The Hispanic Republican Caucus: Latino Voters "Unwinnable"

Hanna 2011/12/08 17:18:17

By Anthony Gutierrez, Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party

The Chair of the Hispanic Republican Conference (HRC) in Texas, Republican State Representative Aaron Peña, recently announced his retirement from the Texas legislature. It was less than a year ago that he was announcing the formation of the HRC. The HRC was intended to “moderate” the extreme views of the Republican Party and thus serve to make the Grand Old Party more attractive to Hispanics.

The mission statement that seemed dubious then is downright laughable now.

As it turned out, the HRC’s idea of “moderating” included Peña going on national television to defend the “Laundry Loophole,” one of the most outrageous pieces of legislation in recent memory. Debbie Riddle’s “Laundry Loophole” bill would have made it illegal to employ undocumented immigrants except for those who are employed doing domestic work. As paraphrase an MSNBC commentator’s summary of the bill, it says to Hispanics that, “You can’t be my doctor, you can’t be my lawyer but please, you can clean my house and mow my lawn.”

The HRC’s “moderating” went on to include advocacy for a version of the budget that would have cut nearly $10 billion from public education and would have cut Medicaid reimbursement rates which would have effectively shut down nursing homes all over the state. After advocating for policies that would disproportionately devastate Hispanic communities, what came next probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.

As a part of the Republican supermajority, the HRC members used the redistricting process to run and hide from Hispanic voters. Cumulatively, the six members of the HRC redistricted away more than 150,000 Latinos from their own districts. They then defended those Republican maps which were so blatantly discriminatory and violative of the Voting Rights Act that they had to be struck down by the courts and redrawn to be consistent with legal standards and respective of Texas’ demographic growth.

For most HRC members, legal maps that reflected actual demographics meant that they would have to face the Hispanic voters they were trying so hard to avoid.

And that’s when you finally started hearing the protests.

The HRC members were silent when Rick Perry designated the discriminatory “Sanctuary City” legislation an emergency item, even though it was opposed by law enforcement all over the state. They were silent when Herman Cain mused that he would put up an electric fence on the border with a sign that read “it can kill you”. And not only have they been silent after Monday’s news that Rick Perry will be campaigning with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, they seem content to stand by their endorsement of Perry for President.

But when faced with a court-ordered map that would give them the opportunity to stand by their records and put their “Hispanics share our values” rhetoric to the test — they protested, they cried foul, and they quit. When weighing actions against words, be mindful of the fact that both the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the HRC have chosen not to seek re-election after being drawn into districts that are overwhelmingly Hispanic.

To put it another way — the guy Republicans put in charge of Hispanic outreach, when faced with a heavily Hispanic district, opted to quit saying the district was “unwinnable by me or any Republican candidate”. In evaluating the success of the HRC in making the Republican Party palatable to Hispanics — “unwinnable by any Republican candidate” tells you all you need to know.

Anthony Gutierrez is the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

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