Where are they now? Mike Machado

Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, chair of the Senate Banking, Finance and Insurance Committee, at a 2007 Capitol hearing. (Photo: AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

It’s been almost 70 years since Michael J. Machado was born in San Joaquin County, but he still calls Linden home. Having seen the decades pass has given him a perspective on small town farming in the Central Valley.

“Linden hasn’t changed much since I was born,” Machado reflected recently, “It’s tripled in size since I was a boy, now with a bursting population of 2,500.”

Having grown up here and spent his life on this land, he can talk with familiarity about the walnuts, peaches, cherries and grapes that he grows.

His election in 1994 dropped Machado into the Legislature at a challenging point in its history.

He also sees the fields from another perspective: As someone who graduated from Stanford with an economics degree at age 22 and spent more than a decade as a California lawmaker, Machado has a better perspective than most on the complicated relationship between northern water and southern cities.

The political shuffle that led Machado to the Legislature was a complicated one.

In 1990, John Garamendi became California’s first elected Insurance Commissioner. Assemblyman Patrick Johnston ran for and was easily elected to the vacant Senate seat in early 1991. Although Democrats tried to hold onto Johnston’s Assembly seat, Republican Dean Andal managed to defeat Patti Garamendi in the May election. By then, Machado was a successful farmer and a member of the Lions, the Rotary, as well as the San Joaquin Farm Bureau.

In 1992, Machado ran against Andal. The race was a close one and Andal was able to hold the district by less than 1,500 votes. Two years later, the Assembly Republicans, led by Jim Brulte, ran a strong statewide campaign. Had Andal decided to run for another term, there is a fairly strong chance that he would have held the seat and Republicans would have gained a wider majority in the Assembly. Instead, Andal left for the State Board of Equalization, leaving the thinly-spread Republicans with a vacant swing seat to hold.

Although the Republicans had their best election in a generation, picking up nine seats, they were unable to hold San Joaquin. Machado narrowly beat the Republican nominee, San Joaquin County Supervisor Ed Simas, by 1.6%.

His election in 1994 dropped Machado into the Legislature at a challenging point in its history.

Term limits had arrived in earnest, forcing even popular long-time members to look around nervously for opportunities. Within the Assembly, the speakership of Willie Brown, the longest in state history, had begun its decline. Although Republicans had managed to elect a majority in the Assembly, Speaker Brown was able to use a combination of parliamentary rules and negotiation to hold off the Republican takeover for another year.

The Machado recall, which he raised tens of thousands of dollars to defeat, ultimately failed, with nearly two-thirds of the voters choosing to keep him in office.

During this time, the near-daily votes for speaker made party affiliation take on an unusually prominent role in the day-to-day life of the institution. The first of the three recall elections that year was filed against Republican Paul Horcher, who had voted against the GOP majority to retain Brown as speaker. The second recall, which followed within months, was filed against the Democrat who had been elected in 1994 by the narrowest margin: Mike Machado.

The Horcher recall, held three months before Machado’s, succeeded — Horcher was replaced with Gary G. Miller. The Machado recall, which he raised tens of thousands of dollars to defeat, ultimately failed, with nearly two-thirds of the voters choosing to keep him in office.

A third recall, held three months after Machado’s, removed Republican Assembly Speaker Doris Allen.

Many candidates win election to the Legislature based on claims that they are political outsiders, but that’s a challenging position to actually maintain throughout a career. Friendships and loyalties combined with competition for scarce resources, both within the Legislature and on the campaign trail, put continual pressure on legislators to conform to standard molds.

Machado, a moderate from a rural area with a long history as a swing district, seemed to continually work to find a balance.

“Mike seemed to be frustrated a lot,” said Bill Leonard, who served in the Assembly with Machado for two sessions. “He didn’t like Democrats pressuring him to vote on their controversial bills or when Republicans called him a liberal.”

“I started with Pete Wilson, stayed for Davis and ended with Schwarzenegger.” — Mike Machado.

Once the distraction of the recall had passed, Machado was able to settle into the business of legislating and representing his community in Sacramento.

Over the years that he was in office, he served the state on a number of powerful committees including Budget, Appropriations, Governmental Organization, and as chair of Revenue and Taxation.

“I started with Pete Wilson, stayed for Davis and ended with Schwarzenegger,” reflected Machado, “I enjoyed the bipartisan work and the good people there during that time … I miss a lot of what we did.”

He also worked on issues of local importance, including being a member of just about every committee that touched water issues.

From the Assembly Committee on Water Parks & Wildlife to the Senate Agriculture and Water Resources Commiteee, Machado made sure that discussions and decisions at the Capitol were made with the understanding of how important water was to his neighbors in the Delta.

In 2008, as he termed out of the Senate, he made what he called an easy decision to return to the farm.

“When I was first elected, I said I’d return to the private sector,” said Machado recently. “Since leaving office, I’ve returned to our agricultural farming operation and served on the board of directors for a few public companies and nonprofits.”

Today, Mike Machado spends most of his time on the family farm that his grandparents started when they arrived from the Azores more than a century ago.

One of the highlights of his time since leaving the Senate has been spending time with his four grandchildren, two of whom live in California and two who are in Montreal. He doesn’t try to stay updated on the latest events in Sacramento, but enjoys emailing and talking with his local representatives.

“You don’t really get out of the Sacramento influence,” Machado said, “I stay on the periphery of the water issue. I work with local jurisdictions that want to know how to get along with Sacramento.”

“You look back,” he says, “We’re 70. What happened to us? Where did the time go?”

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