Courting the Latino vote

by Amaury Nora

In recent years, at the start of each new election cycle, the political cliché describing the Latino/a population is the “sleeping giant.” If awakened, it would have a profound impact on America’s political and social landscape. The Latino voting community has recently emerged as a critical political force in American presidential elections. Except for Cuban-Americans in Florida, many Latinos/as have supported the Democratic Party. With the increasing numbers of Latinos/as, there has been a surge of interest in mobilizing Latino political participation. Both Democrats and Republicans know that no serious politician can ignore the Latina/o vote. However, courting the Latina/o vote has become a political conundrum for both parties.

In an effort to confront the “immigration problem,” both parties have been walking a very thin rope, which could bring monumental, long-term damage to both Democratic and Republican Parties. These effects have already been felt. During last year’s Congressional election, when Democrats swept control of Congress, it is widely believed that the current Republican tone toward immigrants widely cost the GOP the Latino vote. Things can get worse for the Republican Party during the 2008 elections. According to Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, 12 million new immigrant voters will now be able to participate in the 2008 elections.

In 2007, times seem to have gotten nastier. When the subject of immigrants and their children comes up, Republican Presidential candidates are more interested in building walls and deporting undocumented workers then creating a pathway to citizenship. It is safe to say the Republican candidates will be lukewarm this election cycle when it comes to courting Latinos. But where did this xenophobic rhetoric originate?

Some feel, like Roberto Lovato, that this sentiment originally began with California’s Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative that sought to deny social services, health care and public education to undocumented children. True, most Republican candidates historically ignored the broad Latino voting community. Sadly, 1994 was a prime example where the Republican Party used Latino and immigration issues as wedge issues to gain the support of white conservatives. It was a dark year for the state of California, because the electorate consciously decided that it would be the only state in the Union to roll back the welcome mat for the “tired,” the “poor” and the “huddled masses.”

One would have assumed the Republican Party had learned its lesson after the Prop 187 debacle, since President George W. Bush was able to capture about 40% of the Latino vote in his presidential bin in 2000. In order for him to accomplish this task, Bush, while Governor of Texas, had to work hard to create a favorable Hispanic image prior to the 2000 election campaign.

In a strategic move, in 1994, Bush proclaimed that he was against CA’s Proposition 187. As a result of this, Hispanics began to see Bush in a different light. Throughout his governorship, Bush slowly gained more recognition and trust from the Latina/o community. Last year, the Los Angeles Times explained how Bush challenged Pat Buchanan in the 1996 Presidential race to avoid anti-immigration attacks. All this would later aid Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

During Bush’s presidential bid, Lionel Sosa, GOP political and advertising consultant, would create an image that emphasized Bush’s openness, respect and acceptance towards the Hispanic community. According to the LA Times, Sosa created several “emotion-laden” campaign videos to woo the Latino vote. One video included Bush waving a Mexican flag during a Mexican Independence Day parade in San Antonio in 1998 when was running for reelection as governor.

It would seem the Republican Party finally realized the importance of the Latino vote. They were able to tap into the emerging Latino voting community successfully, then they stopped using wedge issues that were perceived as hostile and antagonistic by most of the Latino community. So why aren’t they continuing with this formula? More importantly, where and how did this current xenophobic rhetoric arise within the Republican Party?

This xenophobic view has arisen with the belief that Latinos/as do not have the values that the Americans see as central to the entire political system, such as Patriotism and economic self-reliance. These sweeping generalizations were popularized by influential political scientist Samuel Huntington and politicians such as Colorado’s Rep. Tom Tancredo are now expressing similar views. Huntington’s simplistic and politically-motivated conceptualization distorts the reality on the ground. Huntington wrote:

The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two people, two cultures, two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream US culture forming instead their own linguistic enclaves- from Los Angeles to Miami- and rejecting the Anglo protestant values that build the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its perils.

It is this statement captures the essence of the fear that exists in the US. Anti-immigration positions have been used by many Republican politicians, such as former Gov Pete Wilson, to gain votes from Anglo Conservatives.

For the most part, Democratic strategists have done little to challenge the latest change in Latino voting behavior. Instead of countering it, the Democratic leadership would rather take advantage of the political fallout as a result of the actions of antagonistic Republicans that would push conservative and independent Hispanic voters back into the Democratic Party. And this is exactly what’s happening. In a recent poll, the Pew Hispanic Center found “Hispanics returning to [the] Democratic Party.”

Although, they may appear to be returning to the Democratic Party, in reality they’re nothing but DINOS – Democrats in Name Only – whose only interest is in tugging the party to the right for cold cash and to punish the Republican Party for their betrayal. Once they have settled into their new home, these newly converted Democrats can be expected to start whispering in the ears of prominent party leaders, advising them to contort themselves to fit a centrist view so as to accommodate the US mainstream.

What if there are some Democrats who are getting advice from people who wish them no good, advising them to say whatever they believe will help them win political currency. For example, Lionel Sosa, after a lifetime serving as a Hispanic outreach consultant for the GOP, is now supporting Democratic candidate New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s presidential bid. Sosa’s reason for supporting Bill Richardson is the same reason many Latino civil rights organizations supported Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, but in this case, as Sosa puts it, “blood is thicker than party.” While this would help Democrats win back a major segment of conservative and independent Hispanics, Sosa continues to be a “Bush backer and a Republican,” according to Cox News Service.

Because of the current Latino backlash, other pro-Republican organizations, such the Latino Coalition, are adamant about sending their party a message by supporting Democrats in competitive races. The coalition is chaired by Hector Barreto, the former administrator of the Small Business Administration under Bush and former strategist for the Republican National Committee.

Another blow to the Republican Party is the recent defection of Rev. Luis Cortes, a Republican who founded the annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast that has featured Bush every year. While close to Bush, Rev. Cortes latest move proves he is more than willing to prostitute himself out to the highest bidder. Recently, Cortes met with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean to discuss how the Republican presidential candidates are using immigration as a wedge issue and scapegoating immigrants.

What is more troubling; the Democratic leadership is willing to overlook Rev. Cortes’ close ties with the Bush Administration and other conservative Republicans. According to the National Council on Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), Cortes was awarded a $2.5 million grant in the first round of President Bush’s Compassion Capital Fund grants for faith-based organizations in 2002 ; and $2.76 million as the first installment of $11 million over three years from the Bush Administration’s Department of Labor in 2004. These funds are spent with little or no oversight, and unfortunately, with the latest Supreme Court ruling, no possible avenue to challenge them.

In 2005, Associated Press revealed that former Senator Bill Frist’s AIDS charity, World of Hope, Inc., paid nearly a half-million dollars in consulting fees to members of his political inner circle, which included Cortes.

World of Hope gave $3 million it raised to charitable AIDS causes, such as Africare and evangelical Christian groups with ties to Republicans — Franklin Graham’s Samaritan Purse and the Rev. Luis Cortes’ Esperanza USA, for example.

It is no surprise the Baptist minister has long sought to build a national network of Hispanic churches, one that would bring new power to an emerging minority. Operating in North Philadelphia, Cortes’ organization, Nueva Esperanza Inc., has one of the largest contracts of the 44 groups chosen to provide the training to smaller organizations and distribute the federal cash. Cortes is one of the most prominent Hispanic evangelicals in politics. One does have to wonder if Rev. Luis Cortes will say or do to insure his faith-based organization is not cut from future funding.

With people like Rev. Cortes, loyalty goes out the window at the drop of a hat. In 2005, Pensacola’s Independent News reveals Rev. Cortes’ true colors when it comes to partisan loyalties.

“This is what I tell politicians,” he adds. “You want an endorsement? Give us a check, and you can take a picture of us accepting it. Because then you’ve done something for brown.”

Even as Mr. Dean criticizes Republicans, many Democrats in Congress have adopted the same enforcement-only approach Republicans advocate. The Democrats’ silence on the brutal raids on immigrant workers shows how much they intend to do about it.

Realizing they cannot win without a large Latino/a turn-out, Democrats tend fail to understand the impact DINOS like these have on the Latina/o community. Right now there is a large infusion of Republican Latinos/as into the Democratic Party, but be forewarned, they will change when the immigration debate dies down. History shows that the Democrats’ assumption of Latino support provided Republicans with the opportunity to attract significant levels of Latino voters around the nation.

7 replies »

  1. Bush waving a Mexican flag during a Mexican Independence Day parade in San Antonio in 1998 when was running for reelection as governor.

    I watched that parade. I watched Latinos cheer for him. And I thought, “He hates you. He fears you. So do all his friends. How can you forget that?”

    Then again, I know women who are Republicans as well.

  2. Thank you!

    Ann: I saw that same parade too, and was thinking the same thing. But then again, at that time, I remember how he fooled a lot of people. He did have the backing of long time Democrat Lt. Gov Bob Bullock. I also remember the day, he backstabbed his protégé when he endorsed Bush for re-election in 1998 over Land Commissioner Garry Mauro. When he did that, it was beginning of the end of the Texas Democratic Party.

    That was when I said I had enough with the state party.

  3. Luis Cortes seems to have taken a page from the Al Sharpton handbook, Edmundo. It ain’t about black or white or brown or yellow or red – it’s all about green….

    Thanks for a great analysis on this important new political force.