The influential California Latino Legislative Caucus has a generic moniker and an ostensibly-benign mission statement which promotes “legislation and policies that have a direct impact on Latinos from all walks of life,” and “diversity in state government…by advancing qualified candidates from all walks of California.”
Well, in carefully choreographed subterfuge, this public face of the Latino political establishment conveniently left out: “… except if you are Republican, in which case, we want nothing to do with you!” Now, a series of newspaper articles reveal a persistent pattern of discrimination against Latino Republicans perpetrated by the taxpayer-funded organization based at the State Capitol. Clearly, the group’s actions are more articulate than the mission statement.
Most recently, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the Latino Legislative Caucus denied membership to Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) – a moderate Republican who identifies with the Latino community – after he took the natural step to join. “When I didn’t get a response, I asked what the deal was and they said I wouldn’t be allowed in,” Chavez said. “They do not allow Republicans to be part of the group”.
One would think that Chavez’s military and business background (novel attributes for the Legislature as a whole), and his education-themed legislative priorities, would bring a helpful perspective to any discussion of public policy affecting the Latino community. Alas, the Latino Legislative Caucus would have none of it. No room at the inn!
Senator Ricardo Lara, the president of the organization (and my state representative), responded to the allegation by reflecting that the membership practices “have been in place since the Caucus was founded 40 years ago…” Of course, we can find variations of the same argument in defense of more abhorrent historical injustice. I still recall a gritty interview on black-and-white video almost as old as the Caucus, of a Southern apologist for Jim Crow laws: “Why, that’s the way it’s always been!” That argument will not fly this time around.
The controversy reached an important milestone last week, when State Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) asked the California Attorney General to investigate the organization’s taxpayer-funded status in light of the recently exposed discrimination. He has a point. While individuals reserve the constitutionally-protected right to freely assemble with like-minded individuals (however prejudicial or mean-spirited their orientation), there are serious legal concerns when such assembly is funded by taxpayers, and when the implicated organization intentionally misrepresents its generic and ostensibly-benign purpose to the same taxpayers.
More broadly, the prejudicial practices of the Latino Legislative Caucus send a disturbingly-paternalistic message to Latino constituents throughout the State of California: “If you are Republican or otherwise independently free-thinking in political orientation, you are ill-equipped to be a Latino leader and ill-prepared to discuss Latino issues.” That is what I hear, loud and clear.
As a conservative Republican elected official in Los Angeles County, representing one of the most densely-Latino communities in the United States of America, I take personal offense to this message. I am just as Latino as the most outspoken member of the Latino Legislative Caucus. I was born to Mexican immigrant parents; Spanish is my first language; and my constituents are 96% Latino. As a conservative Republican, I advocate meaningfully for economic development, education reform, and civil liberties on behalf of my constituents. Why wouldn’t the Latino Legislative Caucus welcome this perspective?
I am reminded of my undergraduate experience at Stanford University many years ago, when I was declared persona-non-grata by the radical MEChA organization – a Latino separatist group which permeates college campuses throughout California, and which regularly vilifies Latino Republicans as sell-outs and “Tio Tacos”—the vernacular equivalent of “Uncle Tom”. In youthful ardor, my exchanges with MEChA were heated and passionate, and the organization brazenly articulated its contempt for my Republican affiliation without mincing words.
The Latino Legislative Caucus may well represent the adult version of MEChA, with a notch-up on well written mission statements and outward diplomacy, but with the same disdain for diversity of thought. How sad for both organizational variants — which shortchange themselves and the communities they purport to represent.
Jack M. Guerrero, CPA, is an elected City Council Member and past Mayor in Cudahy, CA, and a state delegate to the California Republican Party.