WASHINGTON — Former Merced County Congressman Dennis Cardoza is collecting both kudos and clients.
This week, the grandson of Portuguese immigrants stood proud as the Portuguese ambassador to the United States bestowed upon him the title of Grand Officer of the Order of Prince Henry, the Navigator. "It was a low-key affair, but one with great personal significance for me," Cardoza said Friday.
The honor, presented Wednesday at the D.C. residence of Ambassador Nuno Brito, cites Cardoza's work in Congress. More broadly, the Order of Prince Henry, the Navigator, is meant to honor those who help expand appreciation for Portuguese culture and history. "Over the years, I've been a special friend to the country," Cardoza said.
Now with a big law-and-lobbying firm, Cardoza during his decade in the House of Representatives helped revive the Congressional Portuguese Caucus. Beyond ethnic fellowship, caucus members have coalesced around issues such as protesting the closing of a U.S. consulate in the Azores and supporting U.S. military operations at an Azores air base.
Lajes Field, on the Azores' Terceira Island nearly 1,000 miles from Lisbon, has been a particular focus for some. Pentagon officials announced in December that they would shrink the U.S. presence at Lajes Field, removing about 400 uniformed personnel and 500 family members. A month later, U.S. officials said they would slow the personnel reduction by several months and offer help to Portugal to redevelop the site.
Cardoza said Friday he couldn't go into some sensitive details concerning his efforts to bridge Portuguese and U.S. interests. He did, however, note the intensely personal connection he has with Portugal, because all four of his grandparents emigrated from the Azores during the 1920s.
"It's incredible; my grandparents were peasants," Cardoza said. "They were working, farming people, but they didn't have two nickels to rub together."
Cardoza was speaking by telephone from Sacramento, where he spends about a week every month for the firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Cardoza joined the company in August after resigning four months before the expiration of his final House term. He holds the title of managing director of the company's government and regulatory policy group.
Congressional ethics rules prohibit Cardoza from formally lobbying his former House colleagues for one year after leaving office. He can still provide clients strategic advice, though, and the congressional cooling-off period does not apply to Sacramento, where Cardoza previously served six years in the state Assembly.
Cardoza said he's been working on insurance, horse racing, agriculture and water issues, adding that several water district clients "are just about to sign" with his firm. He declined to identify the clients until they have finalized a contract, and he indicated he doesn't yet know whether his California work will require him to register in Sacramento.
"It's really enjoyable," Cardoza said. "I'm still working on a lot of the issues I worked on before."
A member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition while in the House, Cardoza in his new job need pay even less attention to party affiliations. He contributed $1,000 to his firm's Golden State Political Action Committee last September, records show; 30 percent of the PAC's total contributions went to Republicans and 70 percent went to Democrats.