Kneeling front and center, Madrid is posing for a team photo with his high school wrestling team, the Moorpark Musketeers. These days, Madrid wrestles on behalf of local government as a political consultant and strategic advisor to the League Of California Cities.
“I think it is what got me into politics, being a wrestler,” Madrid said. “It’s win or lose and you’re the only one on the mat. It’s rough and tumble. You have to have a pretty adversarial personality to thrive in that sport.”
It’s Madrid’s against the grain style that has earned him the reputation as the Terrell Owens of California’s political struggle. He’s proud of that fact, and knows that ultimately it benefits California cities.
“Sometimes I’ve got to be the bull in the china shop and I’ve got to throw some sharp elbows and I’m not afraid to do that,” Madrid said.
Joking about the comparisons to himself and Owens – the NFL star who is known for his production on the field and disagreements in the locker room – Madrid is a political creature in a world with heavy emphasis on public policy.
“You’ve got to have him, but do you have a good time with him being there? Do you really like him? Do you want to have a beer with him?” Madrid said. “And that doesn’t bother me. I just need to know that at the end of the day I left nothing on the battlefield. I did everything I could do to protect cities, to protect my philosophy and to protect everything we’re doing here at the League.”
Madrid has gone to the mat for more than a decade for California local government in his role with the League of Cities. His current battle is redefining the state and local government relationship and ensuring that cities are as financially and politically strong as possible.
Madrid’s role with the League doesn’t fit in the International City/County Management Association handbook. He doesn’t fit into the standard organizational chart of any government organization.
“I’m in a box, set aside from it,” Madrid said. “I think my value is in being a part of the major strategic initiatives that the League undertakes and counseling and advising how to approach that politically and organizationally.”
Madrid was central to the League’s 2004 effort to qualify Proposition 65 and successfully campaign for Proposition 1A. That measure won with nearly 84 percent of the vote and established the League as a formidable player in California initiative campaigns.
In 2006, local governments defeated proposition 90 with the assistance of Madrid. Proposition 90 would have dramatically altered land use and property rights. Two years later the League successfully defeated prop 98 and passed prop 99 – both related to eminent domain reform.
The League carries this enviable record into the current campaign to further protect local government fuunds from state raids. Only weeks away from submitting nearly 1.1 million signatures, the League is continuing it’s fight to further protect city governments from the state.
“The truth is, the reason I have been here so long, is that it’s exactly aligned with my philosophy of what city government is, and that is local communities should determine the way that they should live,” Madrid said. “Local control.”
It goes back to that framed photo of his wrestling team in his office and the small town of Moorpark in Ventura County that Madrid grew up in. It was in that small city (1,500 people when his family moved there in 1971) that he saw the natural workings of local government between a community working together with elected officials.
“There were no politicians, just people in the community who stepped up to do what their neighbors asked of them,” Madrid said. “I think that really defined my opinion of what government should be.
“That’s the way the system is supposed to work and the farther you get away from that the less responsive government is, the less confident people are in their government.”
Madrid hasn’t swayed from those formative views of governance. In his work with the League of Cities, Madrid has been an advocate in the battle between the state and local governments. To Madrid, the current system of state politics is simply not working. He believes that California is seeing some of the final death throws in this system of government that has run the state for the last 100 years.
“I mean, if you look at the real world there are very few technologies or structures that worked five years, or 10 years ago, so why do we believe that our system of governance that worked five years ago makes sense?”
While Madrid has traded his spandex for a suit and tie, he still maintains a competitive approach to his current work.
“My biggest opponent is the mindset that is pervasive in Sacramento, a system within one square mile radius of the capitol, that genuinely believes in the system they are working in. And no one in the state has confidence in that any more.”
He’s an outside the box guy. That’s even evidence by his pets at home.
“I raise goats,” Madrid said.
Yup, he’s got 40 of them. He wasn’t raised with livestock, but when he needed some help keeping down the pasture on his property, the animal grew on him – emotionally and literally.
“It’s a little odd, I know,” Madrid said. “Goats are very smart, they are trouble-makers. They are kind of like the political consultants of the animal world. Goats see a fence and they have to figure out a way to get out of it.
“They can’t help themselves; they’ve got to mix things up a little bit.”
Just like Madrid.
It’s why he’s the right choice to scrap and wrestle on behalf of local government.
James Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org