2007.02.10: February 10, 2007: Headlines: Figures: COS - Ethiopia: State Government: Politics: Lodi News-Sentinel: "All of our public service almost certainly would have never occurred if we had not been Peace Corps volunteers," says John Garamendi. "Peace Corps set the pace, the foundation for everything we have done ever since."

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Special Report: California State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi: April 4, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV John Garamendi (Ethiopia) : 2007.02.10: February 10, 2007: Headlines: Figures: COS - Ethiopia: State Government: Politics: Lodi News-Sentinel: "All of our public service almost certainly would have never occurred if we had not been Peace Corps volunteers," says John Garamendi. "Peace Corps set the pace, the foundation for everything we have done ever since."

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-245-26-66.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.245.26.66) on Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 10:12 am: Edit Post

"All of our public service almost certainly would have never occurred if we had not been Peace Corps volunteers," says John Garamendi. "Peace Corps set the pace, the foundation for everything we have done ever since."

All of our public service almost certainly would have never occurred if we had not been Peace Corps volunteers, says John Garamendi. Peace Corps set the pace, the foundation for everything we have done ever since.

Garamendi began his career of public service at a rural high school in southwest Ethiopia in 1966. The All American lineman on the University of California, Berkeley football team was about to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, but Patti, his girlfriend at the time, had other ideas. "I told Patti I had an offer to play professional football. She said, 'Well I'm going into the Peace Corps,'" Garamendi recalled. "I thought about it for a while and said, 'Well I think we ought to go ahead and get married and I'll go into the Peace Corps, too.' I told (the Cowboys) I was going into the Peace Corps. Patti made a much better offer."

"All of our public service almost certainly would have never occurred if we had not been Peace Corps volunteers," says John Garamendi. "Peace Corps set the pace, the foundation for everything we have done ever since."

John Garamendi: Family man, local rancher and career politician

By Matt Brown
News-Sentinel Staff Writer

Last updated: Saturday, Feb 10, 2007 - 07:57:33 am PST

MOKELUMNE HILL John Garamendi has been working since 5:30 a.m. But California's lieutenant governor isn't crafting a health care plan and he's not fixing the state's education system.

It's Saturday, and Garamendi has been up mending fences and repairing roads on his 1,000-acre cattle ranch here in the brown Sierra Nevada foothills.

He has traded his dark suit for a faded pair of Levi's, a jean jacket and dirty work boots. He's wielding a heavy metal hook, which he uses to hoist bales of hay onto the back of a trailer. The biggest worry on Garamendi's mind right now is feeding his 50 Black Angus cattle during the recent, unseasonably dry weather.

"It's troublesome," Garamendi said. "This lack of rain is bad for the cattle."

At just over six feet, Garamendi's broad frame fills a doorway of the barn that he built in 1980 using pilings from a San Francisco Bay pier. Although he spends his weekends at Touch the Earth Ranch, Garamendi lives in the tiny delta town of Walnut Grove, west of Galt.

On Jan. 8, Garamendi became the state's second highest elected official, and the most prominent politician to come from the Lodi area two of his daughters went to Lodi schools and he likes to dine at Wine and Rose on occasion.

The former insurance commissioner has spent his career striving for California's top political spot. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1982 and 1994. In 2003, he briefly threw his hat into the ring during the recall election to replace Gray Davis.

Now that he is closer than ever to the governor's office, the life-long politician said another run in 2010 is not out of the question, and many Sacramento insiders consider him a top contender if he ran.

"It's a possibility," he said. "We'll talk about that later. Right now we will talk about getting things done."

A political rancher

Patti Garamendi, John's wife, joins him in the barn and the two climb into an old Jeep towing the trailer of hay bales and four young grandsons in cowboy hats. As the cattle follow the Jeep, Garamendi shows his grandchildren how to cut the hay bales and feed the animals.

"Watch that blade, it's sharp," he said. "You've got it. Good work."

Garamendi likes to have family around. Three of his six grown children have houses on the ranch, and almost every Sunday he cooks big steak dinners for his children, their spouses and his nine grandchildren.

"The family dinners are great," Patti said. "There is a lot of political discussion and frontline advice."

Garamendi, 62, has a long to-do list as lieutenant governor. A Democrat, Garamendi said it will not be hard to work with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"His 2006-2007 agenda is the same as mine," he said.

Garamendi's top issues include health care, education and climate change.

He said he is excited about the governor's health care proposal.

"I am delighted for his plan," he said. "It is very far reaching and has elements in it that are extremely important. It's a very courageous proposal. There are things in it that work, and there are things in it that can be done better."

Global climate change is an issue close to the lieutenant governor's heart. As a rancher, he said he worries about the effect global warming will have on California's environment. He spent three years in the Clinton Administration dealing with this and other issues as deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In Washington, Garamendi met Vice President Al Gore. The two remain close friends and Gore campaigned for Garamendi during the 2006 election. Gore, whose global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" is nominated for an Academy Award, mentored him on global climate change, and Garamendi said he hopes to tackle the issue in the next four years.

"We have to reduce emissions," he said. "That's one aspect of it. We also have to move away from our dependence on foreign oil, start looking at electric cars, hybrid cars. We need to incentivize the system to allow for research."

The lieutenant governor post, like the job of vice president, is seen as largely ceremonial. Garamendi will be a stand-in for Schwarzenegger when he is out of the state, and he will serve on the University of California Board of Regents and the state Lands Commission. But people who have worked with Garamendi say that he has a history of bringing life to the positions he has held and he has the potential to be an effective lieutenant governor.

Byron Tucker, who was Garamendi's director of communications at the Department of Insurance said Garamendi has the ability to understand complex issues in very little time and would sometimes tell his advisors things they should have known.

Rick Baum, the number two at the Department of insurance, was Garamendi's chief deputy during both his terms as insurance commissioner. He said Garamendi is not afraid to tackle tough issues.

"He's not afraid to ask questions about things he doesn't know about," he said. "He has an incredible ability to absorb and process data, and he is the quickest study I have ever known. Many times he was briefed on an issue and was prepared to speak on it 10 minutes later with complete accuracy."

A career of public service

Garamendi's only son, John Garamendi Jr., helps his father toss fistfuls of hay to the hungry cattle. Like his father, John Jr. said he is thinking about getting into politics by running for Michael Machado's 5th State Senate district seat.

"I'm taking a long look at it," said John Jr., the vice chancellor of the University of California, Merced. "I learned from my dad that if you really want to make a difference, you've got to legislate."

Garamendi began his career of public service at a rural high school in southwest Ethiopia in 1966. The All American lineman on the University of California, Berkeley football team was about to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, but Patti, his girlfriend at the time, had other ideas.

"I told Patti I had an offer to play professional football. She said, 'Well I'm going into the Peace Corps,'" Garamendi recalled. "I thought about it for a while and said, 'Well I think we ought to go ahead and get married and I'll go into the Peace Corps, too.' I told (the Cowboys) I was going into the Peace Corps. Patti made a much better offer."

He and Patti taught English and worked on health care projects in the impoverished East African nation. Garamendi said his Peace Corps experience influenced the rest of his political life.

"All of our public service almost certainly would have never occurred if we had not been Peace Corps volunteers," he said. "Peace Corps set the pace, the foundation for everything we have done ever since."

Three of his children have been Peace Corps volunteers, and Patti was the Associate Director of the Peace Corps. Garamendi has visited Ethiopia since his service, most recently returning with a team of peace negotiators to broker a peace deal ending the country's bloody war with Eritrea, its neighbor to the north.

After a master's degree in business administration at Harvard, Garamendi was elected to the California State Assembly in 1974 and State Senate two years later. In 1990 he became California's first elected insurance commissioner, but his eye has always been on California's top job.

Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi said that the lieutenant governor's position is looked at as a stepping-stone to the governor's mansion. He said he would be surprised if Garamendi didn't run for governor in 2010.

Experts are already weighing in on the 2010 race, when Schwarzenegger will be termed out and the Democratic primary could decide the next governor. Steve Maviglio, a Sacramento insider and contributor to the political blog, The California Majority Report, said Garamendi has a 25-1 shot at winning the governor's race.

"He's certainly in the top tier," he said. "He has name recognition and a lot of friends in the party. He was the most effective insurance commissioner. He doesn't have a lot of enemies."

If Garamendi works well with Schwarzenegger, it would be no surprise. He is known for working across the aisle.

Assemblyman Guy Houston, a Republican whose district includes Galt and Garamendi's home in Walnut Grove, said he is easy to work with.

"The image of him isn't ultra partisan," Houston said. "He'll figure out how to get things done."

Nakanishi, R-Lodi, said Garamendi will do a fine job as lieutenant governor.

"If you have to have a Democrat, he's a good one," he said.

Garamendi's burden

After his first term as insurance commissioner and the stint in Washington at the Department of Interior, Garamendi briefly left public service to become a partner in the Yucaipa Companies, a Los Angeles-based private investment firm. After four years in the private sector, he left to run for his second term as insurance commissioner.

"(Working in the private sector) was a good experience, but it wasn't my passion," Garamendi said. "My passion is public policy."

Garamendi said his greatest achievement as insurance commissioner was regulating insurance companies and protecting consumers.

"My goal was to create the best consumer protection agency in the state," he said. "Our job was to make sure the laws were obeyed by the insurance companies."

Ironically, it was a legal incident at the Department of Insurance that has left the biggest stain on Garamendi's political career. As insurance commissioner in 1991, Garamendi seized Executive Life Insurance Company and its portfolio of junk bonds and sold it to a French government-owned bank and a junk bond dealer.

California law prohibits foreign governments to own insurance companies in the state. Garamendi maintains he had no knowledge of the fraudulent scheme in which French investors bought the insurance company on behalf of the government-owned Credit Lyonnais.

"The sale of Executive Life was approved only because the French consortium that purchased it lied, under oath, about the true nature of its ownership," Garamendi said.

The company's 350,000 policyholders lost upward of $4.5 billion. Maureen Marr co-founded the Executive Life Action Network, which represented the defrauded policyholders during the 15 years of legal proceedings. Marr repeatedly called for Garamendi's resignation.

"Mr. Garamendi is a corrupt politician," she said. "I've heard his legal team lie under oath regarding policyholders' losses."

In the last 15 years, Garamendi has fought legal battles on behalf of the defrauded policyholders.

"Since the fraud was uncovered, I have worked to help the policyholders who were financially harmed," Garamendi said.

To date, Garamendi has recovered more than $1 billion for the benefit of policyholders.

More work to do

At Touch the Earth Ranch, Garamendi finds refuge from political life.

After feeding the cattle, Garamendi and family head back to the ranch house for some strong coffee and a quick break in the day's chores. The grandchildren play on the jungle gym, which Garamendi had installed next to the house. Later in the day, Garamendi will go out to repair the dams on the ranch's reservoirs.

"There's always more work to do," he said.

He's referring to the tireless job of ranching, but he may just as well be talking about the work of building his political legacy.

When he is not formulating policy in Sacramento or ranching in Mokelumne Hill, Garamendi likes to camp and fish in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But his favorite place is Touch the Earth Ranch, where the Mokelumne River trickles through his property just 50 miles east of where it borders Lodi. He works on the land near where his Basque relatives first mined for gold in 1863.

"This is where our happiness is," he said. "It keeps us rooted and in touch with family and the land."

Contact reporter Matt Brown at mattb@lodinews.com.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: February, 2007; RPCV John Garamendi (Ethiopia); Figures; Peace Corps Ethiopia; Directory of Ethiopia RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Ethiopia RPCVs; State Government; Politics; California





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