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Holy Endorsement -- What Price For Churches In Politics?… Double Standard For Democrats About Churches

Holy Endorsement -- What Price For Churches In Politics?

Mark Silva

August 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

Last week, the Hispanic Christian Churches Association of Central Florida endorsed Republican Gov. Jeb Bush's re-election campaign.

Last fall, the Republican Party of Florida contributed $10,000 to the same Hispanic Christian Churches Association.

Democrats see a disturbing connection between the two.

"It doesn't pass the real smell test," says Bob Poe, Florida Democratic Party chairman.

Asked about the association's affinity for Bush, the religious leader of the Orlando-based group says money has nothing to do with it.

"There is no relationship with money. It's a relationship of principles," says the Rev. Luis Lopez, president of an association counting 260 churches in its ranks. "At this moment, the governor has the same principles that we are preaching."

These principles include the importance of family and Christianity, he says -- and opposition to adoption of children by gay or lesbian couples.

Bush stands by Florida's ban against gay adoption. His leading Democratic rival, Janet Reno, opposes the ban. "The adoption that Ms. Reno talks about for homosexuals, we are against that," Lopez says.

This is an electrical issue in some of the churches he represents. They include a fast-growing legion of fundamentalist, non-denominational Christian congregations of Hispanic followers across Osceola, Brevard, Seminole and Volusia counties.

Republicans want to forge an alliance with Puerto Rican and other Hispanic voters who traditionally vote Democratic.

On Nov. 8, the state party gave Lopez's association $10,000, records show. The association was raising money, party spokesman Towson Fraser explains, and the party was interested in sponsorship.

"What we've got is a party that actively and strongly supports the Hispanic community in Central Florida, and obviously they appreciate that," Fraser says. "I don't see how [Democrats] can draw any other conclusion, with a straight face."

In the big political picture, $10,000 really isn't much.

The state GOP has dished out $9.5 million since November 2001. That includes $2.75 million that the party handed its Virginia-based media adviser, Mike Murphy, in April and May to start making and buying all the TV ads the GOP has been airing in a campaign against Reno and her chief Democratic rival, Bill McBride.

The party has spared the lesser-known Democratic candidate, Daryl Jones, from a barrage that brought new ads last week slamming Reno and McBride as tax-and-spenders.

The GOP gave $3,500 to the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Miami in June, records show -- another "sponsorship."

But $10,000 is a pile of dough for a non-profit band of churches whose members stood and applauded, even prayed and cried, as Bush appeared before them to accept their endorsement and speak intimately of his own family's travails.

Doug Head, Democratic Party chairman in Orange County, says flatly: "They are buying votes. They think that $10,000 paid to one minister in the community will buy Hispanic votes."

"No relationship," Lopez replies. "We are not working for the Republican Party.

"Some people from the Democratic Party contributed to us, too. We don't have an association with the party. We have an association with the people."

Poe says the Democratic Party never received an invitation to sponsor the association.

"It's very troubling," chairman Poe says. "There are no coincidences in politics."

Double Standard For Democrats About Churches

Myriam Marquez

August 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

For years, Gov. Jeb Bush has captured the hearts of conservative, church-going people. That's no secret.

Yet to hear Democratic Party operatives talk about Bush's recent endorsement by the Hispanic Christian Churches Association of Central Florida, you would think there's a stealth campaign going on to destroy democracy as we know it.

Last week, after Bush received the association's endorsement, Democratic Party leaders went so far as to accuse Bush and the Republican Party of "buying Hispanic votes." The Democrats pointed to the Florida GOP's $10,000 contribution to the Hispanic church association last year.

That's the problem with so many of Florida's Democratic Party leaders. They are so bankrupt of creative ideas to oust Bush that, in desperation, they blame their own failures on the GOP's money. Well, sure the Republicans have lots of money, but so do many wealthy Democrats. Where is that money going?

To activities in the black churches, perhaps?

Certainly Democratic candidates for governor haven't been shy about stumping for votes at black churches.

The issue isn't so much money as priorities. Bob Poe, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, just hasn't made the type of connection with Hispanic voters that comes naturally to GOP chief Al Cardenas.

Except in a few rare cases, Democratic Party operatives haven't taken Hispanics seriously. I'm not referring just to the Pentecostal Christians who might attend the small, store-front churches that make up much of the association's members but the Hispanic business community, too, and even the lowly paid tourism workers.

If you go to any Hispanic festival or event in town, you're likely to find Republican Party officials there. They will have a table at the event and hand out literature. They will make those people-to-people connections.

Here's an example of Democratic cluelessness. Reno took her campaign to Apopka recently to talk to farm workers. They are the salt of the earth, those folks -- underpaid and often abused. Unfortunately for Reno, many of them also aren't yet U.S. citizens. Reno had to explain that even if she were elected governor, she wouldn't be able to help undocumented workers get subsidies.

Meanwhile, Bush and the Republican Party have been hitting on many of the issues that family-oriented Hispanics care about -- better jobs and vouchers so that their kids can attend private schools if they are at failing public schools. I don't necessarily agree with Bush on those issues, particularly his penchant for tax cuts as the solution to what ails the economy when public schools have such dire needs and the elderly are crying out for better services.

Nevertheless, Bush is familiar with Latinos' cultural nuances and knows how to sell his platform. He knows the historical and cultural differences between, say, a Puerto Rican and a Mexican, a Cuban and a Colombian.

When Bush campaigns in Kissimmee's heavily Puerto Rican neighborhoods, he's smart to have a couple of mayors from the island at his side. Politics in the Hispanic community is as much about personality as it is about issues. Who do the Democrats offer to make such connections?

Actor Martin Sheen, son of a Spaniard. Sorry, I love the West Wing, but Sheen, a k a Estevez, isn't one of us. Totally clueless.

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