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PR Newswire

"The Democratic Party Is The Natural Home For Latinos"

Remarks by Democratic National Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe Latino Vote 2001 Banquet July 13, 2001 - Pasadena, California

July 13, 2001
Copyright © 2001 PR Newswire. All Rights Reserved.

PASADENA, Calif. -- The following are remarks by Remarks by Democratic National Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe at the Latino Vote 2001 Banquet (as prepared for delivery):

Good evening, and thank you very much for this great honor. Thank you, Rocky, for that kind introduction, and congratulations on your recent election. Thank you, Antonio, for inviting me to join you tonight. And thanks to everyone associated with the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project for the extraordinary work you do to change people's lives by bringing them into the electoral process.

I want to acknowledge all of the outstanding elected officials and public servants here tonight. That includes my fellow keynoter. Secretary of State Jones ... I want to tip my hat to you ... because I imagine you have to be one heck of a politician these days to win statewide elected office as a Republican in California.

Never before in our nation's history has the Latino community been so large, so strong, so visible and so politically potent. You all know the numbers -- more than 35 million people of Latino descent in the United States, with growth four times faster than the population at-large. The numbers are so big that even Republicans have begun trying to reach out to Latinos.

As Latino influence grows, it is my hope and my belief that the entire country will discover what the people in this room have known all along -- that the Latino community is a shimmering tile in the great American mosaic ... that tremendous talent and creativity pulse daily within the veins of Los Angeles and San Antonio ... the Bronx and New Jersey ... Chicago and Albuquerque ... Miami and Orlando ... and, yes, Des Moines and Racine as well.

Thanks to the work of Southwest Voter and so many others, Latinos are exercising their political muscle, registering and turning out to vote in record numbers. There are 7.7 million registered Latino voters, and between 70 and 80 percent of them went to the polls in last fall's election.

And much more often than not, Latinos are voting for Democrats. The Gore- Lieberman ticket earned two-thirds of the Latino vote. And Latino mobilization was a key factor in the election of Democratic Senators from coast to coast.

The overwhelming majority of the 5000 plus Latino elected officials are Democrats. And already this year, we've added a few more. Democrat Ed Garza put together a strong and diverse coalition -- garnering more than half the Anglo vote -- to become San Antonio's first Latino mayor since Henry Cisneros. A few weeks later in El Paso's mayoral race, Democrat Ray Caballero won a landslide victory over former mayor Larry Francis. And this spring, there was a great political awakening in Los Angeles, as the mayoral campaign raised hearts and rallied spirits in the Latino community as never before. Make no mistake about it ... Antonio Villaraigosa changed Los Angeles and changed Latino politics. What he did to galvanize and energize people goes beyond a single campaign. The reverberations will be felt beyond this year and beyond this city.

More Latinos from California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and other states are now seeking higher office. They can all draw some inspiration from the example of Antonio Villaraigosa. And in the coming years, I believe we will begin to see the same kind of excitement and ethnic pride manifesting itself at the polls in communities around the country.

Less than four months from today, I believe Latinos will also play a critical role in electing Democratic governors in New Jersey and Virginia.

In New Jersey, home to more than a million Latinos, Democrat Jim McGreevey has a 13-point lead over his Republican opponent. Congressman Robert Menendez, Vice-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, is helping guide the McGreevey effort as chair of the New Jersey coordinated campaign. And McGreevey has also unveiled a "New Opportunities" plan to invest in recruitment and training of minority candidates in New Jersey.

In Virginia, Democrat Mark Warner has been aggressive about making overtures to that state's rapidly growing Latino population. And both he and his running mate are fluent Spanish speakers.

Looking ahead to 2002, we Democrats are acutely aware of growing Latino political influence all over the country, even in places where you might not expect it. For example, six of the seven states that have tripled their Latino population since 1990 are in the Deep South.

Granted, there are still as many Latinos in California and Texas than in the other 48 states combined. But given the political parity around the country, it doesn't take a large community to swing an election one way or the other. When you consider that Al Gore carried Wisconsin by just 4,000 votes, the state's 193,000 Latinos suddenly look pretty big. In 2002, we expect close statewide races in Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Minnesota and Oregon. And the Latino vote could very well make the difference.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We Democrats are proud of our record of working on behalf of Latinos. But we also know that the loyalty of the Latino community can never be assumed; it must be earned, day in and day out. The Republican Party can read census data too, and despite their dismal record on the issues, they are being very aggressive about courting the Latino vote.

So we are not being complacent. We have several new programs designed to strengthen our partnership with the Latino community.

Our new Voting Rights Institute, for example, is working to correct the voting irregularities of the last election, when people of color were disproportionately denied their franchise. We're also investing several million dollars in a redistricting project. The reapportionment stakes, as you well know, are huge for the Latino community, as the eight states that are gaining Congressional seats are all among the top fifteen in Latino population.

We've also launched a new multi-year, multi-faceted, multi-million dollar Hispanic project, designed specifically to broaden and deepen our ties to Latino voters. Instead of just parachuting into the Latino community during the last few weeks of an election year, this Project will help us maintain constant contact and a consistent presence.

We will be working with pollsters to better understand the attitudes and opinions of Latino voters. We are enhancing our relationship with Spanish- language media, speaking bilingually to the Latino community. And for the first time, to my knowledge, the person responsible for steering the Democratic Party's message is a Latina -- my new Communications Director, Maria Cardona.

During Cinco de Mayo, the DNC bought time on Univision and Telemundo, running ads entitled: "Y nosotros," as in "George Bush is working for the special interests. What about us? Who's working for us?" This was the first time the national Party has ever bought time on Spanish television during an off-year.

We are also working more closely with Latino leaders, elected officials and grassroots activists, integrating them more fully into the Democratic Party apparatus. I meet regularly, for example, with Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairman Silvestre Reyes. The Party is becoming more and more visible at national conferences like this one, like the Hispanic Journalists, NALEO and MALDEF. And we're also building and cultivating a network of Latino surrogates, who can help spread the Democratic message to Latino audiences.

Field organizing is an important part of the Project. We're training several Latino political organizers for the New Jersey and Virginia races, one of whom is already in place. And when these organizers are done winning this year's campaigns, we're going to send them back out into targeted states and districts for the 2002 cycle.

We intend to make this Project a permanent fixture of the Democratic Party, not a one or two-year initiative. This is not something entirely new for us. We've always worked with the Latino community. But now we're going to do it more aggressively, more strategically and more pro-actively than ever before.

I want to single out Cynthia Rotunno on my staff, who has played an important role in putting together the Hispanic Project. We have interviewed candidates for Executive Director of the Project, and we expect to have someone on board soon. And as always when it comes to our Latino efforts, we will be relying on the advice of our outstanding DNC Latino leadership -- Art Torres, Chairman of the California Democratic Party, Judge Nelson Diaz of Philadelphia, Councilwoman Ramona Martinez of Denver, as well as Vice-Chairs Linda Chavez-Thompson of the AFL-CIO, and LA's own County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who I'm sorry couldn't be here tonight.

New citizen voter registration is also a major piece of the Project. Frankly, it's something we haven't done enough of in the past. For all the work of Southwest Voter and others, there's still more to be done. We know from the data that new citizens, if registered, turn out at a very high rate. But the fact remains that, at least as of 1998, about 40 percent of Latino citizens of voting age were not registered.

So under the leadership of Dan Chavez on my staff, we are working with our state Democratic Parties in California, Arizona and Nevada on new citizen registration drives. In fact, just last month, I was in Pomona to help out on the effort myself. I was there with several Democratic volunteers to register new citizens as they emerged from their swearing-in ceremony. The Republicans had some volunteers too -- two little old ladies sitting under an umbrella. I guess they didn't like that we had so many people there, so they called the police. I sent our volunteers home when the police came, but they did almost arrest me. I wish they had. Can you imagine the story ... Chairman of the Democratic Party arrested for trying to register people to vote?

I may just have another chance to get arrested. I've agreed to travel to Puerto Rico with Bronx Democratic leader Roberto Ramirez, who was just released after forty days in prison for protesting the continued military exercises on the island of Vieques . They've arrested Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Dennis Rivera ... why not Terry McAuliffe?

In all seriousness, the reason I'm going is to show my support for the people of that island, who are having their civil rights trampled by an Administration. Ask yourself this: would George Bush wait till 2003 if the Navy were firing their shells in Kennebunkport, Maine? Of course not. Secretary of State Jones: talk to the leader of your party, and tell him that that it is time to stop the bombing in Vieques now!

And let me tell you ... it's a good thing the Navy announced yesterday that it wouldn't transfer these exercises to a site in South Texas. If they had, something tells me the folks in this room would've had a thing or two to say about it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I've talked a lot about outreach today. But at the end of the day, all the outreach in the world means absolutely nothing unless you're reaching out with something to offer ... something tangible and meaningful ... something that will improve people's lives.

The Republican Party makes a lot of noise about reaching out to the Latino community.

They've got some rhetoric, some photo-ops and some token, symbolic gestures. What they don't have is a record or results. What they don't have is even the remotest interest in the issues that matter to Latino families. What they don't have is a compelling reason for Latinos to embrace the party of Pete Wilson and Prop 187.

On issue after issue, the Bush Administration has dismissed the values and priorities of the Latino community. He broke a campaign pledge to dramatically increase funding for Pell grants. He cut the GEAR-UP program that helps low-income students prepare for college. He cut funding for Legal Aid. And he cut the COPS program, which supports state and local law enforcement.

And when it comes to immigration, the Republicans' rhetoric of compassion is at odds with the harsh reality of their agenda. The President has signaled that he would not support legal residency for guest workers. You'll recall that, earlier this year, he did support an extension for green card applications ... but he announced his support the day after the deadline had passed. And last fall, it was the Republican Party that cut the very heart out of the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, which would have provided legal status to two million people.

Folks, these guys aren't for us. It's the Democratic Party that offers an agenda that Latinos can embrace and call their own.

Democrats are the party that believes in the dignity and the potential of every single American. Democrats are the party that believes the American Dream should not exceed the grasp of any of our people. Democrats are the party of civil rights, human rights and voting rights. Democrats are the party of hope, of inclusion, of tolerance, of community, of compassion.

It was under the Democratic Administration of Bill Clinton and Al Gore that Latino unemployment was cut in half ... that Latino homeownership and median household income reaching their highest levels in recorded history.

President Clinton fought to restore benefits to legal immigrants. He fought against racial profiling. He fought for a fair, accurate and complete census. And when it might have been politically expedient to do otherwise, he defended affirmative action because it was the right thing to do.

It is Democrats who are standing with the Latino community on the issues being debated right now in Washington. It is Democrats who argued against an irresponsible tax cut that gives not a cent to more than half of Latino families.

It is Democrats who are supporting a Patients' Bill of Rights that protects Americans from being exploited by their HMOs. It is Democrats who believe that men and women working for a minimum wage deserve a raise. It is Democrats who support a real Medicare prescription drug benefit, not the discount card gimmick offered up by President Bush last week.

It is Democrats who are fighting a Social Security privatization plan that threatens to cut the benefits that one-third of Latino seniors rely on as their only source of income. Just today, I was in East LA at the AltaMed Senior Health and Activities Center to talk to folks there about their concerns about Social Security, Patients' Bill of Rights and Medicare prescription drug coverage.

It is also Democrats who recognize that diversity and multiculturalism are what make America strong. My family came from Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century, so I have some understanding of the sacrifice, the courage and the hardship involved in leaving your native land in search of new opportunity. That's why I belong to the political party that understands that we are a nation of immigrants ... and so we have an obligation to treat our newest arrivals with fairness and compassion.

Democrats are responsive to the issues of particular concern to Latinos, but we also understand that the Latino agenda is, fundamentally, an American agenda. Lieutenant Governor Bustamante tells a good story about a reporter who asked him to comment about claims that his political rise was ushering in a new era of radical ethnic politics. And he replied, very simply: "You're right. There's a four-point radical agenda we Latinos have been hiding all this time. It's good schools, good jobs, safe neighborhoods and an equal opportunity."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Let me close with this thought. I've been plenty partisan tonight, and I'm not going to apologize for that. Because I truly believe that the Democratic Party is the natural home for Latinos.

But I also understand that the first step to getting people to vote Democratic is getting them to vote. Before partisanship must come participation. Before any American chooses a party, they must first identify and claim their stake in the democratic process.

That's why we're all here tonight. That's why Southwest Voter's work is so important.

That's why we work so hard to make Willie Velasquez' vision a reality. Su voto es su voz! Thank you very much and good night.

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