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Center for Oral and Public History Honors Orange County’s Political Leaders

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Nearly 200 local politicians, community representatives and university leaders gathered Feb. 9 to honor political powerhouses Frank Barbaro, Shirley Grindle and Gaddi Vasquez, and to focus on the mission of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History to record Orange County’s political history.

Capturing the struggles and triumphs of the people who shaped county politics is a bipartisan goal, said Natalie Fousekis, director of the center and professor of history. “We are honoring a Republican, a Democrat and a ‘decline to state.’  We couldn’t be more bipartisan than that,” she told the group.

Dick Ackerman, retired state senator and member of the Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation Board, served as master of ceremonies, introducing the honorees.

Barbaro, a trial attorney, said when he arrived from Detroit in 1953 Orange County’s population of 219,000 people were mostly Republicans surrounded by orange groves, and chili and strawberry fields.

He served as the chair of the Democratic Party in the mid 1970s, raising $500,000 for the party in four years and registering more Democrats than Republicans in 1978, for the first time in county history. He chaired the party again from 2001 to 2012, and continues to push for political plurality in today’s Orange County population of 3.3 million.

Grindle, a former aeronautical engineer, served as an Orange County planning commissioner from 1973 to 1976. The experience prompted her to launch another career and the “endless job” of campaigning for political finance reform and a codes of ethics.

“I’m proud of the impact I’ve had on Orange County politics through the TINCUP (Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics) ordinance, the gift ban (on county elected officials and employees) and the ethics commission,” she said. The county’s Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission to oversee the county’s campaign reform ordinance is still a work in progress, she added.

“We need the ethics commission to make sure we all play by the same set of rules,” Grindle said. “It won’t happen in my lifetime, but sooner or later the money has to be taken out of politics.”  

Vasquez, former director of the Peace Corps and U.S. Ambassador, is currently Southern California Edison’s senior vice president of government affairs. He was the first person of color to serve on Orange County’s Board of Supervisors.

Orange County’s Disney and Knott families, and strong political and community leaders, including Cal State Fullerton’s late President Emeritus Jewel Plummer Cobb, all influenced his political path, he said.

Vasquez shared his motivation, a call to action from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said: “Every generation is a trustee of this nation’s future for the next generation.”

“All of us, in our own way, have a unique responsibility to be trustees,” Vasquez said.

The center’s student-driven oral history program will celebrate its 50th year in 2018. It is the largest regionally focused oral archive in the state and holds nearly 6,000 recorded interviews, related transcripts, photographs and other materials. The honorees’ oral histories and video interviews will be added to the collection, and are posted here.

In October 2015, COPH honored Former State Assemblyman Jim Morrissey, former Congressman Jerry Patterson and former state Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer. Marian Bergeson, Lynn Daucher and Lois Lundberg were added in 2014 at the inaugural event  of the center’s Orange County Politics Project.

COPH was awarded a $425,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant in 2011 for the renovation and expansion of the center. The center has raised $2 million of the $3.5 million needed for its expansion and climate-controlled storage planned for the Pollak Library on campus.