California Republicans acknowledged this weekend that the party needs to recruit more Hispanic candidates as well as extend an olive branch to Latinos to have any political future in the Golden State.
No Republican has been elected to statewide party in seven years, and that was Arnold Schwarzenegger whose movie star celebrity may have accounted more for his win than any GOP connection.
So at their state meeting in Sacramento, Republicans had to swallow the bad news that read like something out of a supermarket tabloid: “Go Hispanic or Die!”
“Latino outreach is the greatest challenge for the Republican Party today,” GOP activist Ruben Barrales said at the convention where the GOP began preparing for the 2014 mid-term elections.
“(But) It’s not about (only) outreach—it’s about inclusion. If we want more Latinos in the Republican Party we have to bring more Latinos into the Republican Party.”
Barrales, a former White House staffer for President George W. Bush, heads the organization GROW Elect, whose goal is to cultivate Republican Latino candidates for elected office.
Specifically, Republicans heard that they must reach out to the younger Hispanic voters because the state’s changing demographics show that they can no longer connect with Latinos and other groups on social issues and limited government.
“When you talk about these hot-button social issues that are percolating to the top of the agenda, the younger Latinos and younger Asians are more likely to be in sync with the white population,” said the Field Poll’s Mark DiCamillo. “That’s a long-term problem for the Republicans.”
DiCamillo said that while older Hispanic voters tend to be more conservative on social issues, Latinos younger than 40 mostly say they support gay marriage and legalizing marijuana.
“I guess that just reinforces what needs to be done,” says Barrales, who ran unsuccessfully for California state controller in 1998.
“I’m at a point where I either can keep complaining about it, or I can do something about it. What we want to see is a Republican Party that’s more representative over all of the demographics.”
Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado is the last Republican to hold statewide office in California, but he was appointed to the open position by Schwazenegger in 2009 and was defeated when he tried to win the office in the next election.
California GOP and Latino communities
Maldonado says he believes having a presence in Latino communities is a crucial step the GOP needs to encourage.
“Latino Republicans have often felt like leprechauns—we know they exist, we’ve just never seen them,” he says. “We need to work hard and we need to get our message out, and I just think the most important thing for the Latino community is respect.”
“Just showing up is respect.”
Freshman Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, said he also feels the GOP needs to address immigration reform positively and believes it would go a long with with Latino voters.
“When we address the immigration issue,” he said, “we will connect with the Latino population.”