Marin Draws a Contrast to Past GOP Candidates
By Richard Marosi
Times Staff Writer
After stepping down as U.S. treasurer last summer, Rosario Marin returned
to the working-class Latino community of Huntington Park where she has
arriving from Mexico as a poor 14-year-old.
She bought a new house on Hope Street. She painted it white and blue
— to go with the red roof. And she embarked on a campaign to convince her
that she is the candidate to knock Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer from office.
Marin talks like it's destiny. "The future is now. I am a woman. I am
a minority. I am a Republican," says Marin, 45, as she cruises in her "Adios
Boxer Express" bus
toward a campaign stop with Silicon Valley executives.
Marin's pitch that she is the ideal Republican to mirror California's changing demographics is the source of her appeal and her dilemma.
To Republicans eager to expand the party's traditional base to moderate
women and Latinos, she represents the forefront of a more inclusive, and
Republican Party. But in a GOP still dominated by white conservatives, Marin, a Latina with moderate stances, may be too far in the forefront to win the primary.
"Barbara Boxer's worst nightmare," as one campaign slogan reads, still
lives in Huntington Park, a city southeast of downtown Los Angeles where
English, went to school and raised her three children.
She is bilingual, an abortion-rights advocate, and supports the assault
weapons ban. In short, Marin says she is not like the conservative male
Republican candidates that
Boxer has trounced in two previous elections.
"Barbara Boxer has always attacked her opponents in our party as being
anti-woman, anti-minority, and anti-working-poor," Marin said. "How can
she [say] that I'm
anti-woman? A woman who is pro-choice. How can she ever say I'm anti-minority? I am one, and an immigrant no less. Anti-working-poor? My dad was a janitor, my
mom a seamstress."
But Marin doubters say her candidacy looks a lot better on paper than
in real life. Her immigrant's tale, they say, isn't enough to overcome
her inexperience and
unproven track record for fundraising.
And she has been passed over by key GOP power brokers, such as Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and former governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian,
have endorsed former Secretary of State Bill Jones.
Whatever the outcome, her life is an exemplar of immigrant success.
Rosario Spindola was born in a two-room house in Mexico City in 1958. The
family was so poor,
she says, that her parents and four siblings shared one bedroom. Her father, Mariano, supported the family for years by sending money home from California, where he
worked for a label manufacturer. The factory, Marin said, had helped her father get a green card. Eventually, Mariano, with help from the company, moved the family
north, Marin said.
Marin didn't speak a word of English, and scored 27 out of 100 on an
IQ test. She would listen to songs on the radio, and enunciate English
words to accelerate her
learning. A few years later she graduated from Huntington Park High School at the top of her class.
Marin's parents — both of whom have sixth-grade educations — were thrilled, but sending her to college was not a priority for the financially struggling family.
Marin got a job and helped raise her younger siblings. She went to Cal
State L.A. at night, sometimes studying until 3 a.m. It took her seven
years to get her bachelor's
degree in business, and she set her sights on one day opening a bank. She also married Nicaraguan-born Alvaro Marin, known as Alex, and started a family.
Her life took an abrupt turn when she gave birth to her first son, Eric,
now 18, who has Down syndrome. Recognizing that parents of developmentally
could benefit from increased assistance, she started a support group that eventually became FUERZA Inc. Marin would later be honored with the Rose Fitzgerald
Kennedy Prize for her work with the disabled.
Her activism propelled her into public life, and she became part of
the administration of then-Gov. Pete Wilson, first as a legislative aide
in the department of
developmental services and eventually as his liaison to the Latino community.
While working for Wilson, she ran successfully for City Council in Huntington
Park, an overwhelmingly Democratic city where she became known as a hard-working,
law-and-order politician who never shied away from battles, both inside and outside City Hall.
When the city's main drag attracted disorderly mobs after soccer victories
by the Mexican national team, she stood alongside police officers trying
to keep the peace.
She also backed a crackdown on the black market for illegal documents.
In two terms there, she engaged council opponents in numerous raucous
debates. Marin fought for more funding for the city's police force, opposed
trash-hauling contract for a friend of the then-mayor, and criticized the same mayor for making what she called racially biased comments against Mexican immigrants.
The feuds at times led to tit-for-tat censures for alleged disruptive
behavior. Boxer's camp has already seized on that, suggesting in interviews
that Marin is rude and
Councilman Ric Loya, a colleague on the council, said that Marin at times was perceived as arrogant, but that her passion and organizational skills helped the city.
"She wasn't always easy to get along with, but she was effective," Loya said.
Marin's grass-roots appeal paid off: In 1999, she was reelected to the council as the top vote-getter — despite her Republican roots — and served one year as mayor.
Marin made the national stage in 2002, when President Bush selected
her to be treasurer, a largely ceremonial post. She was the highest-ranking
Latina in his
But for Marin such standing has cut both ways. While her success has fueled pride in some quarters, others have mocked her.
Criticism dates back to her days as a spokeswoman for the Wilson administration
when he supported Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure that would have
public services to illegal immigrants. Marin says she opposed the measure, but many Latinos criticized her for muting her opinion.
Immigration reform remains a touchy issue in the current race, with
Marin, in particular, forced to walk a tightrope between groups from which
she hopes to gain
Marin is the only one of the candidates to support Bush's immigrant
guest-worker plan, which has been criticized by some Republicans as a faulty
Latinos, on the other hand, criticize Marin for being blindly loyal to the president.
"She makes a good house Mexican for the Republicans," read a mass e-mail by Steven J. Ybarra, a Democratic National Committee official.
She has been anything but docile in this campaign, however.
She is the only one of the candidates to repeatedly go on the offensive
against Jones, calling him the "Taxman Cometh" for voting to raise taxes
as an assemblyman in
the early 1990s. And she has not let up on her criticism of Boxer, whom she said fears her candidacy so much that she started a "Viva Boxer" committee to court Latino
support. Boxer's camp calls Marin's strategy a sign of her desperation.
"It's a nice attempt at packaging, but in the end it's just wishful thinking," said Roy Behr, a strategist for Boxer.
As she makes her first bid for statewide office, the growing pains are evident for Marin, whose prior runs were made in a city of 62,000.
Cheery and energetic, Marin is trying to build name recognition through
her stint as treasurer — "I'm right on the money" she says — and delights
in signing autographs
on greenbacks that bear her looping signature. The autograph sessions have become a staple on the campaign trail, from the Tet parade in Orange County's Little Saigon
to a visit to the Jelly Belly Candy Co. in Fairfield.
After posing for a picture under a 15,000-piece jelly bean portrait
of Ronald Reagan — "This is the man who inspired me," Marin says of the
president for whom she
cast her first vote as a citizen in 1984 — she signed a stack of $1 bills for candy factory executives.
An hour later, she got word on the bus that they had decided to give
$4,000 to her campaign. "Yippee!" squealed Marin, raising her hands and
clicking her fingers. "I'm
going to do a belly dance."
But her playful rapport can disappear in formal settings, where she
sometimes seems uncomfortable and scripted — a trait which does not inspire
confidence in donors
or party regulars.
At the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Marin, backed by a row
of American flags, read a speech on immigration reform to about 40 people,
most of them
Nearby, tourists strolled the museum, seemingly more interested in an exhibit touting Nixon's friendship with legendary baseball slugger Jackie Robinson.
Marin, occasionally looking up from her printed remarks, called Bush's
guest-worker plan a good first step, but she spent most of her time criticizing
Mexico for not
doing enough to stem the flow of illegal immigration.
Afterward, Marin was repeatedly questioned about whether she backs legislation
that would withhold federal aid to states that approve driver's licenses
"I have already addressed this issue," replied Marin.
The reporter persisted. Marin called the legislation a "Band-Aid" approach but did not give her stance.
"Next question," interjected Kevin Spillane, Marin's campaign strategist.
Watching nearby, Chatsworth resident Ron Bujarski said Marin has dodged the question.
"I like frankness, so that was not a good thing," said Bujarski, who
had come to see Marin but left undecided about her candidacy. "Obviously,
she was only willing to
say what was prepared ahead of time."
Others who came to see her, however, were optimistic that Marin, as a Latina with Mexican roots, would command a special voice in the Senate.
"She's a gutsy lady. She's willing to go down there and get in [Mexican
President] Fox's face and say we're not the solution to their problem,"
said Xavier Hermosillo, a
San Pedro-based public relations consultant. "If she's in the Senate, she can do more than anyone else on this issue."