?
Roy: We've made a lot of gains politically, particularly with young politicians (referring to new Latino state legislators.) They're ahead of us, thinking more global, and are more articulate. Have you ever heard Senator (Michael) Rubio speak? Ever hear (Felipe) Fuentes speak? Or heard (Alex) Padilla speak? They're incredible. I'll match them up against anybody. They're very intellectual. They understand the issues from a global perspective. They're very analytical.
Remember, when we (Chicanos) started out, we began as activists because we were in a civil rights mode, just trying to open doors, to get an education or get a job or just to be accepted as people. Now we are in a position of quality and able to hold each other accountable. By this next election, we'll be between 28 to 30 (Latino state legislators) and now we find Latinos and Latinas competing against one other. So the question is not are you Latino/Latina? It is 'what do you represent?'
Can you demonstrate leadership on behalf of my district? I want to know who will hold our school district together? I want to know who is going to do some economic development in my backyard. So, it is wrong for us to hold the younger legislators to the same standards that we did as to whether or not they're Chicano or Latino enough. We have to look at them as leaders that represent a state. If we're the largest (Latino population), we need to start thinking and understanding the infrastructure of education, transportation, water, agriculture, global marketing and understand the value of a dollar. It's not the civil rights issue, it's not that we're second-class and we're trying to get in. We're in because of our numbers and the number of qualified people we have. We have made gains and we continue to make gains"
Adrian: Do you believe, as Democrats and Republicans have stated, that Latinos are born Democrats?
Roy: What I have learned is that I don't want to give 'blind loyalty.' That's the worst thing a citizen can do, particularly a Latino who wants to be a leader, because blind loyalty will destroy you. It destroys because you don't question authority or question your colleagues who are leading you down that path. For example, the Republican far right and the Democrat far left have their own agenda and their job is to recruit you to follow their agenda.
To me, it's OK for the parties to have their own agenda as long as we don't get sucked into their agenda. A leader leads and doesn't follow and we should not get ourselves trapped into following someone else's, or a political party's agenda. During the Chicano movement there were very liberal Marxist and socialist Democrats who were pushing their ideological beliefs on Raza, which some followed and as a result, we lost out since these were wealthy individuals that took us down this path and when the movement was over, these people drove off on their luxury cars back to Beverly Hills leaving us in the same position. That's why I say we cannot to give blind loyalty to any person or party.
Adrian: Two years ago, there were 7 Latinos running for statewide office, but none received their party's endorsement. Do you believe the party's are using our vote, but don't want to see us in office?
Roy: Well, are we electing someone because they are Latino or Latina? Or, are we electing a super qualified individual that can articulate issues and be a leader that happens to be a Latino or Latina? I've seen pretty bad candidates in both parties. If we're talking about the GOP party, it has a very, very serious challenge within their own party. One we have the far right GOP that is a demagogic arm that deals mainly with social issues, while we also have a more moderate Republican that, to their credit, are trying to do what is best for California that can work with the moderate Democrats. On the other, we have the far left in the Democratic Party that is nearly identical to the far right of the GOP, but at the complete opposite end.
The problem the GOP has because of the right wings demagogic view is that when we talk about Latinos they begin to talk about immigration and use it as a political tool to whip their opponent. They stir frenzy in their community that destroys a moderate opponent, and at the same time, they throw gasoline in the entire field, burning everybody and now they have lost the Latino voter and they burn themselves out, and now they have no power. And, the Democrats do the same thing, using immigration and social security as the political tools. What this does is make it difficult for moderates on either party to gain traction, and most Latinos are moderate.
Adrian: Do you think the GOP can regain Latino support like they once had under Ronald Reagan, or have they become irrelevant among Latino voters?
Roy: I had a private meeting in DC with House Speaker John Boehner and several Congressional leaders earlier this year, at his summons, to talk about immigration. It probably took no more than 15 minutes and I told them that they created their own situation by getting elected making the immigrants the bad guys. Now that they see there is a bigger calling and that they have a responsibility to our nation and the human beings that live in this country, they can't go soft.
They have created such a monster out there (with immigration) that if they try to take the logical and humane position, a good public policy position, their opponents will kill them in reelection.
Because they created that monster and now they're asking us to come and support them and give them advice on gaining Latino voter support, with us risking take a bullet for them, there's no way we can put ourselves in that position. There's nothing we can do. I told them that they need to rectify, remedy this within their own ranks because this already took off and has it's own life and I gave them the example of Governor Pete Wilson.
I shared that Wilson was pro affirmative action and had top Latinos around him when he was Mayor (of San Diego), but when Proposition 187 came around and he was running for reelection as governor, he raised the immigration issue. They way they couched it (immigration), they way they portrayed it that is what started the anti-republican attitude, especially among Latinos. But, other Republican candidates took this as a way they could win an election as a result, the GOP is in a real challenged position. And, until they fix that, they will not be able to elect moderate Republicans that can relate to Latino voters, especially in California.
Adrian: You've been a leader in the Latino and general business community for many years and have seen the demographic changes in the state, should the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce build coalitions?
Roy: Before we build coalitions, we need to build ourselves first. You can't go save the world until you take care of your family. We shouldn't worry about that until were take care of our own backyard so we can, like the Inland Empire Hispanic Chamber, they have the African American and the general chambers joining them. And have others like the Slavic, Indian, Cambodian and Vietnamese chambers join us because we have workshops and resources they need. Other groups will come once they see the (Hispanic) chamber really strong. We can't be fighting with one another or pay attention to what others are doing, we need to see what they're doing, but keep growing. Plus, we can help them raise funds because the Hispanic chamber, which is the largest in the nation I might add, is solid with sponsorships. All the sponsors want California. We are very professional and solid as a body.
Adrian: I want to thank you for taking time to talk to us Dr. Perez and look forward to your continued leadership.
Roy: The pleasure is all mine and we need to continue fighting to move all of us forward.
Adrian is an independent journalist/writer who also publishes several online publications about the Latino community.
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