Ethnic political hacks snub their own

Some years ago, Hispanic Republican state legislators reached a high water mark of five members in the California State Assembly (out of 80 members). When they gathered for breakfast, they were a de facto Hispanic caucus meeting outside the formal California Latino Legislative Caucus, because they were not members of the taxpayer-supported and financed Latino Caucus.

In 2014, nothing has changed: The Democratic majority in the California State Assembly maintains a stranglehold on the lower house, its budget and its political direction.

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In 2012, Marine Col. Rocky Chavez, a former acting secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs under Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Jerry Brown (D) and elected Oceanside city councilman, was overwhelmingly elected to the State Assembly, having carried every precinct in the district.

He ran on a platform of solving immigration problems (California having the highest percentage of immigrants, legal and illegal in the country); health and education problems (after the Marines, he ran a charter high school); and intelligent governance that encourages growth and economics befitting one of the world's largest economies.

He was and is totally issue-oriented. He finds much common ground with others who share his concerns about education and immigration and joined several bipartisan efforts in the Assembly on a resolution supporting comprehensive immigration reform, on allowing an illegal alien to practice law and other efforts found lacking in general Republican support.

When he arrived in the state capitol, he mentioned to Democratic colleagues that he would like to be involved in the Latino Legislative Caucus so he could work with its members on bipartisan issues. He never heard back from the group.

Chavez told the Los Angeles Times, "When I didn't get a response, I asked what the deal was and they said that I wouldn't be allowed in. ... They do not allow Republicans to be part of the group."

State Sen. Joel Anderson (R) has asked the state attorney general to investigate the taxpayer-funded group and its membership policies. Question: Can Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris investigate any Democratic organization, especially one that controls her department's budget?

Democratic State Sen. Ricardo Lara, chairman of the Latino Caucus, rationalizes the policy that excludes Chavez because it has been in "place since the caucus was founded 40 years ago by five Democratic lawmakers" when there were no Republican Latinos in the legislature. The caucus has been taxpayer-financed for those 40 years.

In contrast to the restrictionist Latino Caucus membership, the Asian Legislative Caucus, which will grow with two or three new Asian Republican members this November, welcomes people from both parties.

The official state website of the Latino Legislative Caucus says the caucus exists "to identify key issues affecting Latinos and develop avenues to empower the Latino community throughout California." That means all Latinos and all Latino problems, doesn't it, not just elected Democrats?

Given that, 55 percent or so of Latino voters in California are registered Democrats and 17 percent Republicans. Tellingly, in some counties like California's second largest, San Diego, where Chavez lives, statewide Republican candidates regularly receive up to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Properly mobilized, Hispanic voters even outpace other voters supporting or opposing issues they feel strongly about. For example, in the infamous Proposition 187 that would have expelled Latino children from schools and not allowed medical treatment to those same children in hospitals that received public money if a parent was suspected of being in country illegally, over 75 precent of California's Hispanic electorate voted against "187."

Hispanic/Latino voters have proven over and over, as in the 187 controversy, that they can be very issue-oriented like Chavez. Or that they can be very nonpartisan in voting. In the 1982 California gubernatorial election, many Hispanics abandoned the Democratic Party and voted for the Republican candidate over African-American Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, creating the famous "Bradley Effect," which is defined as telling pollsters one thing and voting the opposite.

In 1990, Hispanics increased their support of Republicans by giving U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson a healthy slice of their votes for California governor for two reasons: his 1986 sponsorship of amnesty for farmworkers and because Hispanics were then adverse to voting for women for executive offices (the Democratic nominee was now-U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein); they voted for them for legislative offices but not for governor. Hillary Clinton should take note of that history.

Looking east to Washington, we see the same problem. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also does not allow Hispanic Republicans into its exclusive club. They had to form their own group, too, like California Hispanic Republicans did a decade ago.

Chavez is not making a big deal about the Latino Legislative Caucus snub while he goes about the public business; he does his job.

His entire adult life has been about doing the job. Better yet, he says that he served for almost 30 years as a United States Marine, "not as the Latino Marine colonel."

Contreras formerly wrote for the New American News Service of The New York Times.