James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/26/2010 05:56:55 PM PDT

One of the Inland Empire’s most outspoken Democratic activists says he is unhappy with the county Democratic Party and is considering promoting Republican candidates for local office.

Gil Navarro, who earlier this month said his new political action committee – the Latino Caucus of the Inland Empire – would support only Democratic candidates, now says he might have had a change of heart after a meeting with Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.

“I’ll probably get in trouble for having the door open,” Navarro said. “But if that shakes up the Democratic Party, gets them to re-evaluate themselves, then so be it.”

Indeed, Navarro, a member of the county Democratic Central Committee, could face consequences if he
endorses Republicans, but he seems willing to live with that if he can get more Latinos elected to public office. Navarro’s dissatisfaction with his own party could be an in-road for Hagman and other Republicans, who say their party must attract Latino voters.

“If the Republican Party wants to survive into the next few decades in California, it needs to do more active outreach to the Latino community,” said University of Redlands political science professor Renee Van Vechten, who called the meeting between a Republican Assemblyman and a Democratic Central Committee member “intriguing” and “surprisingly bold.”

“It’s certainly not common to cross party lines,” she said.

Navarro and Hagman, who met last week after Hagman’s office contacted Navarro, likely share few political views. But Hagman said he and Navarro, like Republicans and Latinos, likely share more than they think.

“We all agree on several things,” he said. “We believe in a better life for our kids, for giving them better than what we had. We do that by building up education, having a strong economy, good public safety. There are a lot of things we have in common.

“I just wanted to reach out to (Navarro) and say, `Let’s work on the areas where we can work together.”

One of those areas appears to be the importance of bringing more Latinos into the political process.

Navarro started the Latino Caucus this year with the aim of getting more San Bernardino County Latinos to vote and get more Latinos to run for school boards, city council seats and other elected positions. Navarro said the Democratic Central Committee hasn’t done enough to reach out to Latino voters and candidates.

“The San Bernardino County Democratic Party, the direction they’ve been going in, it has not been productive for Latino citizens,” Navarro said. “They need to change the direction they’re going.”

Since he took over as San Bernardino County’s Republican Party chairman, Robert Rego has talked about the need for his party to similarly change direction and do a better job of selling the Republican Party to Latinos.

“I think the problem is that we haven’t communicated,” he said. “The Republican message is a message that would resonate with people, independent of certain demographics. … I’m sure that, in reaching out, we will find we have a lot of commonality.”

Rego called Hagman’s meeting with Navarro “a good sign.”

To be sure, Navarro has not said the Latino Caucus will endorse Republicans. But if it does, Democratic Central Committee Chairman Ron Wall said it could cause problems for Navarro as a committee member.

“I’d have to look at the bylaws,” Wall said. “But it could potentially be problematic.”

That said, Wall said he isn’t too concerned about Latinos – with or without Navarro’s stamp of approval – leaving the Democratic Party.

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