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Hispanic Caucus Blasts DNC

By Hans Nichols

December 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE HILL. All rights reserved. 

Five leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) demanded that a bristling letter they sent to Democratic state party chairmen be shorn of any laudatory language about the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) efforts to woo Hispanic voters.

Early versions of the Dec. 9 letter included a few toss-away diplomatic phrases, but CHC leaders insisted they be removed from the final draft to express their anger over the DNC’s Hispanic outreach, according to several aides.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), a CHC vice chairman and one of the letter’s signers, said the letter was the opening salvo in an effort to exert influence and ensure that the next party chairman does not give Hispanic outreach short shrift.

"We wanted to send a strong, a powerful message. We don’t want Hispanics sitting on the sidelines," Baca said. "It can no longer be that you want a John Jones to be your spokesman, to be your surrogate. It’s time that an Eddie Smith, or some other African-American, or a Joe Baca or some other Hispanic take that role."

He added, "Of course, they all say they will do something, but what I want to know is if they are really sincere. Are you going to put your money where your mouth is? That’s what I want to know."

In their letter, which was delivered to the state party officials in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., as they discussed candidates for the next DNC chairman, the lawmakers wrote in a defiant tone: "This disappointment stems not only from this past election, but what we have seen to be a continuing pattern of neglect of the Hispanic electorate over the last decade by the Democratic party."

An aide to one CHC member said, "Essentially, at the end of the day, the members said, ‘F- - - this.’"

"We’ve tried to do this diplomatically, but we’re just at a point of frustration and disappointment, so this is the way we wrote it, with no compliments," the aide said of the letter.

CHC anger has been compounded by the party’s response to the debate over how well President Bush performed with Hispanic voters and whether he won 44 or 40 percent.

"That’s what triggered the anger, is that the party was spending more time spinning the result instead of sitting back and saying, wow, look at how much we’ve lost over the last two elections," the aide said.

Another aide confirmed that the letter’s brusqueness increased with each draft.

"There were several versions, but they were very clear that we needed to be forceful about this," he said.

The Democrats’ criticism of their party organization was matched only by their compliments for President Bush and what many Democrats regard as his success in appealing to Hispanic voters.

Noting the Cabinet nominations of Alberto Gonzales and Carlos Gutierrez, Baca said, "You’ve got to compliment that. At least they are making the outreach effort at the national level."

In one of her first acts as the next leader of the CHC, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), who succeeds Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), wrote her colleagues to acknowledge "their keen interest in having members of the CHC play an active role in shaping the way the Democratic Party reaches out to Hispanic voters."

Napolitano asked Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, to draft the letter and to request an "immediate response to our Caucus in the form of action on concrete steps we have presented."

Nelson Reyneri, director of Hispanic outreach at the DNC, seemed to agree with many of the suggestions made in the Dec. 9 letter but also defended his organization’s own record.

"While in 2004, the DNC invested the most in the party’s history in Hispanic media and in deploying resources to targeted states, we agree with the CHC that Democrats at all levels need to increase the focus and commitment to maintaining and expanding our support among Latinos," Reyneri said.

"We very much look forward to working with the CHC to identify strategies needed to accomplish this," he added.

Meanwhile, Democratic congressional leaders continued to try to influence the process and appeared to be welcoming potential new candidates to the race.

Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) spoke with former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) yesterday, according to congressional aides.

"Reid has talked to him and thinks he would make an excellent chair," said

Reid’s chief of staff, Susan McCue.

Pelosi has been careful not to endorse anyone, offering only general praise for the field of candidates.

Last week, she told reporters, "I am working with our colleagues to try to build some consensus because when this chairperson or chairpersons are selected, we would want to have widespread support and enthusiastic support for whoever these people are."

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