- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

Republicans are ratcheting up their bid to recruit Hispanic candidates and attract Hispanic voters, particularly in California, by convening a "Latino summit" in Los Angeles this weekend.
The summit, jointly sponsored by the Republican National Committee and the California Republican Party, will mix a celebration of Hispanic administration officials with seminars to discuss recruiting candidates and crafting a message to attract Hispanic voters. The RNC also will announce that an Hispanic, Rudy Fernandez, will head the party's grass-roots development organization.
Among the summit participants are Ruben Barrales, director of the White House's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; Rosario Marin, the U.S. treasurer; and Hector Barreto, head of the Small Business Administration. New York state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. will also attend the summit. Mr. Espada left the Democratic Party last week to become a Republican.
The summit is the most recent gambit in the Republican strategy to attract Hispanic voters. At its winter meeting, the RNC announced it will pay for Spanish language classes for Republican officials at the state level. The party is also planning a series of candidate-recruitment seminars, with the first to be held in Florida in late spring.
The choice of California as a summit location comes at a time when Republicans are trying to rebuild support there among Hispanic voters.
In a 2000 report, the Latino Issues Forum, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, said that Hispanic voters have abandoned the Republican Party since the mid-1990s because of its support for policies widely perceived to be anti-Hispanic and anti-immigration.
"Have those wounds healed? I don't think so. Clearly the Democrats are constantly using recent history as examples of what the [Republican] party means," said Luis Arteaga, the forum's associate director, pointing to the new Spanish-language commercial Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, is running in his bid for re-election. The commercial cites Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that was pushed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. The measure sought to cut off access to some social services for illegal immigrants and their children.
"I've seen the party do some very bad things [but there are] some glimmers of hope in the last few years," said Mike Madrid, a Sacramento-based Republican strategist who has worked on Hispanic voting issues for more than a decade.
Mr. Madrid said that with roughly a third of the nation's Hispanic voters, California has to be part of a national strategy.
He said the party may not have reached a consensus on immigration issues, but right now Republicans need to focus on other issues important to Hispanic voters such as education and jobs.
It helps Republicans' efforts, Mr. Madrid and Mr. Arteaga said, to have President Bush at the head of the party. Mr. Bush has sought to appeal to Hispanic voters through such initiatives as promoting a Western Hemispheric free-trade zone and fostering closer ties between the United States and Mexico.
"President Bush has opened the door of opportunity to this community and it's now our job to take the step through it," Mr. Madrid said.
Still, there is a looming battle that could shatter that opportunity. Mr. Bush supports extending an amnesty to immigrants who have overstayed their visas to allow them to remain in the United States while they apply for citizenship. But a vocal group of lawmakers, most of them Republicans, say that would reward illegal behavior.


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