Richard Polanco is the former California State Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. First elected in 1986, he served 16 years in the California Legislature. In 1994, he was elected to the State Senate and served as Senate Majority Leader from 1998 until his retirement in 2002. Polanco is best known for his work with the Latino Legislative Caucus, which he chaired from 1990 to 2002. Under his leadership, the number of Democratic Latino legislators increased from seven to 24. Eventually, his efforts contributed to the election of the first Latino Speaker of the Assembly, Cruz Bustamante.
A native of East Los Angeles, Richard graduated from Garfield High School before attending East Los Angeles College, the University of Redlands, and the Universidad de Mexico, where he majored in business administration. Prior to his election to the Legislature in 1986, Polanco was active in both state and local politics. At the community level, Polanco helped found the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center in Highland Park, which offers medical services on a sliding scale for low-income patients. He also worked with organizations such as Para Los Niños, a community-service center for Skid Row youth, and the Mujeres Recovery Home, a residential facility for women recovering from addiction. At the state level, Polanco served as a special assistant to Governor Jerry Brown during his first term in office and as Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Richard Alatorre. As a State Legislator, Polanco's legislative interests were varied, ranging from water desalination programs to transnational economic partnerships to the research and treatment of various mental illnesses. He also authored numerous bills related to Medicare expansion, prison reform, and insurance regulation.
Over the span of his time in the Legislature, Richard consistently advocated for Latino interests, including formally recognizing and granting an annual holiday in honor of Cesar Chavez. In October 2002, Mr. Polanco established the California Latino Caucus Institute for Public Policy, a non-profit organization to serve as a broad-based public policy, educational, and leadership development organization.