Bustamante, Cruz M.: 1953—: Lieutenant Governor, Politician

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Cruz M. Bustamante: 1953: Lieutenant governor, politician

Cruz M. Bustamante is a Democrat who became the first Latino to hold a statewide office in California in over 100 years when he was elected lieutenant governor in 1998. Prior to that position, Bustamante served as a California assemblyman and he was the first Latino speaker of the state assembly. Throughout his career Bustamante has supported the agricultural and immigrant communities of California, particularly in his home district of Fresno. He has promoted better education, environmental responsibility, and racial tolerance and diversity during his two terms as lieutenant governor. He is a low-profile politician who has earned a reputation as someone who works hard and who is not afraid to address controversial issues.

Childhood Filled With Work and Values

Cruz M. Bustamante was born on January 4, 1953, in Dinuba, California, the first of six children born to Cruz and Dominga Bustamante. He grew up in San Joaquin living near both sets of grandparents who came to the United States from Chihuahua and Zacatecas, Mexico. Spanish was spoken in the home and it was Bustamante's first language. He only began learning English when he started attending kindergarten.

Bustamante's father worked primarily as a barber and his mother was a homemaker. "My mother made sure we understood how to behave and my father taught us the value of hard work as he held down two jobs, sometimes three, to keep us clothed, fed, and in school," Bustamante said on the California lieutenant governor's official website in 2003. Bustamante learned the value of serving other people from his parents, both of whom were actively involved in community service organizations. The senior Cruz Bustamante was also elected city councilperson and he unsuccessfully ran for the position of county supervisor.

Bustamante attended Tranquility High School, and when he was not in school, he worked in the fields of San Joaquin. "A barber's son who grew up working mostly in the fields of the country's largest agricultural region, where the class division between farm workers and farm owners is as clear as night and day, he shared the feelings of self-doubt and lowered expectations that so many children of his social stature experienced," wrote Fernando Quintero of LatinoLink. As a child Bustamante did not imagine becoming one of the most influential leaders in California when he grew up. After high school he went to Fresno City College to learn butchery. It was a short-lived career choice because Bustamante's entry into politics came when he was just 19 years old.

At a Glance . . .

Born Cruz M. Bustamante on January 4, 1953, in Dinuba, CA; son of Cruz and Dominga Bustamante; married to Arcelia De La Pena, 1977; children: Leticia, Sonia, and Marisa. Education: Fresno City College, 1972-73; Fresno State University, 1973-77.

Career: Congressman B.F. Sisk, Washington, D.C., intern, 1972; Fresno Summer Youth Employment Program, director, 1977-83; Congressman Rick Lehman, district representative, 1983-87; Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan, district representative, 1988-92; California State Assembly, assemblyman, 1993-95, speaker of the assembly, 1996-98; California, lieutenant governor, 1998.

Memberships: Association of Mexican American Educators; University of California Alumni Association.

Awards: National Legislative Award, League of United Latin American Citizens, 2003; Coastal Hero Award, California CoastKeeper Alliance, 2002; Legislator of the Year, Faculty Association of Community Colleges; True American Role Model, Mexican American Political Association; Lifetime Award, Golden State Mobile-home Owners League; Friend of Labor Award, Mexican American Political Association.

Address: Office State Capitol, Room 1114, Sacramento, CA 95814.

In 1972 Bustamante's father found an internship opportunity for his son in Washington, D.C., working for Congressman B.F. Sisk, who was the chairperson of the Rules and Means committee. It was an eye-opening experience for the working class rural Californian to be exposed to Washington's fast-paced political scene and elegant social life. Bustamante was assigned to read and answer the congressman's letters from his constituents. He enjoyed the task of helping people and he decided to pursue a career in government instead of butchery.

Bustamante returned to California after his internship and transferred to Fresno State University to study public administration. He stayed at Fresno State until 1977 when he married Arcelia De La Pena and began having children. Soon after, he was offered a part-time job as a fundraiser for local assemblyman Rick Lehman. Bustamante knew that the part-time job was an excellent way to break into California politics, but he also knew that he needed a full-time job to better support his family. Bustamante passed up the opportunity and instead went to work as the director of the Fresno Summer Youth Employment Program. Five years later, in 1983, Assemblyman Lehman became a U.S. representative and he again offered Bustamante a job, this time in a full-time capacity as a district representative. Bustamante quickly jumped at the chance to reenter politics and worked for Lehman for the next five years.

In 1988 Bustamante became a district representative for Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan. Bronzan was up for reelection as assemblyman in 1992 when he decided to take a job at the University of California, San Francisco, just eight days before the November elections. A special election was held in 1993 to fill Bronzan's vacant seat and Bustamante, a Democrat, easily won the election.

Moderate Politics Lead to Lieutenant Governorship

Bustamante was not a high-profile politician early in his career, but he was also not afraid to speak out about important issues. He was especially vocal about the agricultural industry and the immigrant labor force, which were both central to his district. In 1994 Bustamante took a stand against California Governor Pete Wilson's immigration policies. "I take it real personal when immigrants are made out to be the root of all evil," Bustamante told the California Journal Weekly in July of 1994. "They're saying that my grandparents, who worked for themselves and succeeded without being dependent on any social programs, had no merit."

In 1994 Bustamante was reelected as assemblyman of the 31st District. Two years later he became the first Latino speaker of the state assembly. Although Bustamante won 90 percent of the Latino vote in the 1996 election and he had been a strong proponent of immigrants' rights and issues, Bustamante was not a militant Latino who pushed an ethnic agenda. He was a self-described moderate or centrist, which he attributed to his upbringing. Bustamante recalled the tensions between white and Latino children in school and he learned as a child that it was best for him to tread in the middle of the two extremes. "I am built moderate. That's who I am," Bustamante was quoted from a speech by Peter Maass of U.S. News & World Report in March of 1997.

Bustamante has repeatedly explained that he has an American political agenda, not an ethnic agenda. Since his days in the California Assembly, this agenda has consisted of promoting good schools, safe neighborhoods, decent jobs, and opportunities for personal achievement. This straightforward platform won Bustamante the 1998 election for California's lieutenant governor, a constitutional officer who is elected separately from the governor. With this victory Bustamante became the first Latino to be elected to a statewide office in California since 1878. This historic event was celebrated by numerous high ranking political officials, including the vice president of the United States at that time, Al Gore. When Bustamante was sworn into office, he vowed to create more jobs for Californians. "I will work to breathe life into the dreams of entrepreneurs and to eliminate the needless regulation that strangles innovation," Bustamante said to the San Francisco Chronicle in January of 1999.

Laid Groundwork During First Term

California's lieutenant governor is second in command in the state. The lieutenant governor assumes the role of governor if the governor is unable to perform his or her duties. The lieutenant governor also serves as the president of the state senate, regent of the University of California, and trustee of the California State University System. While some politicians describe the lieutenant governor's position as a thankless job that is constantly overshadowed by the governor, Bustamante has aimed to make the most of his position. He has not been content to just sit on state boards and commissions. Instead he has launched his own statewide initiatives, in addition to attending to his regular duties.

Among Bustamante's many accomplishments as lieutenant governor, he has worked to improve education in the state. In particular, he established the SchiffBustamante Standards-Based Instructional Materials Program to provide proper textbooks for school children. Bustamante also worked for equal access to higher education and promoted educational incentives for college students. He was also involved in the development of a new University of California campus in Merced in the Central Valley, an area of California that had been underserved in the area of education.

Bustamante was in office during California's highly publicized and very expensive energy crisis at the turn of the century and he quickly stepped up to address the problem. In May of 2001 Bustamante filed a civil law suit in the Los Angeles Superior Court against five energy generators for overcharging California residents for electricity. He also sponsored legislation that would permit the criminal prosecution of companies that manipulated the energy market. Additionally, Bustamante appeared in statewide public service announcements to encourage Californians to conserve energy.

One of Bustamante's original initiatives as lieutenant governor was the creation of the Commission for One California to promote racial tolerance and diversity. The committee held hearings on the topics of racial profiling by law enforcement, diversity in the media, and tolerance in schools. Bustamante also led the government outreach effort to Sikh and Arab-American communities after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that left these communities vulnerable to ethnic and religious discrimination and violence. Most notably, Bustamante took a stand against Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure to cut social services for illegal immigrants which was approved by 60 percent of California voters. This controversial and politically contentious issue put Bustamante at odds with Governor Gray Davis, but Bustamante stood firm on his position. "This is a matter of principle to me," Bustamante told Robert B. Gunnison of the San Francisco Chronicle in April of 1999. "I am not going to back off this issue until it's resolved."

Continued to Push For Ethnic Education

In 2002 Bustamante ran for reelection as lieutenant governor of California. "I want to continue working on the things we've started. I want to be able to help people," Bustamante explained to Gregg Jones of the Los Angeles Times in October of 2002. Bustamante won the election against Republican State Senator Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz. The theme for his 2003 inaugural address was "Celebrating One California." In his inaugural speech he declared, "I plan to roll up my sleeves and work closely with county, state, and federal leaders from both sides of the aisle to strengthen California. It will be up to all Californians to do their fair share to make our state strong again."

In his second term as lieutenant governor, Bustamante has continued the initiatives he started during his first term. In particular he has promoted the Cal Grant Outreach Program to inform disadvantaged students about funding opportunities for college. He has also remained committed to cultural diversity and understanding. In 2003 he unveiled an educational book aimed at teaching children about the Sikh culture and community and he distributed educational kits about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II to schools and libraries throughout the state. Bustamante has also worked to promote international trade and development, improve health care for all Californians, and respond to the issues of Native Americans.

Bustamante has been a low-profile California politician who has made a name for himself by speaking out on controversial issues, particularly immigration. Since becoming lieutenant governor in 1998 he has worked to expand the scope of the lieutenant governor's office to pursue important initiatives. In the past 120 years only two sitting lieutenant governors in California have been elected to governor. It is likely that Bustamante, in announcing his candidacy in the recall election, will try to be the third person to accomplish this feat in the California gubernatorial elections in late 2003. Bustamante has managed to create a successful political career coming from a very modest upbringing and therefore he sees himself as a role model for other Latinos. He encourages them to believe in themselves and to pursue their dreams. As he told the San Francisco Chronicle, "If a short, overweight, balding guy from Fresno can do it, you [students] can do it too."



The Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2003.


California Journal Weekly, July 4, 1994.

Jet, March 5, 2001, p. 8.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, August 7, 2003.

Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2002, p. 6.

Sacramento Bee, January 5, 1999.

San Diego Union-Tribune, July 1, 2001, p. G5.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 1999, p. A11; April 22, 1999, p. A23; February 14, 2001, p. A3.

U.S. News & World Report, March 17, 1997, p. 28.


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"CSEA Endorses Cruz Bustamante for Lt. Governor," The California State Employees Association, www.calcsea.org/politics/20020830-cruz-4-lt-gov.asp (May 23, 2003).

"Election 2002," KTVU News, http://netelection.org/ktvu/Candidates/Lt_Governor/Cruz_Bustamante.asp (May 23, 2003).

Lieutenant Governor of California Official Website, www.ltg.ca.gov (May 23, 2003).

"Statewide Offices Lieutenant Governor," California Voter Foundation, www.calvoter.org/officers/ltgovernor.html (May 23, 2003).

Janet P. Stamatel