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The San Diego Region Chamber of Commerce tapped a long-time Bush Administration official as its new leader Friday, in a signal of the business group’s desire to extend its political heft both locally and in the nation’s capital.

The chamber’s board confirmed the selection of Ruben Barrales, a former deputy assistant to the president who worked in the White House for six years, as its new president and chief executive. Barrales, a former San Mateo County supervisor and Republican nominee for state controller, headed President Bush’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, the body responsible for outreach to state and local officials.

“We went in with a thought that we wanted to extend our influence,” said Nikki Clay, the chair of the chamber’s board, at a press conference announcing the appointment. She described Barrales as “absolutely perfect” for the job.

Barrales, a Latino, said he would make extending the region’s reach internationally a top focus, and the chamber signaled that opening an additional border crossing with Mexico would be a top priority under his tenure.

“I know that San Diego has been described as a cul-de-sac, socially and politically. I don’t see it that way at all. San Diego is a gateway,” Barrales said.

The chamber did not say how many candidates had been considered during the five-month selection process to find a successor to Jessie Knight, who stepped down earlier this year to become an executive at Sempra Energy. It also did not disclose Barrales’ compensation.


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