For the next 20 years, I would see the transformation of the party of my youth through the rise and expansion of the Great Society and the Democratic legacy of big, government-funded programs like the Comprehensive Employment and Training Administration (CETA) that discouraged personal responsibility and created a dependent individual. To fund these useless programs as well as public union employees throughout all levels of government, we saw a steady increase in personal, federal, state, and local taxes.
But perhaps the most transformative moment for me was meeting and supporting Mexican-American economist and Republican presidential candidate Ben Fernandez in 1979. Ben Fernandez of Los Angeles was a member of the Republican National Committee who, with the blessing of the RNC, ran for president during the primary that selected Ronald Reagan as the GOP candidate in 1980. Fernandez was the Herman Cain of that election and electrified Republican audiences wherever he spoke.
I first heard him speak in July 1979 in Lorain, where he addressed a large crowd of mostly Mexican and Puerto Rican Democrats. His message was a conservative one in which he talked about his humble beginnings and how through hard work, education, love and support of family and community, he became a millionaire and achieved the American Dream.
His conservative message eschewed government programs that created waste, raised taxes, and made people dependent on government through welfare and other make-work programs. He spoke of "compassionate conservatism" before anyone else and said that Republicans had to lend a hand up, not a handout, to those less fortunate.
Fernandez insisted that Hispanics were indeed inherently conservatives and independent by nature. He cited their patriotic nature and pride in America that thus, made them more suited to be Republicans than Democrats. By the end of his speech I thought to myself, "Oh my God, I'm a Republican!"
So in 1980, I cast my vote for Ronald Reagan and thereafter for every Republican presidential candidate. Some years later, I finally made the switch from born-and-raised Democrat and asked for my first Republican ballot. I also became a member and official of the county Republican Party and was selected in 2004 as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in New York City.
After witnessing last week's national GOP convention, it is fair to say, "This is not your father's Republican Party." The Republican Party today is different than it was 40 years ago. It is truly the "Big Tent Party" that has retained its core and expanded to include groups such as blue-collar workers, gun owners, people of faith, married couples, active military and veterans, those who oppose abortion, Asians, blacks, and Hispanics, just to name a few.