Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is heading efforts to help salvage what is left of his party’s reputation with Hispanics after months of highly charged anti-immigrant rhetoric in hopes that gaining favor with this voting bloc will help Republicans win back the White House in 2012.
As reported by La Plaza, The Hispanic Leadership Network was created as an offshoot of the American Action Network, a conservative organization that became one of the biggest-spending third party groups in this last election. It marks the first major outreach attempt by the Republican Party geared towards Hispanics, the largest and fastest growing minority group in the country.
Yesterday, the Network hosted its inaugural conference in Florida, co-chaired by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Bush and Guitierrez have teamed up with former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), a one-time supporter of comprehensive immigration reform.
“When Norm called me to tell me he was doing this, I almost broke into song, I was so happy,” said Ana Navarro, co-chair of McCain’s National Hispanic Advisory Council. “We all know it’s been a problem, but nobody has been leading any real concerted effort to address the problem.”
According to their website, the two day conference will feature a variety of presentations ranging from jobs and trade, security and messaging with speakers including, Governor Luis Fortuño, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Governor Rick Scott, and Governor Tim Pawlenty. You can see the full agenda here.
Notably missing at the forum, however, were some of the potential presidential candidates, who although have not officially declared their intentions to run, missed the opportunity to engage Hispanics in a state where a majority of Latinos backed the GOP nominees for governor and senator in 2010.
In a recent op-ed, Bush called the 38 percent of Hispanic voters (according to the Pew Hispanic Center) who cast their ballot for Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections “unacceptable”.
“In fact, center-right candidates have failed to win more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally since 2004,” Bush said. “I don’t think 40 percent of the Hispanic vote can be our ceiling if we plan to impact our nation in the coming decades.”
Though Hispanic Republicans left their mark in many important states this year, including the election of Marco Rubio elected to the U.S. Senate in Florida; Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez who won the governorships of Nevada and New Mexico, Republicans overall still lost the Hispanic vote nationwide by about 2-1 — not much different than in 2008 (Latino Decisions).
The former governor wants to change that. “The challenge, though, is that we have a situation right now where Republicans send out signals that Hispanics aren’t wanted in our party, not by policy so much as by tone,” Bush says.
But according to Alfonso Aguilar, the executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and a participant in Thursday’s conference, “Immigration … is that one issue that prevents us from winning the support of Latino voters.”
Though the decision to deny Iowa Rep. Steve King the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee is a small step, it is an encouraging sign to Aguilar. As reported by La Plaza, King is known for his extreme stance and statements on the issue and was the target of a group of Latino Republicans who urged Speaker John Boehner to not give the chairmanship to King.
“To me, the message is, ‘Steve King, you’re too loud and you’re saying things that are very offensive. We don’t want to see that.’ That’s a very good first step: Reject the ugly rhetoric,” Aguilar says. “The question now is can we propose, can Republicans practically propose immigration solutions that go beyond enforcement only? And if we do, Hispanics will respond very favorably.”
Hispanics are expected to reach 30 percent of the national population by 2050. Republicans will have to find a way to engage Hispanics in a more meaningful, lasting manner. If enforcement first is their only solution to the issue of immigration, the GOP is set for a sharp awakening in 2012.