The Fall of Rosario Marín, California’s Favorite Mexican Republican: News Analysis from FI2W

By Pilar Marrero, La Opinión and FI2W reporter

Rosario Marín - Photo: Los Angeles Times

Rosario Marín. (Photo: Los Angeles Times)

For years, California politician Rosario Marín, a model Latina conservative, was a rising star in the Republican Party.

Last week, though, after she resigned her state cabinet position due to an investigation into her outside income, Marín saw the state’s Republican-led administration quickly distance itself from her.

As California’s Fair Political Practices Commission investigates whether she improperly pocketed tens of thousands of dollars for giving speeches to companies who had business with her agency, Marín optimistically waits, saying she has done nothing wrong.

“I am at peace with myself, thank God,” she told me the day after her resignation. “I can sleep well every night.”

As an immigrant –she was born in Mexico– with working class beginnings, Marín is one of the few prominent Latina Republican politicians, probably the most well-known in the western United States. She was often controversial, going against the grain of what most Latinos believed politically –for example, working for Pete Wilson, the former California governor who spearheaded anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994. But she kept close to Latino media, she was accessible, gregarious, and easy to talk to (in perfect Spanish), which made her a favorite of the U.S. ethnic and Mexican media.

She often spoke for Republican causes and candidates, was a huge fan of George W. Bush (who she always said was one of her idols), and campaigned for John McCain. She spoke at several Republican National Conventions. In 2000, she was profiled at the convention in Philadelphia as a model Latina Republican, mother of a son with Downs Syndrome, and tireless advocate for people with disabilities.

Republicans –at least the Bush-Rove type– loved her, because she represented a segment of the population they needed to attract to remain politically viable. She had that going for her big time.

There were not many Mexican-born elected officials in the GOP. That’s probably even truer now than when she started, since the party has lost favor with a growing segment of the Latino community as many in its ranks turned to anti-immigrant fervor as a way of life.

For a couple of years, she was the highest ranking Latina in the Bush administration, holding the position of U.S. Treasurer. Although this is a mainly ceremonial post, it’s a long way from city councilwoman of poverty-stricken Huntington Park, Calif. to having your signature printed on dollar bills.

In 2004, she competed in the Republican primary against former Secretary of State Bill Jones for a chance to challenge Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Many stories were written about her ability to get over 40% of the Latino vote and take the Senate seat away from the Democrats. But she didn’t even get the support of her former boss Pete Wilson, or her just-elected future boss, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went with Jones, a staple of the good old boy network. She didn’t make it to the general election.

In 2006 though, Arnold gave her a cabinet position as head of the State and Consumer Services Agency, an agency that, according to the official description “oversees the state’s civil rights enforcement, consumer protection and licensing of 2.4 million Californians in more than 255 different professions and also handles the procurement of more than $9 billion worth of goods and services”, among other things.

But last week, Marín quit the position under the weight of investigations for pocketing tens of thousands of dollars by giving speeches, some to companies including Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating whether she violated state laws, which she has denied.

The governor’s office did not defend her. On the contrary, the next day, a Schwarzenegger press release said the governor “holds his appointees to a much higher standard than even state law requires and the vast majority of everyone in the administration abides by the rules.” They basically dropped her like a hot potato.

But Marín was unfazed. With her characteristic optimism and familiarity, she spoke about feeling distraught that anybody could think she had done anything wrong “after I have been in public services for over 20 years.”

I had spoken to Marín dozens of times, maybe hundreds, through the years, and this was the first time I found her sad and alarmed at the suspicions against her. She denied doing anything wrong and said that she filed the necessary paperwork every year, which was reviewed by many attorneys and that her nominations by the governor and confirmations by the State Legislature proved she was innocent. If there had been something askew in her filings they would have told her, wouldn’t they?

Some time ago, Marín wrote a book, Leading Between Two Worlds: Lessons from the First Mexican-Born Treasurer of the United States. When the Spanish version of the book, Una líder entre dos mundos, came out last year, she toured Mexico to adoring media reviews and interviews.

Her successful career is now on hold, waiting for the findings of the investigation by the California FPPC.

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