Hispanics to Democrats: Don't Take Us For Granted

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Hispanics to Democrats: Don't Take Us For Granted

Friday, August 09, 2002 By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos WASHINGTON ? Hispanics who
have traditionally pulled Democratic levers at the polling booth since the
most recent wave of immigration in the last half century, are deciding that
they no longer want to be viewed as one monolithic voting bloc, and warn
Democrats that Republicans are increasingly speaking their language.

?This administration understands that you can?t just put a blanket label on
Hispanics,? said Patricia Lee, a Washington D.C. public relations specialist
of Cuban-American descent, who volunteers regularly for Republican causes. ?
This is a different approach than the Democrats, who tend to put all
minorities into one collective, helpless lump.?

But Democrats say the numbers don?t lie, and even Bush?s big effort to woo
Hispanic voters in 2000 couldn't help him overcome the demographic defeat to
then-Vice President Al Gore, 63 to 35 percent.

Of the 19 Hispanic members of Congress, only three are Republican. According
to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials,
nationally Hispanics hold 5,205 elected offices. Of them, 1,474 identified
themselves as Democrats, 126 Republican.

While the GOP lists are indeed growing, the majority of Hispanic
non-incumbents running for office this year are mostly Democrats.

Yet Republicans are still looking for an edge. Friday, Vice President Dick
Cheney traveled to New Mexico to help the campaign of John Sanchez, who is
running for governor, while Republicans from Georgia campaigned the same day
at a Mexican restaurant.

Republicans do enjoy majority support with Cuban Americans, especially in
South Florida, but they only account for 3.5 percent of the total number of
Hispanics in this country.

But Mexican-Americans, who account for 58 percent, still heavily vote
Democrat.

?There is a natural tendency for Democrats to have a relationship with the
Hispanic community. We are always fighting for the issues that are of the
most concern to them, day in and day out,? said Guillermo Meneses, director
of Hispanic media for the Democratic National Party.

Those issues, said Meneses, are the economy and rising unemployment,
education, healthcare, immigration services and affirmative action.

Larry Gonzalez, who is of Mexican descent, directs the Washington, D.C.
office of NALEAO. He warns that while Hispanics might consider the above
issues important to them, they don't necessarily agree with the Democratic
party about how to deal with them.

?I think the Latino vote is up for grabs. There was a real sense in 2000 that
Democrats took them for granted and for the first time you were hearing a
different voice,? he said, pointing out that Bush's numbers were a tremendous
improvement over previous presidential elections.

?They are realizing that it?s good to have a choice, where in the past, they
would blindly vote for Democrats,? Gonazalez added.

Rudy Fernendez, the grass-roots coordinator for the Republican National
Committee, admits the party has a long way to go on recruitment, but said he
believes the message is resonating.

"[Democrats'] strategy has been largely based on scare tactics -- they scare
them into thinking that Republicans are anti-Hispanic, that they aren?t
wanted in this country," said Fernendez. "But president Bush is not easily
demonized. The more they learn about Bush and his agenda, they more they tend
to support him."

Raquel Marrero, a Cuban-American GOP activist in Miami, said Hispanics are
tired of ?the protective fatherhood thing,? that the Democrats peddle.

?They?re not cutting the umbilical cord so that we can grow and face our
responsibilities," she said, noting that Hispanic business owners, for
instance, need to be addressed as such, not as victims of the system.

But the ballot box is where the real test of the GOP's outreach will take
place. Latino voters counted for 5.5 percent of the voting population in 2000
and are 12.5 percent of the total legal U.S. adult population, which is
roughly 13 million people. Only 5.9 million of 7.5 million registered
Hispanic voters cast votes in 2000 -- a record 79 percent, but still lower
than the 85 percent turnout of registered voters nationwide.  

Experts warn that growing immigration numbers will not translate into a
greater degree of civic participation unless Hispanics are more assimilated
into the process. And given their socio-economic, regional and ethnic
differences, no one should count on the group to vote the same way on any
given issue.

?In California, it is the agricultural worker who is concerned about health
care and immigration. That?s different from Miami, where you have political
exiles from Cuba and people with different economic backgrounds,? said
Marrero.

Regala Gonzalez, a Democratic activist and Cuban-American in Boston,
disagreed, saying the basic needs of health care, employment, education and
housing are universal for all Americans.

?The Democrats are addressing these issues and I just don?t think the
Republicans are,? she said, admitting that Democrats had been slow to court
the Hispanic vote. ?We have always felt that Latinos were Democrats, but
politicians have taken that for granted. They haven?t paid attention to
recruiting more. Now they are doing it because Republicans took the
initiative.?
 

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