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Orlando Sentinel

Hispanically Speaking, W. On Target

By Myriam Marquez

March 21, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Hispanically speaking, President George W. Bush could do better.

He could start by not mangling the English language. This week he created another word in his wonderfully whimsical Bushspeak: Hispanically.

In remarks to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Bush said, "A lot of times in the rhetoric, people forget the facts. And the facts are that thousands of small businesses -- Hispanically owned or otherwise -- pay taxes at the highest marginal rate."

Democrats get a good laugh out of Bush's tendency to mangle words here and there. They figure it makes him look unprepared for the presidency.

Democrats shouldn't underestimate Bush's ability to connect and inspire. And not just with white guys in pinstripe suits searching for tax cuts.

The president wowed black ministers who met with him Monday at the White House. They discussed his faith-based initiatives to help the poor through religious groups. Bush started by talking about how his faith in God changed his life.

Ministers who didn't vote for Bush suddenly were calling his talk inspirational.

"It was a good-faith gesture to open the door," Robert Franklin, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, said.

The Rev. Herb Lust of the National Baptist Convention was even more direct: "We're beginning to rethink how we vote. This president has our attention."

Today Bush will be in Orlando to speak to cardiologists about his health-care proposals and to visit with elderly people, many of them Hispanics, who are served meals through the Seniors First program.

Bush won the Cuban-American vote handily in Florida, but that was to be expected after the Elian fiasco soured Al Gore's chances among those who wanted the boy's case resolved in family court and not by a Clinton administration SWAT team.

In Central Florida, where a majority of Hispanics are Puerto Ricans who tend to vote for Democrats, Al Gore received most of the votes. But at the Seniors First site at the Cuban Club in east Orlando, the seniors are a diverse group and include whites, blacks and Latinos of different nationalities.

It's no secret that Bush wants to make inroads into a community that is not monolithic. A growing number of Hispanic voters are independent voters.

Bush garnered the largest number of Latino votes of any Republican presidential candidate in this nation's history.

His count was still less than four of 10 Hispanic votes nationwide, but that's not a bad showing for a guy whose Republican Party had ticked off many Latinos with an anti-immigrant agenda.

Bush's strong ties to Mexican President Vicente Fox and his support for an immigration policy that values family reunification helped him win converts.

Dennis Freytes, a Puerto Rican and retired military who helped in Bush's campaign, says that the Seniors First program is a good example of what a community can do with the help of volunteers and the government -- the type of faith-based initiative that Bush wants to encourage.

"It takes a daughter. It takes a son. It takes a community. It takes the government. It takes a partnership," said Freytes, who served as Seniors First chairman last year.

Yes, it does. Call it a village or call it a faith-based initiative. The political payoff is just as big, and George W. Bush is smart enough to know that.

Reach Myriam Marquez at

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