Let Republican Governors Lead The GOP Revival With Latinos

By Alex Gonzalez

During the Republican Governor Association (RGA) last week, GOP  governor have begun reckoning with the fact that their party has grown increasingly out of step with a broad majority of American voters.  The RGA attendees agreed on the need to reorient and rebuild the party to make it more appealing to Latinos and the Millennia generation. Among the top concerns was the party’s failure to attract Hispanics, and GOP governors also backed away from Romney remarks.  Moreover, GOP Governors argued that the  Republican Party’s leadership vacuum needs to be filled by governor since it was since the party finds itself in the unenviable position of having to reinvent.

The Party boasts an accomplished array of governors like Susana Martinez, Chris Christie and Rick Perry  whose achievements present a clear-cut path for a future GOP governing agenda. If  the GOP congressional wing has been characterized by adherence to tea party dogma, its governors have shown a pragmatic streak, a zeal for fiscal discipline and pursuit of government reforms.

For example, New Jersey’s bloated pension system and now is receiving fulsome praise across the aisle for his leadership in the wake of Hurricane Sandy thanks to  Chris Christie.  And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is a very popular Governor in the south.  Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry famously defended, at the Republican presidential debate this year, that children of illegal immigrants should able to receive in-state tuition at Texas universities is still among the most popular governors . And, how about New Mexico’s Susan Martinez also who has 69% approval rating;  and  who also advised the Party:

“We need to embrace them not just at election time….We visit them, and they don’t appreciate that. And I don’t blame them for not appreciating that. We should not visit them when we need their vote and then walk away. And then four years go by and we go visit them again. We have to make them part of the solution, and the way you do that is by listening to them.”

Thus, indeed, the leadership to reinvent the  party into a wining coalition rest in the hands of governors, and Hispanic will square off better with guidance from Republican governors than from Republican National Committee.

Since President Bush left the W.H, the national leadership team of the RNC never really developed a strategy to keep the 44% of the Latino vote W.  Bush won over. As a result, it was more up to Republican governors to keep Latinos voters in states like California (Schwarzenegger), New Mexico (Martinez), and Texas (Perry) who openly opposed bills like SB1070 to protect the image of the GOP with Latinos since Latino over are already more than 20% of the states registered voter.  So while the RNC stayed silence on the issue of 1070 and immigration, Republican governors in western Hispanic states led in opposition against that legislation they perceived offensive to Latinos. And they were right.

Republican governors, indeed, could be more successful with Latinos in the southwest than the RNC.  In 2020, Susana Martinez got 38% of the Latino vote in New Mexico and Rick Perry also received 38% of Mexican-American vote in Texas while at the national level the GOP captured only 32% of the Latino vote.  And just like Schwarzenegger in Californian 2006, Brian Sandoval got about the 40% of the Latino vote in 2010  in Nevada.  Consequently, ample data exist showing that Republican governs may be able to bring Latinos back to the GOP to same number that W. Bush was able to attract.

In addition, Republican governors in the southwest are better positioned for a “revival” of the GOP to woo Latinos  because Governors  actually have been to Hispanic communities; whereas, the RNC is filled with the same strategists that told Romney not address immigration and talk only about jobs. Furthermore, when the RNC finally decided to do outreach to the Hispanic voters for the 2012 election, they only went to the same base they know they could win, Cubans in Florida, but never really ventured into southwestern swing states. For example, in January 2011, the RNC hired Bettina Inclan—from Florida–as its new Hispanic outreach director.  However, Inclan never really toiled the swing states like Colorado Nevada, or New Mexico (I am aware of only one trip to Texas for a small luncheon in Dallas).

And as former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez argued, the reason why Romney used the term of “self-deportation” is because someone was advising him to say that. Similarly, and point that if consistently make, Gutierrez argued that those who were advising Romney to only talk about the economy,  while avoiding taking about immigration, did not know where the hearts of the Latino vote was. As a result, there was an inherent problem with the RNC and Romney’s advisers—Latinos and non-Latinos—who keep leaving DC bubble. So the source of the problem with Latino voters is within DC circles.

Essentially, this symmetry between the RNC–DC strategists–Florida Republicans Hispanic operatives failed primarily because they never leave their offices to travel to the Southwest the same way governors like Rick Perry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Susana Martinez, or Brian Sandoval do.   As a result, a true revival of the GOP indeed will be better handle by Governor who is more in touch with the needs Hispanic voters.

Moreover, One of the chief  reasons W. Bush was very effective with Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans, is because he was a governor in Texas, a state that for long had embraced the Latino middle-class as part of political establishment; and where he also promoted bills on education and opposed bill like 187 in California when Pete Wilson was promoting it. Too, Texas governor Rick Perry is also one of the most popular Republican governors among Latinos in the state and nationwide. This comes from the strong position Perry took in defense of the in-state tuition bill by calling those who opposed “heartless.”  So Latinos are keen supporters of Republican politicians who they perceived to be “protector” of the community.  And this enthusiastic connection between Republican governors can never be emulated by the RNC strategist, or Florida Hispanic operatives that never leave the state but go on TV pretending to know what is good for Latinos in Texas, or the entire Southwest.

Furthermore, a state approach by a governor to attract Latinos to the GOP is also beneficial since in past the state Republican establishment have had success with Mexican-Americans when the “Party machine” worked with local leaders to develop leadership teams.  For instance, the Republican Party in Texas used to have the Mexican-American Republicans of Texas who acted according to state and community needs. The Mexican-American Republicans in Texas brand indeed spoke to conservative values and advocated for Communities in Texas. MART built a political relationship with the community, by organizing at the county level across the state. But unfortunately, the success of MART led to a copy-cat organization at the national level under Republican National Hispanic Assembly in 1970. As chairman of the National Republican Committee, George H.W. Bush, who had worked with MART in Texas, founded the national group but placed Benjamin Fernandez, a Californian, at its head. But, In 1975 MART asked, unsuccessfully, for the state Republican Party to recognize it rather than the Texas RNHA. As a result, MART’s voice in Washington was superseded by the Texas and National Assembly chapters, and the interest of Latinos in Texas were put aside under a national “Hispanic” umbrella while the interests of those groups leading RNHA were the only ones embraced by the RNC. But if you follow party politics, you probably know that RNHA is history and a failed experiment in the southwest.

Also, Governors have more influence on who the state organizes it bureaucracy, such as precinct  and county chairman , which is actually where Republican can have bigger influence at the local levels. Too, governor and  the state political “machine” can develop leadership team to prepare Latinos to take General roles, as opposed to only soldiers roles, activist.

Therefore, a political re-organization, or revival, between Republicans and Latino in the southwest needs to stay at the governor–state level—where governors can utilize the Party “machine”  and can to cultivate the Latino base on local issues important to Latino voters in their respective states–education, immigration or healthcare, and free trade ( NAFTA).  And Governors like Martinez, Perry, Sandoval,   are the only ones close enough, and trusted, to the Latino voters to feel the pulse of the Latino voters because they have been to the communities.

There are indeed overlapping conservative issues such as limited government, taxes, and free market that Republicans from across the spectrum agree on, unequivocally. But there are also issues important to Latinos that are different from voters in other states  like South Carolina  or Indiana and the “rustbelt” that have nothing to do with the aspirations of young Latinos in the southwest, a rejuvenated American Dream.  And governor are the only ones capable of doing than that job.

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director  for Latinos Ready To Vote.  He received a Bachelor Degrees in and a Masters’ Degrees, with emphasis in American politics  from San Fransisco State University.
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