Two Years After Political Mugging That Blew Him Out Of Office, Negrete A Candidate Again

Two years ago, Eric Negrete was perceived by some as the California Republican Party’s “Great Brown Hope.” Shortly thereafter, however, Negrete’s once-promising political career hit a snag.
Negrete’s one-time position of potential had grown out of his party’s dire circumstance. Over the last two decades, the Democratic Party in California has been in ever greater ascendancy, until at present the state GOP is considered to be pretty much of a political irrelevancy. A Democrat, Gavin Newsom, just as did his predecessor, Jerry Brown, occupies the Governor’s Mansion at 1526 H Street in Sacramento. The Democrats hold dual supermajorities in the Assembly and State Senate. The lieutenant governor, the California Attorney General, The California Superintendent of Schools, the state’s controller, superintendent of schools and its insurance commissioner are all Democrats. Key to that dominance is that approaching 80 percent of the state’s Latinos, who themselves comprise 14,013,719, or 35.47 percent, of the state’s 39,512,223 residents, are Democrats.
Yet many believe that the Party of Lincoln, long in eclipse statewide, is a single charismatic Latino Republican politician away from reversing the current score in Sacramento. Such a personage could redefine both the parameters and conception of partisan identification in the Golden State, resulting in a mass exodus of Hispanic voters out of the Democratic Party, as they swing behind a Republican Party leader who might lead the Republicans out of the desert and to the Promised Land once more.
For some, at least, Negrete potentially represented that deliverer. San Bernardino County remains one of the last bastions of Republicanism in the state. While the number of registered Democrats eclipsed the number of registered Republicans in San Bernardino County in 2009, a full 11 years ago, the Republicans remain in ascendancy throughout the 20,105-square mile county, which is larger than four New England states combined. Religiously in San Bernardino County, Republicans turn out in far greater percentages when it comes time to vote than do their Democratic counterparts. The San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee is an immaculately-tuned and well-oiled machine, with its members carefully coordinated and committed to efficiently spending the considerable political donations the party has taken in to promote Republican candidates at every level. Meanwhile, the Democratic Central Committee is not a machine as much as it is a horse-drawn wagon, one that is poorly maintained at that. The Democrats perennially do a poor job of raising money, the mother’s milk of politics, and whenever election season approaches, the bickering among Democratic Party members often displays itself as even more bitter than the enmity members have toward Republicans. And try as they might, the Democrats have inveterately found themselves incapable of hooking all the horses up to the same side of their wagon, instead hitching the beasts up opposite or sideways from one another, to the point that the wagon rarely moves in one direction consistently. The outcome is that at present, there are more Republicans in the California Legislature representing San Bernardino County than Democrats, four of the five members of the county board of supervisors are Republicans, the sheriff is a Republican, the district attorney is a Republican, the county assessor is a Republican and the county treasurer is a Republican. While local races are officially considered nonpartisan contests, in San Bernardino County, party affiliation looms large whenever there is an election. In 17 of the county’s 22 cities and its two incorporated towns, a majority of the council members are Republicans.
Within this smithy of hardcore conservatism, Negrete has been fashioned with fire, tongs and between the hammer and anvil of the political process into hard steel. An Air Force veteran who now works as a civilian contract project manager for the United States Army at Fort Irwin, Negrete falls right into line with the predominant pro-military and pro-law enforcement wing of the Republican Party. In 2014, he ran for city council and won.
Negrete blended well with his council colleagues, who included Jim Cox, who had been on the council since 2012 and had spent 30 years as Victorville’s city manager from 1969 to 1999 and another two year stint as city manager when he had been induced to come out of retirement in 2009; Jim Kennedy, a Republican and a certified public accountant who had been on the council since 2010; Ryan McEachron, a Republican who had been on the council since 2008; and Gloria Garcia, a Republican who had been running a bookkeeping service in Victorville since 1975 and who had been on the city council since 2012.
Victorville at that time had a history of tremendous stability on its city council going back, essentially, to the city’s incorporation in 1962. Under Victorville’s governmental arrangement, the mayor is not elected directly by the voters but selected from among the members of the city council by a vote of the council. In 2014, the council elevated Gloria Garcia to the position of mayor. Council operations throughout the next two years were harmonious. In 2016, however, two fateful events events came to impinge upon Negrete’s political fortunes.
The first of these was Blanca Gomez’s electoral victory, which resulted in her displacement of McEachron from the city council. The second development consisted of Negrete declining the offer to be elevated to the position of mayor for the two-year term running from 2016 to 2018. Because of both family and professional commitments, Negrete was concerned he would not be able to devote himself or enough time to the ceremonial aspects of the mayor’s function, and he opted to remain in the role of a simple citizen-legislator, which resulted in Garcia remaining in the role of mayor.
Gomez, a Democrat, broke up the Republican homogeneity of the council, and in short order, through her oftentimes vocal resistance to the direction the council was taking, provoked her colleagues. Gomez courted controversy by espousing causes traditionally well afield from the responsibility of local government. Gomez generated both positive and negative publicity through advocacy on behalf of undocumented or illegal immigrants, embracing a philosophy at odds with the social and political conservatism shared by her council colleagues, her occasional inflammatory rhetoric and her propensity for dispensing with traditional meeting protocol when it interfered with her advocacy. This at first bemused, then dismayed, upset and ultimately antagonized Garcia, Cox, Negrete and Kennedy, most pointedly, it seemed, Garcia and Negrete more than the others. Certain elements of Gomez’s comportment especially riled her colleagues, as when she at one point draped herself in a Mexican flag during a council meeting.
Garcia found herself struggling to maintain her own composure when dealing with Gomez’s vocal remonstrations that the mayor felt were an assault upon the decorum, dignity and solemnity of the public meetings she was attempting to conduct. Negrete grew irate, in particular when Gomez would take issue with policies or attitudes she considered reactionary and contrary to advancing the progressive ideology most Republicans considered radical and anathema to the order that prevailed de facto throughout government at the local level in San Bernardino County. Over time, Victorville residents, including ones who normally or previously were not interested in the the goings-on at City Hall, would attend or watch the broadcasts of the city council meetings for the sheer amusement of seeing the regular clashes between Garcia and Gomez or Negrete and Gomez or the less frequent heated exchanges between Gomez and either Cox or Kennedy.
Gomez’s election to the council in 2016 was an indication of more than her personal political advancement alone, and it reflected the ongoing demographic change in Victorville, including growing numbers of Democrats in the city, which has traditionally been dominated by Republican officeholders. Of note was that Gomez had standing within the Democratic Party. In this way, she was able to bring the situation relating to Victorville to the attention of Democratic Party higher-ups. This included focus on the consideration that despite the fact that some 24,000 or roughly 44 percent of the city’s nearly 55,000 voters were registered Democrats compared to the 13,000 or approximately 24 percent registered as Republicans, the Republican Party was still dominating the city politically. Moreover, Victorville appeared to be a breeding ground for the likes of Garcia and Negrete, Hispanic Republicans who fit the description of the GOP Moses who might one day lead a frightful number of their fellow and sister Latinos out of Democratic Egypt to the Republican land of milk and honey. Because Garcia was pushing 70, had expressed no ambition for escalating her political reach beyond the Victorville City Council and was not up for election in 2018, the Democrats ignored her. Negrete, however, was up for election that year. Roughly two decades Garcia’s junior with a viable future that would potentially extend into the statehouse, he represented a recognizable and immediate threat to the Democrats, it was perceived, that they should do something about.
First, they scoured Negrete, his function as a politician, his résumé and curriculum vitae, his records and his life for details and vulnerabilities, his credits and debits, his acclamations and derogatories.
They found something, a domestic disturbance at his residence in February 2009. The party assigned its investigators to dredge up everything they could about the matter, including police reports and witness statements, court records and Negrete’s own admission regarding what had happened when the matter came before a judge for disposition. That information was then provided to various media outlets, including National Public Radio and the radio station KPCC as well as the local press. The release was timed to do maximum damage to Negrete’s reelection campaign. The story exploded during the third week of October 2018, just as the candidates in that year’s race were rounding the clubhouse turn and heading into the final sprint to the finish line.
The upshot was that in a field of 11, Negrete finished third in a race in which two positions were up for election. Perhaps if he would have had the advantage of claiming the prestige of the mayor’s title while he was running, the outcome of the race would have been different. Councilman Kennedy had chosen not to seek reelection. The final results had newcomer Debra Jones, a Republican, finishing first with 6,691 votes or 18.19 percent. Finishing second was Rita Ramirez, a Democrat who had previously held a college board post further out in the desert in Joshua Tree and who has also sought state and federal legislative posts unsuccessfully. Ramirez polled 5,196 votes or 14.13 percent. Negrete was behind the winning pace, having pulled in 4,909 votes or 13.35 percent. As a net result, the Democrats picked up one position and the Republicans lost one position on the Victorville City Council.
Having been thrown from his political horse, Negrete this year, at his first opportunity, is remounting, determined to seek reelection.
“With the support of my wife and family, I’m running for reelection to serve my community,” Negrete this week told the Sentinel. “My focus is on public safety, encouraging a prosperous business environment and ensuring city services are cost effective and responsive.”
Negrete said, “I believe in Victorville. I grew up in Victorville and returned to the city to raise my family after serving in the Air Force. I’m a strong public safety advocate and committed to implementing quality of life projects. I want a safe and healthy community where families can live, work and play.”
He has the qualifications needed to return to the council, Negrete said.
“It was an honor to serve as a councilman from 2014 until 2018,” he said. “While every city has its share of problems, I helped make the critical decisions that improve public safety, increase local job growth and ensure smart development. Most importantly, I represent all Victorville residents and businesses.”
Negrete said he is distinguished from his opponents in the race, who include Gomez, by his practical real-world approach to the challenges the city is facing, unhampered by ideological prejudices.
“I have the enterprise-level experience necessary to be a dependable, professional member of the council who knows the value of strong working relationships,” Negrete said. “Many of my opponents are not familiar with the challenges that face the city and how to get things done. I’ve always been a strong proponent of law enforcement and will continue to advocate for the resources the police need to do their jobs. This election is no time to take a chance with naïve and misguided candidates who want to defund the police. I am a voice for the family/quality of life, a voice for business and a voice for a safe city.”
The major issues facing the city, Negrete said, are “crime, the rising cost of public safety, quality of life. Victorville has quickly grown from a small community to a city of over 120,000 people. There are many challenges associated with rapid growth, including enormous demand for services like public safety.”
Those issues can be redressed, Negrete said, through “careful long term planning and strong fiscal management.”
One of the means by which the city can get a financial handle on the circumstance it faces is at hand, Negrete said, in the form of a tax measure that will be decided by the voters on November 3, the same day he is standing for reelection to the council.
“Rising public safety costs have made it necessary to augment the general fund,” Negrete said. “The general transaction and use tax measure is going to be on the November ballot. If the citizens approve raising the sales tax to 8.75% the city stands to gain $15.95 million in new revenue. The funding will be used for law enforcement, fire, improving and maintaining streets, repairing and maintaining public buildings like the city’s library, graffiti abatement and homeless issues. This is an issue that is facing many municipalities as demand for public safety services continues to climb. I support this measure and if elected will work to identify additional solutions to our long term challenges.”
In addition to his previous experience on the council, Negrete pointed out that his professional engagement relating to his work in program and project management for the Army and Air Force for nearly 20 years has given him uncommon insight into the function of government and governmental financial issues. Having lived in Victorville, he said “off and on since 1985,” Negrete relocated to the city permanently in 2009. As an adolescent and teenager, he attended Hook Jr. High as well as Victor Valley High School for one year.
Negrete holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Loyola Marymount University and a master’s degree in management from Troy State University.
Since 2007, Negrete has been a civilian program manager at Fort Irwin.
“I facilitate cross functional, multi-agency teams at the federal, state and local levels to support the Fort Irwin commander’s goals and initiatives,” he said. Having celebrated his tenth wedding anniversary recently, Negrete has four children and one grandchild.
Negrete said, “Many candidates talk about what they will do if elected. I was elected and my record includes right-sizing the city’s employees benefits and retirements, removing red light cameras, settling many costly lawsuits, improving the roads and increasing public safety. I always encourage folks to get involved in their communities. Being elected to the council was truly an honor. My beautiful wife continues to support my service to our community and I hope the voters of Victorville will too.
In a thinly-veiled reference to Gomez, Negrete said, “It is clear to me that in every election at all levels a person can get elected for all the wrong reasons. As a candidate, maybe that person misrepresented herself to the public and perhaps she doesn’t live in the city she won the election for. Who knows? Maybe she engaged in voter fraud and mysteriously beat obviously more qualified candidates. Of course, you would need to have all the institutions who are charged to ensure election fraud doesn’t happen look the other way. Look, this is California. I have no faith in local, county or state agencies to properly maintain voter registrations or conduct elections. Sadly, San Bernardino County and Orange County are going the way of the rest of the state.”
Of his personality clashes with Gomez between 2016 and 2018, Negrete said, “There are always going to be sociopaths who think they are going to gain power from being elected. Being elected is not going to make you someone. You were supposed to already be someone. You’ve seen these vapid people, obsessed with making everything about themselves. Being elected to office to me is not about power. Rather it’s the ultimate community service.”
Negrete continued, “From 2014 to 2016, the council quietly went about doing the business of the city. I recall being happy to have other cities in the news as we efficiently resolved one issue after another. In 2016 Victorville got someone new on the council who kept saying she wanted change but would never say what needed to change. This person wasted everyone’s time claiming there was corruption around every turn, never actually finding it, attacking law enforcement at every chance, undermining their selfless service. It is clear that this person was seeing things that weren’t there. For all the accusations, some too vile for this article, nothing ever materialized. The council is supposed to conduct the business of the city in a professional meeting. The council is not there to deal with a councilmember’s apparent mental health issues.”
In sizing up his experience on the council with Gomez as a colleague, Negrete said, “The only change that happened during the last two years of my time on the council was the circus came to town and our meetings were longer.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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