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Where’s the GOP?

By
October 11, 2007

It’s an old kids’ hide-and-seek game message, and Hispanic leaders are sending the call out to Republican presidential candidates: Come out, come out, wherever you are!

With the Sept. 15-Oct. 15 Hispanic Heritage Month festivities drawing to a close, the GOP’s roster of 10 White House aspirants continues to stay closeted when invited to national forums to expound and expand on issues of special concern to Hispanics. While education and immigration reform top the list, there are no items on the national agenda any more that aren’t of importance to significant portions of this country’s 49 million Latinos.

Here in Washington, never has the GOP’s absence been more noticed.

In the party’s latest snub, four presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton and three other Democrats — spoke at a forum sponsored by the non-partisan Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute this month during its annual issues conference.

All of the presidential candidates were invited to participate. The event drew news coverage nationwide, particularly from Spanish-language media

“A missed opportunity,” Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, told Hispanic Link News Service. “It’s a mistake for the other candidates not to have been here.”

The forum was just one of four in recent weeks with participation by leading Democratic presidential candidates but totally ignored by their GOP counterparts.

As a result, Democratic partygoers have been scoring direct hits on an elephant-shaped pinata and gathering the goodies.

Noting that all of the Republican candidates, except for Rep. Duncan Hunter of California declined to attend and speak at the National Association of Hispanic Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Orlando in June, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California told Hispanic Link, “This is a very clear message to the Latino community that the Republican candidates in particular do not value the Latino community and are not interested in trying to have a dialog.”

Other recent instances in which the GOP aspirants have not participated in a public forum addressing issues of concern to Latinos and communities of color include a debate on PBS and another sponsored by Univision, which provided Spanish-speaking viewers with instant interpretation.

“Republicans have been completely absent, and I think that is an insult to our community,” Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey told a group of reporters in Spanish. “If they have rejected the opportunities to communicate with our community as to why they should be president of the United States, I think the people will reject them in November of next year.”

The Republican National Committee rejects the notion that the party is not interested in reaching out to Hispanics. Contacted by Hispanic Link, Hessy Fernandez, the RNC’s director of Hispanic communications, retorted, “That’s just a political campaign that the Democrats want to do.”

Fernandez called it “ironic” that Democrats criticized Republican candidates when only half of their eight candidates showed up at the CHCI event. “This organization tends to serve the interests of the Democratic Party,” she said. Its 13 policy working sessions were hosted by members of the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The quartet of Democrats who spoke at CHCI’s presidential candidate session included, in addition to Clinton, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Latino running for president, was among the absentees. Campaign spokesman Tom Reynolds said Richardson had a conflicting event already confirmed in Nevada. Nevada, with a quarter of its population Hispanic, holds the country’s second caucus Jan. 19.

One report had Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s camp excusing his absence to celebrate his wedding anniversary at home, but he made campaign stops in Iowa that day.

The RNC’s Fernandez maintains the GOP candidates “are putting forth a positive agenda that benefits Latinos.” She criticized in particular Clinton’s universal health plan as a proposal that Hispanics “don’t want.”

Although all the Democratic candidates were received well by their CHCI audience, Clinton was the only one to get a standing ovation.

“This was an opportunity for her to talk to the Latino community that really has been very supportive of her,” Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, director of Hispanic communications for Clinton’s campaign, told Hispanic Link. “It was definitely an invitation we could not have missed.”

(Alex Meneses Miyashita is editor of the national Hispanic Link Weekly Report. Reach him at editor(AT)hispaniclink.org.)