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Republican AND Latino?

Laura Cueva |
August 23, 2010 | 10:10 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Susana Martinez (Creative Commons)
Susana Martinez (Creative Commons)
Republican Latino.

The two almost seem to combat one another, yet there’s a growing population of right-wing Latinos in elected office and in the general population. Though the majority of Latinos in the country describe themselves as democrats, republican Latino numbers are on the rise. How can this be, when being republican seems so at odds with minority and immigrant rights?

This debate hit the limelight recently when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was quoted saying he didn’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a republican.

Many republican Latinos were up in arms about his derogatory messages, including President of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly Ruben Estrada, who had this to say:

“I am appalled and insulted with such a question from the US Senate Leader Harry Reid. I can only attribute the question as a sign of desperation! He realizes that Hispanic Americans are a significant major electorate who are no longer guaranteed to the Democratic party, and are not only Republicans, but Conservatives, and yes, Tea Party members.”

Even so, I agree with Senator Reid.

That’s not to say that Latinos are incapable of advancement. His question may have been poorly framed; it caused insinuations about Latinos and the infamous democratic “hand-outs,” but I understand where he’s coming from.

I’ve often struggled to see why any Latino would choose to join a party that’s notorious for its fight against Latinos and other minorities.  On issues concerning immigrants, ranging from immigration reform and healthcare reform to the Dream Act and federal assistance programs, the opposition on the right has been harsh.

But the reason for the rise in Republican Latino numbers has to do primarily with the overall growth of Latinos in the nation, rather than immigrant- or minority-specific platforms.  As more Latinos become citizens, more of them are becoming Republican, more of them are affluent, and more of them agree with some basic conservative values, including a Catholic-driven pro-life stance, support of tax cuts for the rich, and opposition to stem cell research.

“It’s a demographic inevitability,” said Andres Ramirez of NDN, a Washington think tank formerly known as the New Democrat Network, to Slate Magazine. “There's going to be more Hispanics who engage simply because more are coming into the system.”

There’s also a rise in the number of Republican Latino leaders in elected office. Susana Martinez, who is running in New Mexico, stands a good chance of becoming the first female Hispanic governor in history – and an instant GOP spokeswoman. Then there’s Marco Rubio of the Tea Party in Florida, and Brian Sandoval, who began campaigning on Spanish television in Nevada and whose followers shout “Si, si, Sandoval!” despite his not speaking Spanish.

Still, immigration reform is the hot topic among Latinos of both parties, and given the conservative view of most Republicans on the issue, few Latinos will vote Republican if it means immigrant rights will disappear.

Once the GOP realizes the importance of the Latino electorate, they may start to change their tune. One can only hope.

Reporter Laura Cueva can be reached here.



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