Rep. Diaz-Balart: Latino face of GOP's immigration reform blockade

If a dog won't hunt, change the dog. My father taught me that rule during my first hunting trip. And it holds true for members of Congress, too.

Take the clutch of Republican Latinos in the House of Representatives. While many of them seem to be decent folks, when it comes to pushing their party on immigration reform, they just don’t hunt. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, scion of a Cuban family of exiles in south Florida seemingly destined to rule like Latin American caudillos, is one such example. Originally elected to a safe district created by Diaz-Balart himself while in the Florida Legislature, he now finds himself in even saferterritory.

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After the 2010 census, a new district was created for Diaz-Balart that moved the needle further to the right. In 2010 he won with some 52 percent of the vote under the old boundaries; in 2012 he ran unopposed, as Democrats surrendered without a fight.

But beneath the crystalline waters of South Florida, there is tumult. Since the district was pretzeled in the 2010 gerrymandering exercise, Hispanics not traditionally aligned with the GOP have started to move into the area.

The Cuban-American vote is no longer dependably Republican. New generations born in the United States and the coming of age of post-revolutionary refugees from Cuba have changed the character of the community.

In 2012, President Obama was the first Democrat to come within striking distance of winning the Cuban-American vote in South Florida since JKF earned the ire of the exile community after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

More broadly, for Latinos across this country, immigration reform is a touchstone issue, and has become less about the impact to their own families and more a proxy for how they're treated— respected — in the U.S. Most polls show a near 80 percent Latino support for comprehensive immigration reform with a path toward citizenship. (Such support is echoed by 70-plus percent ofall Americans.)

So it was with much hope that the bipartisan House Gang of 8 bipartisan announced early this year their work on a bill that once and for all would deal with comprehensive reform. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly encouraged them to find a solution. Yet that group began to collapse as Idaho's Rep. Raul Labrador (later of the GOP's government shutdown co-strategist fame) dropped out with weak protestation that he was not willing to compromise in order to get a deal.

Once upon a time, negotiations in Congress were meant to produce deals. Now it would seem that when they require compromise to be successful, the hard-liners in the Tea Party run away from negotiations like gun-spooked dogs fleeing the ducks.

Diaz-Balart is, of course, a member of the majority. He reigns in a safe seat, seemingly insulated from a Tea Party primary. He could lead his caucus and stand up to radical anti-immigrants like Steve King of Iowa. He could demand a vote on the immigration bill recently introduced by the Democrats with a smattering of GOP support. After all, what's the point of being in the majority if you will not use that power? Why put the narrow interests of the extremists in your party over those of your constituents and the country's strategic imperative to achieve a modern immigration system?

Instead, Diaz-Balart has been parroting the almost satirical party line: No immigration vote this year because of lack of time to consider a bill that has been in the works for years. So instead of fighting for a vote, he is the limp messenger of his party's suicidal hard-line resistance to immigration reform.

If Diaz-Balart won't lead, if he will not use his position in the majority party to achieve a national strategic goal with massive support from his own constituents and Americans across the country, why should he be reelected in 2014?

Maybe it's time to swap out the dog. Democrats should field a candidate in his district who will represent America's national goals — and not just serve as the amiable Latino face of the Tea Party's immigration blockade.

Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network.