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WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP
Common Sense In The Minority
By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
May 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 DALLAS NEWS. All Rights Reserved.
DALLAS--Republicans can't seem to make up their minds lately over whether they really want to go after minority voters--or just settle for going after Democrats who go after minority voters.
Consider the recent, and rather embarrassing, plea from Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot that Democrats resist the urge to poke the GOP in its soft spot: racial and ethnic inclusion.
It happened last week in a forum that included Racicot's counterpart, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. When McAuliffe insisted that the significant number of minority candidates running under the Democratic banner this year proved that Democrats (insert sound of liberals patting themselves on the back) were more inclusive of minorities than Republicans, Racicot got steamed and cautioned Democrats not to be "opportunistic about race" in this year's elections.
Racicot seems particularly concerned with Texas, where Republicans are flummoxed at having to compete with a Democratic "dream ticket" (a Latino candidate for governor, an African American for U.S. Senate and an Anglo for lieutenant governor).
Racicot's strategy is interesting. Most people, when locked in political combat, might think twice before laying bare their insecurities or weaknesses.
And no wonder the GOP is insecure. For one thing, some Republicans never learn. In California, where the GOP-backed Proposition 187 sought to deny services to illegal immigrants but in reality drove Latinos to the Democratic Party, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon has kicked up a storm by saying that if elected, he would try to resurrect the measure--ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. district court judge.
There is more trouble here in Texas. A few weeks ago, an operative working for state Attorney General John Cornyn, the Republican nominee for the Senate, dismissed the Democrat's diversity slate as a "racial quota ticket."
It was a dumb remark that backfired. Quicker than you could say "Jesse Helms," Cornyn apologized.
More recently, Susan Weddington, the chairwoman of the Texas Republican Party, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service demanding an investigation of whether the Every Texan Foundation--a voter registration project started up by Henry Cisneros, former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor--is sufficiently nonpartisan to warrant its tax-exempt status. Weddington, who insists that the effort is a front for Democrats, wants to send a message by having the group's tax status changed.
She sent a message all right. Given that the Every Texan Foundation has its goal to register half a million new voters--most of them minorities--the message is the same one that Republicans have put out for the last 50 years: that when it comes to minority voters, they would just as soon have them stay home on Election Day.
It is a message that Cisneros immediately picked up on. He accused Texas Republicans of engaging in intimidation tactics akin to the poll-watching of the 1950s where private citizens took it upon themselves to monitor polling places and questioned minorities about their right to be there.
Maneuvers like Weddington's seem strangely out of place here in Bush country, so named after a leader who was always confident that he had something to offer minority voters. A new crop of Republicans doesn't seem nearly as confident, and so they're resorting to old rhetoric and even older tactics.
Yet all may not be lost. Racicot has gotten back on the horse, announcing this week the launch of a monthly Spanish-language public affairs show aimed at informing the Latino community about issues--and no doubt, winning a few converts in the process. Titled "Abriendo Caminos" (Forging New Paths), the show is set to debut May 20 and initially air in six U.S. markets: Albuquerque, Denver, Fresno, Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando. With the full blessing of the White House, the RNC is reportedly spending more than $1 million to produce and promote the show.
Television shows are fine. But what the president really needs to do is grab his fellow Republicans by the lapels and say: Read my lips. Get on board. Give up the old ways. Embrace the new reality. Bringing Latinos and African Americans into the political process is not the death of the party; it's the future of the party.