Published on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 by the Houston Chronicle
Hispanic Leader Bashes Bush
Advocate Calls for Policy Shift
by Armando Villafranca
AUSTIN -- President Bush's support among Hispanic voters could be a distant memory in the 2004 presidential election, the head of a major Hispanic advocacy group said Monday.
"I would predict that unless he makes some dramatic changes in his policies, in his appointments and a whole range of things, he will lose our vote and he would lose it dramatically," said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, based in Washington, D.C.
At the NCLR's national conference Monday, the tone turned strongly in favor of Democrats as a speech by U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was frequently interrupted by applause and cheers.
Other speakers at the four-day conference included Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, both Democratic presidential candidates. Organizers said the event was expected to draw more than 20,000 attendees.
The only Republican to speak at the conference, which began Saturday, was U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Yzaguirre said Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Texas Gov. Rick Perry declined invitations.
Issues important to Hispanics, he said, such as health care, education and economic empowerment, are not "a high priority of this administration."
"They took a hard right," Yzaguirre said. "I think the people who campaigned are very different than the people governing. This is not the platform that the president campaigned on."
Noting that Bush campaigned in 2000 on a theme of "compassionate conservatism," Yzaguirre added, "By any stretch of the imagination, this is not a compassionate government."
Yzaguirre was criticized in 1998 when he predicted Bush would receive strong support from Hispanics in the Texas governor's race. One exit poll indicated that Bush took 49 percent of the Hispanic vote, while the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project estimated he won 39 percent.
In the 2000 presidential election, Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote.
The NCLR estimates that the number of registered Hispanic voters grew by 20 percent from 1996 to 2000 and will reach 2 million by 2004.
In 1998, Yzaguirre said, then-Gov. Bush earned Hispanic support through such efforts as promising to veto any English-only bill.
With more than a year before the next election, he said, Bush can re-earn such support, but it will take more than a photo opportunity in a colonia or sprinkling his speeches with Spanish.
Pelosi said the Democratic Party realizes there are more Hispanics serving in the U.S. House today and that America's Hispanic population has surged to more than 38 million.
"For Democrats, respecting diversity is not a photo op; it's a fundamental principle," she said. "You don't need an administration that pays lip service to Hispanics one day of the year on Cinco de Mayo. You deserve a government that will fight for your families every single day."
She said issues important to Hispanics are equally important to all Democrats, such as promoting economic vitality for Hispanic-owned businesses, funding bilingual education, increasing home ownership among Hispanics and raising minimum wage.
In contrast, Pelosi said, unemployment among Hispanics stands at 8.4 percent while the Bush administration pushes tax cuts that benefit those who need relief the least.
"As the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, you have the power to shape the national agenda," she told a luncheon crowd. "You have the power to register a new generation of voters. You have the power to decide the next election and determine the next president of the United States."
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said he is not concerned about losing Hispanic voters to the GOP unless the party makes a major policy shift.
"As the Hispanic vote becomes more and more important," he said, "the Republican Party in Texas, if they don't want to go the way of the dinosaur, will end up being one of the most progressive Republican parties in the country."
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau