It’s hard to believe, but this summer marks 40 years since I was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention held in Miami in mid-July of 1972. Thirty-two years later, I was elected an alternate delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. Today I am the vice chairman of the Lorain County Republican Party in Ohio. How did this change come about?
In 1972, I had been elected a delegate while a student at Miami University in Ohio who would round out the district slate with the diversity dictated by the Democratic Party in the wake of the 1968 convention fiasco in Chicago. The leadership for George McGovern’s presidential campaign was more concerned with the diversity that a Mexican-American college senior and political rookie would offer than the political savvy of the Butler County Democratic chairman.
After the 1972 election, I would be an active Democrat for less than 10 years. Though I voted for McGovern that year, it would be the last time I would ever vote Democratic for president, even though I didn’t switch parties until years later.
By the late 1970s, I had reached the conclusion that the Democratic Party had chosen to become the party of special-interest groups such as unions, Hollywood, academia, blacks, Hispanics, radical feminists, and environmentalists.
For the next 20 years, I would see the transformation of the party of my youth through the rise and expansion of the Great Society and the Democratic legacy of big, government-funded programs like the Comprehensive Employment and Training Administration (CETA) that discouraged personal responsibility and created a dependent individual. To fund these useless programs as well as public union employees throughout all levels of government, we saw a steady increase in personal, federal, state, and local taxes.
But perhaps the most transformative moment for me was meeting and supporting Mexican-American economist and Republican presidential candidate Ben Fernandez in 1979. Ben Fernandez of Los Angeles was a member of the Republican National Committee who, with the blessing of the RNC, ran for president during the primary that selected Ronald Reagan as the GOP candidate in 1980. Fernandez was the Herman Cain of that election and electrified Republican audiences wherever he spoke.
I first heard him speak in July 1979 in Lorain, where he addressed a large crowd of mostly Mexican and Puerto Rican Democrats. His message was a conservative one in which he talked about his humble beginnings and how through hard work, education, love and support of family and community, he became a millionaire and achieved the American Dream.
His conservative message eschewed government programs that created waste, raised taxes, and made people dependent on government through welfare and other make-work programs. He spoke of “compassionate conservatism” before anyone else and said that Republicans had to lend a hand up, not a handout, to those less fortunate.
Fernandez insisted that Hispanics were indeed inherently conservatives and independent by nature. He cited their patriotic nature and pride in America that thus, made them more suited to be Republicans than Democrats. By the end of his speech I thought to myself, “Oh my God, I’m a Republican!”
So in 1980, I cast my vote for Ronald Reagan and thereafter for every Republican presidential candidate. Some years later, I finally made the switch from born-and-raised Democrat and asked for my first Republican ballot. I also became a member and official of the county Republican Party and was selected in 2004 as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in New York City.
After witnessing last week’s national GOP convention, it is fair to say, “This is not your father’s Republican Party.” The Republican Party today is different than it was 40 years ago. It is truly the “Big Tent Party” that has retained its core and expanded to include groups such as blue-collar workers, gun owners, people of faith, married couples, active military and veterans, those who oppose abortion, Asians, blacks, and Hispanics, just to name a few.
Many Americans were proud of the convention speakers who belied the Democratic propaganda that this is a party of rich, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant male bigots. The Democrats would have you believe that you did not see and hear former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs, Utah; Govs. Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval, Nikki Haley, Kelli Fallon, Bobby Jindal, Luis Fortuno; Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Marco Rubio—all either people of color, women, or both. Perhaps their words will have struck someone to pause and ask, “Am I really a Republican?”
With leaders like these and other young Republicans such as vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, the future of the Republican Party is a promising one.
David Arredondo is the vice chairman of the Lorain County (Ohio, Republican Party). From 1973 to 1975, he was a Mexican government fellow and did postgraduate studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.
Opinions and other statements expressed by Perspectives contributors are theirs alone, not of National Journal's. Content created by third-party contributors is their sole responsibility and its accuracy is not endorsed or guaranteed.