- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland Republican group whose leader angered party officials by criticizing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s purported failure to appoint Hispanics to top state positions lost its affiliation with the state party yesterday.

Delegates to the fall convention voted overwhelmingly to recognize Hispanic Republicans of Maryland as the state party’s official affiliate, ending the relationship with the rival Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus.

The vote came at a meeting where several speakers talked about the importance of reaching out to the nation’s rapidly growing Hispanic population.

Jose Fuentes, D.C.-area spokesman on Hispanic issues for President Bush’s re-election campaign, said Hispanics “today are the hottest item on the political agenda.”

“The party that does not reach out to Hispanics will be the minority party for the better part of this century,” he said.

Jorge Ribas, chairman of the Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus, said Maryland Republicans run the risk of alienating Latino voters with the state party’s treatment of his group and Mr. Ehrlich’s failure so far to appoint Hispanics to high-level positions in the administration.

“I think it’s divisive to create another group under these circumstances,” Mr. Ribas said.

He said there are no Hispanics or Asians at the highest levels of the administration. “We are still sitting at the back of the bus instead of at the table.”

Every day that goes by without the appointment of Hispanics by the governor “is a day the Hispanics will remember,” Mr. Ribas said.

But Luis Borunda, chairman of the new affiliate, said there will be no negative reaction from yesterday’s decision, which came on a nearly unanimous voice vote.

“I think Hispanics are conservative. They are continuing to register as Republicans. Governor Ehrlich and the Bush administration are committed to the Hispanic vote,” he said.

Mr. Borunda said the governor’s staff has asked for names of Hispanic candidates for positions in the administration, and he expressed confidence those appointments will be made down the road.

State Republican Chairman John Kane asked the party to withdraw affiliation from the Ribas group.

“I think you saw the overwhelming support in the party. They want to end this debacle and circus with [Mr. Ribas],” Mr. Kane said.

Mr. Ribas “does not speak for the Republican Party or Hispanic Republicans,” Mr. Kane said. “We will pick up where we left off and do very well with Hispanic outreach.”

Mr. Borunda said Hispanics make up only about 4 percent of the Maryland population, but the numbers are growing rapidly both here and nationally.

Republicans, still relishing Mr. Ehrlich’s victory a year ago, were in a celebratory mood at their meeting, cheering when they heard that Republicans had just overtaken Democrats in registration in Calvert County.

They applauded when Mr. Kane said that since the last election, the state party has attracted 2,000 new donors, 4,000 new party activists and doubled its e-mail list from 4,000 to 8,000.

Joyce Terhes, national committeewoman, said that when she became state party chairwoman in 1989, “we had two Republican counties. Now we have eight.”

Mr. Kane said the party already is preparing to increase its numbers in the General Assembly, where Democrats hold about two-thirds of the seats. He said he has a list of seven state senators and 12 House of Delegates members who will be targeted in 2006.

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