Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) did not need a rebranding to gain traction with Hispanic voters. The
Republican freshman is the son of Portuguese immigrants, representing a district that is more than 70
A flexible guest workers program as part of a broader immigration package has become his priority in a
central valley district where a plethora of farms produce more than 300 different crops.
“I think the fact that I grew up in this — and I’m not afraid to talk about it, I’m not afraid to be
involved in it — helps me with my district. I think that helps people believe that I understand the
issues,” Valadao told The Hill.
Valadao is one of five House Republicans who represent a Hispanic-majority district. His inaugural
victory came in the same year his party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, won just 27 percent of
the Hispanic vote.
Republicans have looked to rebrand themselves within the Hispanic community and party leaders
have embraced immigration reform in the wake of the poor performance in 2012.
A combination of deep ties to the agricultural industry, a relatable biographical story and the absence
of a strong opponent helped Valadao win a district dominated by the nation’s fastest growing ethnic
“They polled against me, but they decided to not spend a whole lot of money against me, and again I
think that falls on my background— the way I approach issues,” he said.
Valadao won his district by 18 percent last year and maintained a huge fundraising advantage over
Democrat John Hernandez — who lacked support from the national party. Romney lost the same
district to Obama by 11 points.
“If you look at the history of my district, [it] has elected Republicans locally,” he said, noting that he
won a seat in the state assembly by overcoming a similar Democratic registration advantage in 2010.
Only one other Republican, fellow Californian Rep. Gary Miller, sits in a district that went more
heavily for Obama. The Hill
Last month, the National Republican Congressional Committee named Valadao as one of 11
vulnerable members whom it will help with organizational and fundraising support. Democrats have
marked him as a top target in 2014.
“Congressman Valadao’s Republican leaders are the biggest obstruction to immigration reform,” said
Matt Inzeo, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Valadao said he does not let political pressure affect his governing. He maintains his constituents set
At the top of that list is immigration. He agrees with the basic framework laid out in the Senate’s
Gang of Eight proposal. In the past, he said, Republicans have hurt themselves with their hard-line
message on immigration.
“Immigration is something that does affect voters,” he said. “If your first stance is, you are tough on
immigrants and people who want to come to this country, you are telling them that you don’t want
them here. It is just not a good way to start a conversation.”
A bipartisan group of eight House members is working on its own proposal, which is expected to be
released soon. Valadao sought out the secretive group and began asking questions about the proposal
shortly after entering Congress.
“That is one of the first things I reached out to when I got here,” he said. “I went over to the group
here in the House, started spending some time with a couple of them who would talk to me. And they
asked me to get involved in the [agricultural] side, since I’m the guy with the ag connection.”
Valadao’s family owns two dairies and more than 1,000 acres of farmland in California, where he still
lives. He said it is easier for immigrants to identify with some of the core principles of the party if you
can break through the initial, negative perception of the GOP.
He is fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish.
“Even on my ranch, when I talk to employees of mine who are immigrants as well, both Portuguese
and Hispanic, it is always interesting to see the look on their face, when they’re like, ‘wait a minute,
this is what you are fighting for?’ ” Valadao said.
“It is a little bit different than what [they] are hearing in the press and a little bit different than what
[they] are hearing from [their] buddies.”
A similar transformation happened within Valadao’s family years ago. After gaining citizenship, his
parents initially registered with the Democratic Party. As a young man on the Azores Islands of
Portugal, his father was influenced by watching President John F. Kennedy on TV. The Hill
His parents later changed parties — a transformation Republicans hope will become more
commonplace with its new immigration push.
“It probably took him four or five years of conversation around the dinner table, running our
business, figuring out, watching the news, staying up on what is going on in the world, that my dad
realized, ‘Hey wait a minute…this party is more closely aligned with what I want to be,’ ” he said.