Lawmaker laments GOP ‘alienation’ of Latinos

By John W. Gonzalez, San Antonio Express News

State Rep. Jason Villalba says the Republican Party needs to win Hispanic Texans' votes to avoid extinction.

A Republican legislator from Dallas who condemned the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the GOP race for lieutenant governor issued a dire warning to fellow party members in San Antonio on Tuesday: Embrace the Hispanic electorate or forget recapturing the White House.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, addressing Alamo City Republican Women, said: “If we fail, not only will Texas fall to Democrats, but we will never see a Republican president in the White House for the rest of our lives.”

The remarks were intended to jolt the partisan luncheon crowd at Oak Hills Country Club, Villalba said.

“No one likes to hear gloom and doom … but sometimes you need that to get that message to drive in,” he said.

The GOP has one generation to “win the hearts and minds of Hispanic Texans” to avoid extinction, he said, citing demographers’ predictions of a Hispanic majority in Texas by 2039.

The freshman District 114 lawmaker said he decided to take his message to GOP audiences across Texas because of the “alienation of the growing Hispanic electorate” evident during primary campaigning.

“This is something we’ve faced for years if not decades, but it really seems to be coming to a point of no return,” he said.

Villalba heaped praise on GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, whose wife, Cecilia, a Latina from San Antonio, also addressed the group.

“He will be a champion for the causes important to Hispanic families and I know that he will reach this new voting electorate,” Villalba said.

That endorsement drew a sharp response from the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.

“Greg Abbott has shown he’s just about business as usual,” said Davis spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña. “Texas values don’t include campaigning with a sexual predator like Ted Nugent or fighting against equal pay for women and public schools in the courtroom.”

Villalba, 42, an attorney who spent part of his youth in San Antonio, said he’ll also deliver his message in the Rio Grande Valley, Corpus Christi, Amarillo, Lubbock, Tyler and Midland. Tuesday night he planned a second local event with the Alamo Pachyderm Club in Helotes.

“Not to sound self-aggrandizing, but it’s different when this message comes from a Latino Republican,” Villalba said. And while some Republicans don’t like criticism from fellow party members, “what I’m talking about is doing a better job” of engaging Hispanic voters.

Even so, “I’ll get some grief,” he added.

In February, Villalba caused a stir when he took the four GOP candidates for lieutenant governor to task for comments about undocumented immigrants, saying he was “troubled by the tone” of debate remarks. He urged them to “acknowledge the humanity of a hardworking and productive people.”

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