Some say platform adopted at convention could deter Latino voters
By GARY SCHARRER | SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
June 13, 2010
DALLAS — Texas Republicans adopted another get-tough policy on immigration and bilingual education Saturday that some say will make it hard for the party to attract Hispanic voters at a time when the Texas population is turning increasingly Latino.
The platform encourages state lawmakers to create a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense “for an illegal alien to intentionally or knowingly be within the State of Texas,” and to “oppose amnesty in any form leading to citizenship for illegal immigrants.”
Texas Republicans also want to limit citizenship by birth to those born to a U.S. citizen “with no exceptions.” The platform calls for the end of day-labor work centers and emphasizes border security, encouraging “all means … (to) immediately prevent illegal aliens.”
The party's education platform calls for the end of federally sponsored pre-kindergarten, and opposes any mandatory pre-kindergarten or kindergarten.
“We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development,” it says.
Bilingual education should end after the third year, according to the platform, and non-U.S. citizens should not be eligible for state or federal college financial assistance.
Opponents challenged party members with differing views to make their voices heard.
“Your party platform is your brand. It represents your values and beliefs and what distinguishes you from Democrats,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the 44-member Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
“Republicans who don't agree should speak out and take a stand for the sake of humanity,” he said. “What they need are guts, or ganas, and not artful spin that's a cheap form of ignoring the single biggest problem affecting the Republican Party.”
Hispanics will make up 78 percent of Texas' population growth over the next 30 years, compared with only 4 percent for whites, according to demographic projections.
Minority children already make up 66 percent of the state's 4.8 million public school enrollment — and Hispanics could surpass whites in the state's overall population by 2015, estimates show.
Not one of the state's 181 legislators is a Hispanic Republican.
“The figures are irrefutable. I am extremely concerned,” longtime Republican advertising executive and political consultant Lionel Sosa said of his party's future.
Need to reach out
GOP primary voters booted out the only statewide Republican Hispanic elected official this spring when they rejected Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo.
The party must do a better job of drawing Hispanics or what is now “a serious problem,” Sosa said, could turn fatal.
Within a dozen years, Latinos could be electing Democrats “because Democrats have the right message and Republicans have the wrong message,” Sosa said. “I don't think it will happen. If it happens, then Texas will turn into a Democratic state and once Texas turns Democratic … We'll never elect a Republican president again.”
“But I'm not gloom and doom about that. I believe that survival drives the culture. Things will change when more Republican candidates get it,” he said. “They won't have to make a false choice between security and humanity.”
It's imperative for Republicans to reach out to Hispanic voters, said GOP campaign consultant and pollster Whit Ayres, president of the American Association of political consultants.
“If Republicans don't do better among Hispanic voters, we are not going to be talking about how we get Florida back in a presidential election,” said Ayres, of Alexandria, Va. “We're going to be talking about how we keep from losing Texas.”
Houston GOP delegate Stuart Mayper said he's concerned about the party's relationship with Latino voters.
“We must reach out to these people. If we don't, it's a big mistake,” he said.
But he said the party shouldn't water down its principles.
“Learn English in this country. I don't like going into Wal-Mart and seeing Spanish,” Mayper said.
He wants to see troops on the border.
“Close the border. I am not against any Mexicans or anything. Let's slow down the tide. I'm not saying send anybody back,” Mayper said.
Work visas suggested
Dolores Fieden, another Houston GOP delegate, is a Hispanic who emphasized the importance of legal migration.
Seeing her party attract more Hispanics “would be nice,” she said. “But if doesn't happen, it's not because it's not open to them. It's open to whomever.”
The immigration problem can be solved by issuing enough work visas to fill jobs that U.S. citizens don't want, said Sosa, who has worked for seven GOP presidential campaigns, starting with Ronald Reagan's in 1980.
“When that happens so much of this emotional rhetoric will subside, and we will be able to carry on a more civil conversation,” Sosa said.
The party's state leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, “get it” when it comes to issues important in the Latino community, he said.
“These are the candidates that are doing the right thing,” Sosa said. “What the extremists in the party are doing doesn't reflect on the candidates.”
‘Disconnect' with Latinos
Though he doesn't agree with the GOP platform on certain issues, Sosa said voters generally gravitate toward candidates because of their personalities and positions on issues, not because of party platforms.
“It's not about the party. It's about what the individual candidate does or says,” Sosa said.
MALC leader Martinez Fischer believes the GOP's “disconnect” with Latinos is beyond problematic.
“It's a plague. Republicans have been afflicted with this illness since the 1860s,” he said. “The only difference is their target. Back then it was the Irish and Catholics, today it's Latinos who are largely Catholic — I see a pattern here.”