John Young
Special to the Daily

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July 31, 2013
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Young: GOP to Latinos: We are solidly pro-tortilla

Comprehensive immigration reform is a winner — comprehensive, path-to-citizenship reform.

Drones-in-skies, three-layer walls, “no amnesty,” end-of-discussion reform is not a winner.

We know this not just because poll after poll says it, as Politico reports. We can know this because Congressman Mike Coffman suddenly is talking about compassion.

Coffman is a heretofore hard-right Colorado Republican who generally has run on his military pedigree in “war on terror” times. Now he is running as a neighborly guy who speaks Spanish (he’ll have you know), and who supports “compassionate” immigration policies.

He’s said so in an op-ed pieces, and to a central-casting-selected, mostly Latino audience before which he hablo-ed himself to near exhaustion. He’s saying so in TV commercials.

One might say that “compassion” and multilinguality have always been in Coffman’s repertoire. Maybe so. What actually happened, however, is that redistricting of his suburban Denver-area district means quite a few more Latinos than before.

This could apply to quite a few congressional districts in this land of ours. In Texas, for instance, between the last two censuses, three of four new residents were minorities, and nearly nine of 10 of those were Hispanic.

The Spanish word for elephant is elefante. Right now Latinos’ general antipathy toward them is the elefante in the room for Republicans.

Ask Texas GOP operative Steve Munisteri about this. Robert Draper did for a scintillating piece in the current Texas Monthly. Munisteri said surveys of Latinos show “they view the Republican Party as hostile to the Hispanic community.”

In the same article, San Antonio mayor and 2012 Democratic National Convention keynote speaker Julian Castro said this ill will is all about policies, not window dressing: “The days are gone when George Bush saying a couple of lines in Spanish was enough to woo the Hispanic community.”

Understand, this is not just about one issue, like the tea party’s hardline obstruction of immigration reform or the “your papers, please” policies in Arizona, Alabama and more.

It’s about vote suppression. A panel of federal judges said Texas’ voter I.D. law imposes “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities.”

It’s about redistricting intent on marginalizing minorities. (Republicans in affected states don’t even need to pretend they are fair-minded after the Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance component of the Voting Rights Act.)

It’s about efforts to cripple Head Start, and to put property tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of funding of public schools.

It’s about painting Spanish-speaking citizens as second-class citizens, and angling toward elimination of bilingual ballots.

Relative to that, some history about passage of the Voting Rights Act: Congresswoman Barbara Jordan managed to get her state, Texas, and a few others tagged for pre-clearance not just because of their repression of blacks, but because the absence of bilingual ballots which effectively excluded many. Congress agreed that this was tantamount to the literacy tests of Jim Crow.

As Gary May writes in his book “Bending Toward Justice,” Texas state lawmakers were furious about this, as were several Texas congressmen, but Jordan pressed on with “an energy reminiscent” of Lyndon Johnson himself, who had hitched his legacy to civil rights legislation.

True, most of those Texas lawmakers were Democrats. However, since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, their brand of politics has migrated to the GOP, as it has throughout the South. Since then, the path leading to Republicans’ low approval ratings among Hispanics is quite clear.

El partido del elefante may speak the language when propitious, but as Hispanics become increasingly significant politically, it will be hard for the GOP to paper over where it has trod before.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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The Summit Daily Updated Jul 31, 2013 09:32PM Published Jul 31, 2013 05:26PM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.