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Scorecard On 'Pro-Hispanic' Congressional Votes

by Charlie Erickson

February 20, 2000
Copyright © 2000 HISPANIC LINK NEWS SERVICE. All Rights Reserved.

Following the Feb. 8 release of a study by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, Republicans in Congress may have a difficult time this election season convincing Hispanic constituents that the GOP is their friend in Washington.

In its fourth biennial congressional "scorecard,'' NHLA, a coalition of 32 of the nation's largest Latino organizations, looked at how individual members of Congress voted on 11 issues in the U.S. House of Representatives, and seven in the Senate that it deemed of particular importance to the advancement of the Hispanic community.

Covered were various bills relating to education, income security, family support, civil rights, the federal budget and, added in the Senate, a procedural motion to consider the nomination of Richard Páez to become a U.S. Circuit Court judge.

Latino Members' 'Pro-Hispanic' Voting Records

The survey's purpose, stressed NHLA leaders, is to help Latino voters know if their representatives in Congress are looking out for the community's interests. NHLA declined to tally the scores by political party.

But Hispanic Link News Service did. And the results are devastating to the GOP.

During the first session of the 106th Congress, Democratic members voted "pro-Hispanic'' an average of 82.2 percent of the time; GOP members did so just 4.5 percent. The gap in member support for "pro-Hispanic'' legislation, by chamber:

  Democrats Republicans
  Percent Percent
SENATE 97.4. 2.7
HOUSE 78.9 4.9

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is competing for the GOP presidential nomination with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, received a "zero'' score.

"Many in Congress continue to look the other way when presented with issues that affect the Hispanic community,'' NHLA Chairman Manuel Mirabal said at the sparsely attended Feb. 8 Capitol Hill news conference releasing the survey. "What affects us affects all of America.'' Mirabal is president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition.

Other speakers emphasized their organizations' specific interests. In citing the long-delayed action on Páez and two other Latino circuit court nominees, Marisa Demeo, regional counsel with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, pointed out how Latino judicial candidates have had to wait longer than others.

"Every Democrat in the Senate voted to bring Páez's nomination to the floor for a vote, while every Republican voted against doing so,'' she said. Following negotiations since then, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has agreed to call for a vote on Páez by March 15. Demeo urged that this time the Senate put partisanship aside.

Delia Pompa, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, stressed that while 80 percent of Latinos support the pedagogy, the House passed by 358-67 a Title I reauthorization bill (HR2) which places new barriers to parents and children who want such programs. The bill also restricts services under the Bilingual Education Act solely to English-language acquisition.

Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, covered votes on federal budget issues.

No Hispanic Democrat in the House scored less than 73 percent in "pro-Hispanic'' votes. No Hispanic Republican scored higher than 9 percent.

However, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) -- who along with Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) got a zero -- protested that her record on such issues as immigration and health care demonstrates her commitment to her constituency, which includes a high percentage of Hispanics.

Bonilla discredited NHLA members as "self-appointed experts.''

At the press event, National Council of La Raza vice president Cecilia Muñoz urged that Hispanic community-based organizations, Latino leaders and others "use this information to hold their elected officials accountable for their votes.''

Jim Nicholson, GOP National Committee chair, responded by calling the scorecard "skewed to favor liberal Democrats.'' In a statement, he asked, "Where are the real votes of importance to Hispanics, like ending the tax penalty against marriages or liberating poor children from public schools that don't work or banning partial-birth abortions?''

Charlie Ericksen is editor of the national newsweekly Hispanic Link Weekly Report in Washington, D.C.