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Assembly Republicans Pick Latino as Leader

Politics: Rod Pacheco says he has begun laying the groundwork to avoid a similar GOP debacle in 2000.


SACRAMENTO — Assembly Republicans, who were drubbed in this week's election, on Thursday selected a former Riverside County prosecutor and one of the few Latino Republican officeholders as their new leader.

Rod Pacheco, 40, replaces Assemblyman Bill Leonard of San Bernardino.

Leonard announced that he was stepping down after majority Democrats added five lower-house seats in Tuesday's balloting, a significant setback for Republicans, who had expected modest gains.

Pacheco said he already has begun laying the groundwork to avoid a similar GOP debacle in the 2000 elections.

Mapping out a fund-raising strategy, he said he has held talks with Silicon Valley interests, which he called "the financial base of Northern California."

Additionally, he said a top priority will be to assemble a committee "of wealthy Republican businessmen, big donors and others" to build a kitty for the next election.

Assembly Republicans have now slipped to 32 members in the 80-member house, while Democrats increased their majority to 48.

With Pacheco's selection as GOP leader, the Assembly's two top leadership positions will be held by Latinos. Leading the Democrats is Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

As a result of Tuesday's election, three other Latino Republicans will join Pacheco in the Assembly, bringing the lower-house Latino membership to 17.

"I think it's good to have Hispanics in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. We need to be everywhere," Pacheco told reporters Thursday.

Pacheco said his role will require building consensus, but added: "I can't be a moderator. I've got to be a leader, but I'll be a leader who listens."

Gov. Pete Wilson said he was "delighted" with Pacheco's elevation to Assembly minority leader.

"He has been a rock-solid leader in many of the most important issues we have been fighting for in California--education, crime [fighting] and welfare reform," Wilson said.

Pacheco defeated one other candidate for minority leader during a caucus luncheon held in a conference room within the governor's office complex in the Capitol. The other candidate, Assemblyman George Runner of Lancaster, said he swung his support to Pacheco when it was obvious that Pacheco was supported by a majority of the caucus.

While shying away from labels, Pacheco is perceived as a moderate in a GOP caucus known for its hard-line conservative views on issues such as abortion.

Pacheco was first elected in 1996 to represent the 64th Assembly District, which covers the cities of Riverside, Corona, Jurupa, Mira Loma, Norco and Rubidoux in Riverside County.

He was the first in his family to graduate from college, receiving his bachelor's degree in political science and sociology from the University of California at Riverside and his law degree from the University of San Diego.

He was a prosecutor in the Riverside County district attorney's office for 12 1/2 years. He boasts of sending five murderers to death row and winning all his cases during his final decade on the job.

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