House Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members
The House Republican Conference will add four new Hispanic members to its ranks come January, a reflection of the party’s appeal to Latinos in Florida and Texas.
The Congressional Hispanic Conference — the grouping of Hispanic Republicans, as opposed to the nominally bipartisan but functionally Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) — is set to welcome Reps.-elect Carlos Gimenez (Fla.), Maria Elvira Salazar (Fla.), Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.) and Tony Gonzales (Texas).
Gimenez, Salazar and Malliotakis are Cuban Americans, Gonzales is Mexican American.
All four won close races against Democrats — incumbents in the case of Gimenez, Salazar and Malliotakis — who were favored to win their elections.
The Florida and Texas districts are majority Hispanic; Malliotakis’s Staten Island district is nearly a fifth Hispanic.
“There’s no doubt we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the representation of minorities, including Hispanics, among Republicans,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Hispanic Conference.
“The question is why?” added Diaz-Balart. “Partly it’s why Latinos in the United States are here … we either come from a socialist country where there’s no liberty, the violence [in Latin America] and a third very important factor is economic opportunity.”
Those messages resonated among Hispanic voters in traditionally conservative communities, like the two South Florida districts that neighbor Diaz-Balart’s district or the large Texas district that Gonzales kept in Republican hands.
Gonzales, a Navy veteran, beat Democrat Gina Ortiz-Jones, an Air Force veteran who was widely seen as a favorite to replace retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas).
The incoming Republican Hispanics will join Diaz-Balart, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, California Rep. Devin Nunes, West Virginia Rep. Alex Mooney, Florida Rep. Brian Mast and American Samoa Del. Aumua Amata Radewagen.
Two so-far uncalled California races could add Rep. Mike Garcia and former Rep. David Valadao to the list.
The Congressional Hispanic Conference was set up in the late 1990s when disagreements over Cuba policy and the election of then-Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) to lead the CHC led the Cuban American members to split off from the bipartisan group.
The rescinding Republicans were led by former Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart’s brother.
Since then, the Hispanic Conference has taken a different tack from its Democratic counterpart, for instance by allowing non-Hispanic Republicans to join.
Republican Hispanics are technically still allowed in the CHC, a provision tested by former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who in 2017 accused the group of discrimination after his application to join was rejected by a majority of the members.
Under Mario Diaz-Balart, the Hispanic Conference has mostly had a cordial working relationship with its Democratic counterparts, particularly seeking common ground on immigration reform pushes.
“This growth in Hispanic Republican representation in Congress is very positive for the country,” he said. “It can only help those negotiations.”
But Diaz-Balart said he is ready to pass on the torch of the Hispanic Conference chairmanship.
“Having more Latino Republicans in Congress is a good thing,” he said, “but I’d like for another member to take that position.”
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