New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez tells her story of why she left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party in 1996.
There are plenty of Latinos who are conservative and don’t realize they could be Republican. That was the theme among Latino Republicans who spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Hispanic Leadership Network, a nonprofit that seeks to engage the Hispanic community on center-right issues.
The event took place in Tampa, Fla., where the Republican National Convention is being held.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez told the gathering of conservative Latinos the tale of how she grew up in a Democratic household and converted to the Republican Party after meeting with several conservatives for lunch in 1996. She said they spoke about different issues and found that she agreed with them on issue after issue.
“When I left that meeting, I realized, ‘Damn I’m Republican,’” she said as the crowd burst into applause.
That year, she re-register as a Republican and ran to be Dona Ana County’s district attorney, which she won with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval told a similar story. Like Martinez, he grew up in a family of Democrats. He said it was President Ronald Reagan who made him realize that he shared some of the same values as the Republican Party.
According to Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno, those values that Latinos and Republicans share include: faith, family and education.
“Those are Hispanic values, conservative values and American values,” Fortuno told a smaller crowd after the luncheon.
All three governors agreed that Republicans need to soften their anti-immigrant rhetoric as well as do a better job of including Hispanics in their conversations.
“The problem is that as Republicans we have to make sure that we don’t just visit Hispanics during elections but that we make them a part of the process,” Martinez said.
The best way to do that, she added, is by visiting Latino neighborhoods, hearing their concerns and electing them into office.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, reiterated their message. He said Republicans need to “stop acting stupid” and acknowledge the important role that Latinos will play in this election and other future elections.
“They are the future of our party,” Bush said about Latinos.
The Republican former governor also advised Republicans to adopt “a tone that is open and hospitable.”
VOXXI caught up with several Latinos at the Hispanic Leadership Network event. Most said they too grew up in a Democratic household before discovering they were Republicans.
Jose Mallea, the southeast regional director of The Libre Initiative, told VOXXI he was a teen when he first started volunteering for Gov. Jeb Bush when he ran for governor in 1994. In college, he also became involved with the Florida Republican Party.
For him, the values he shares with the Republican Party include: more opportunity for small businesses, more individual liberty and less big government.
“These are the issues that make you realize deep down inside that this is where I fall in line, these are the values I share, that my family shares and this is where I want to get involved,” Mallea told VOXXI.
Daniel Garza, the executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, said one of the biggest challenges for Republicans right now when it comes to attracting Latino voters is the anti-immigrant voices that have driven Latinos away.
He points to the Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who last week influenced the Republican Party to adopt a platform that supports completing the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, implementing a mandatory employment verification system and ending sanctuary cities and in-state tuition for undocumented students.
He said those messages “are not representative of the entire party, which is even more important for Hispanics to get involved in the Republican Party to push against those kind of policies. You don’t want to leave it up to the design of those who are anti-immigrant.”