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Sunday, June 13, 2004

MySA.com: Metro | State More Latinos identifying with Republicans

MySA.com: Metro | State
Ken Rodriguez: More Latinos identifying with Republicans and Independents
Web Posted: 06/13/2004 12:00 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News
Victor Carrillo is a good man with a good story.
He is the son of a Mexican immigrant, who swam across the Rio Grande at age 14.

He is the son of an undocumented worker, the son of a man with little education, the son of a laborer who took a construction job in Abilene.

He is a son who made his father proud.

Carrillo graduated fourth in his class from the very high school his dad helped to build.

The son went to college and earned three degrees. He became a lawyer, a city councilman, a county judge, until, finally, he became the highest-ranking elected Hispanic in the state — chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission.

Carrillo has the kind of story Democrats would love to tell and retell at rallies and conventions, except they can't.

Carrillo is a Republican.

When I was growing up, I didn't know any Latinos like Carrillo.

In 1974, the year Willie Velasquez founded the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, I could name only one Latino Republican — an uncle.

Today, there are too many for me to count.

According to one survey, 20 percent of the nation's Latino voters consider themselves Republicans, and 19 percent consider themselves Independent.

Over the past 30 years, new Latino voters have separated themselves from the Democratic roots of their parents.

Andy Hernandez, a political scientist and past president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, attributes the rise in Latino Republicans, in part, to a change in political leadership.

Young Latinos today are growing up with Republicans in political power.

And young Latinos today, Hernandez adds, are becoming increasingly evangelical.

"There are now more conservative Christians in the Latino community," Hernandez says. "Numerically, there has been huge growth over the last 25 years."

Hernandez could be describing my own family.

I have dozens of relatives who grew up under Nixon, Ford, Reagan and two Bush administrations.

More than a few cousins vote Republican. Several have become evangelical Christians.

Some might even describe themselves as Independent voters.

But Hernandez says that there are few true Independent voters. Most who describe themselves as Independent are "leaners," he says, meaning they lean toward voting mostly for Republican or Democratic candidates.

Still, there are those who appreciate views from the left and the right.

Friday night, it was hard not to appreciate two very different speeches at the fund-raising banquet for the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

Victor Carrillo delivered the first one, Henry Cisneros the second.

Carrillo's message was not overtly partisan. It was a success story with an implied point: Latinos can overcome adversity and still find a place in the Republican Party.

Carrillo proudly recalled a landslide city election victory in a predominantly Anglo community.

"They didn't care about the sound of my last name," he said of Abilene voters.

A mostly Democratic audience in the hotel ballroom applauded.

Then came Cisneros, the former mayor and housing secretary. After saying he was proud of Carrillo's accomplishments, Cisneros outlined the policy differences between the two major presidential candidates.

He talked about immigration, education, the economy.

"This administration inherited surpluses," Cisneros said. "It now has deficits."

Cisneros and Carrillo are two fine men, two assets to their parties.

It's no wonder Republicans and Democrats are using Latinos to court Latino voters.

Our president captured the White House with 35 percent of the Latino vote.

One Republican campaign strategist says the president needs 40 percent to win in November.

That may be a difficult target to reach. But in 1974 few could have imagined that, 30 years later, at least a third of all Latinos would be voting for Republicans.

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