Quick! Name a single member of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. Better still, name a single piece of legislation put forward by any member of this group. What more likely comes to mind is the recent piece on the Comedy Channel’s Colbert Report where Steven Colbert makes light of Hispanic Representative Joe Baca allegedly calling fellow California Representative, Loretta Sanchez a “whore.” Baca denied the charge but it did not stem the fury of Rep. Loretta Sanchez and her sister and fellow Representative, Linda Sanchez. The most damning thing about the incident is that such a charge would even be taken seriously by the public. But apparently it was. So much so that Baca felt that he needed to issue a denial.
Of more pressing concern is the charge that Joe Baca improperly funneled Hispanic Caucus money to the state legislature campaigns of his two sons. This incident caused a split in the Caucus in February of 2006. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, her sister, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., and Democratic Reps. Dennis Cardoza of California, Jim Costa of California, Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona and Hilda L. Solis of California withdrew from the group's political action committee after Baca authorized political contributions to his family members.
Subsequently, following the election of Joe Baca to the chairmanship of the Hispanic Caucus, the Sanchez sisters protested that the vote had been improper and that balloting should have been done by secret ballot. Both sisters then broke off all ties to the Hispanic Caucus. Baca has characterized the dispute as “personal.”
As a Latino, it is hard for me not to get disheartened by such self-defeating antics. When Representative Loretta Sanchez, defeated the Republican nutwing, Bob Dornan, many had hopes that she would usher in a new generation of Latino leaders. She was young, smart and politically savvy. Although she has generally voted with the party, she has rarely been the leading voice in Congress that many Hispanics had hoped she would be.
More perplexing is the presence of five Hispanic congressional representatives in the conservative, 37-member, “Blue Dog Coalition.” The Blue Dog coalition describes itself as conservative democrats who wish to inject a conservative or “moderate” point of view in Congress. The Blue Dog coalition not only opposes most legislation of concern to the Latino community but includes nativists such as Heath Schuler, who has made common cause with former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo in pushing anti-immigrant (and anti-Latino) legislation. Whatever leverage these Latino members may have gained from their membership in the Blue Dog Coalition, it has been lost by their legitimization of the most right-wing elements of the coalition. The Hispanic representatives’ membership in the Blue Dog Coalition indicates clearly that these representatives do not have the interests of the Latino community foremost in mind.
So why are the few Latino members of Congress such a mediocre representation of the community? There are clearly many bright, articulate, young Latinos out there: Latinos who would surely measure up to the Congressional Black Caucus’s shining member, Barack Obama. I believe the problem is a generational disconnect. The current leadership matured as the pioneer generation of Latino representatives to Congress. They thrive on the politics of personality and as such engage in petty politics. Whatever grand vision they may have for Hispanics, it is completely lost on Hispanics themselves.
Finally, Hispanic members of Congress have few established, ethnically-based institutions – such as blacks have in the NAACP – to ground them. Old line organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens are largely made up of veterans from World War II and are more animated by the struggle to achieve parity for Hispanic veterans than they are by issues like immigration. In any case, these are not people who rattle cages.
There are further reasons for the lack of visionary Latino leadership but this discussion will be continued. Unfortunately, this group of leaders will do little to uplift the Hispanic community. Please post a comment if you agree or disagree.
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