Latinos’ Best Shot?

A week or so ago, on Cinco de Mayo, of course, the Tequila Party was officially launched, and this is its logo. I’m not entirely sure, but it looks like a lime, ripe for use as a chaser, with an American flag painted on it. On the home page, right there on its banner logo, next to that Tea Party-ish “‘Declaration of Independence-signature” script font (the slogan: “Your Shot For Change”), is an ad, or seal of endorsement, picturing an actual tequila brand, Don Abraham of Amatitán, Jalisco, México. It reminds me a little of all the way Johnny Walker whiskey has been sponsoring all those “Latino”-themed events, hoping, I guess, that the next time we get together with our Latino friends we’ll smooth out our differences with a nice, stiff drink.

Of course when the Tea Party arose out of nowhere (ultimately boosted by big-time Koch Brothers funding) on the heels of this emblematic rant by Rick Santelli from the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange on CNBC, it seemed like a joke. And even though it has to some extent skewed national politics even further to the right, it still is. What then, can we make of the Tequila Party?

It’s tempting, but not so easy, when you read Ruben Navarrette’s USA Today column “Latinos Need a Tequila Party To Rock the Vote,” to come to the conclusion that the Tequila Party is a thinly veiled plot to erode the Democratic Party’s Latino voter base. Latinos’ disillusionment with Obama’s lack of commitment to immigration reform is a huge disappointment, right up there with his failure to close Guantánamo and his abandonment of the public option in health care reform.

But Navarette’s allusion to George W. Bush as a “leader” in immigration reform and how Obama falls short of his predecessor begins to reveal something more than just Latino dissatisfaction with the failure of the Dream Act. It leads to yet another mention of Jorge Ramos’s (the anchor once told me his name is loosely translated as “George Bush,” by the way–how’s that for a centrist ploy?) adversarial interview with Obama on Univision, and finally, to a “grassroots movement among Latino conservatives” behind the Tequila Party.

So who are the leaders of the Tequila Party? What is their constituency? The initial rumblings about the “party” credited the brainstorm to Fernando Romero, who leads a Nevada-based group called “Hispanics in Politics.” Romero has been heavily involved in the debate around redistricting in Nevada, stating he is not happy with either the Republican or Democratic proposals. We’ve heard Romero’s position before, and it’s not unreasonable: Latinos are unhappy that Democratic politicians seem to take them for granted because the Republicans’ role in the anti-immigrant hysteria that has swept the Southwest guarantees there will be no significant recruitment of Latinos into the G.O.P.  Maybe it would be more effective to declare ourselves independent from the two parties.

But last week’s launch of the Tequila Party apparently had nothing to do with Fernando Romero. The apparent leader of the “non-partisan” party is someone named Dee Dee Garcia Blase, who leads the highly partisan political organization Somos Republicans, and seems to be positioning herself to become the Latina Sarah Palin.

Here’s Dee Dee pictured with former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a moderate to conservative Republican rumored to be running for President in 2012. Ms. Blase-Garcia has carved out a very interesting niche for herself in Arizona politics. Claiming Somos Republicans is the largest coalition of Republican Latinos in the country, Garcia spearheaded Republican Latino opposition to the extreme anti-immigrant politics of the Republican Party in her state. The platform Somos Republicans advertises on it website is run-of-the-mill conservative–Right to Life, Limited Government, Free Market Capitalism–with this exception: a call for a “Humane Viable Immigration Solution.”

It turns out that Ruben Navarette wrote a very complimentary profile of Garcia Blase in April. A brief excerpt:

Being a Latino Republican in Arizona is like being a deer in favor of hunting season. In fact, Garcia Blase is often asked: “How can you be in a party that hates you?” Answer: Because she loves her party and she doesn’t think the haters constitute a fair representation of the GOP.

“I started the group so people would know that not all Republicans are like (Maricopa County Sheriff) Joe Arpaio and (state Senate President) Russell Pearce,” she told me.

Garcia Blase has actually used the conservative position on abortion to confront right-wing Republican attempts to deny birth certificates to U.S. born children of illegal immigrants. Navarette writes: “As a devout Catholic who is pro-life, she demanded to know how a party that champions the rights of the unborn could be so cavalier about “attacking babies.”

Whether you think Blase Garcia’s straddling of political borderlines is insidious or astute, it’s hard for anyone not as ruthless as the aforementioned Santelli and the rest of the blame-the-broken-middle-class capitalists not to be revolted by the following (Dee begins pontificating at around 35 seconds in):

Yep, she just said that people receiving unemployment insurance should be shipped to Yuma, Arizona to pick lettuce.

Just after the announcement of the National Tequila Party Movement, which apparently has registered as a limited liability corporation, and not a nonprofit, Blase García posted on the Somos Republican site some musings about who she might support for President in the 2012 Republican race. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, ex-Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who made the nominating speech for Sarah Palin for vice president at the 2008 Republican convention.

To be fair, both Huntsman and Pawlenty are considered “moderates,” and so, too is Agustín “Gus” Garcia, a businessman based in South Florida, whose company, Garcorp International, is listed as the only “partner” involved in the Tequila Party website. A Cuban exile raised in New Jersey and apparently allied with Senator Bob Menendez, Hillary Clinton, and the Miami-Dade Democratic Party machine, Garcia, among many other things, lectures on “The Latinization of America.” Just last April he brought the lecture to Tuscon, Arizona, and it was listed on the Somos Republican website. Garcia is also interested in bringing free-market capitalism to Cuba as soon as he is allowed to, but I guess that hardly qualifies him as a right-wing conservative.

What we are seeing is the growth of a “middle ground” in American politics that offers opportunities for entrepreneurial Hispanics (let’s not call them Latinos) to use the issue of immigration reform and Latino disempowerment to create internet-based “grassroots movements” that purport to bring change. This “middle ground” is actually located pretty far to the right wing, and very little seems to threaten conservative and corporate interests. The question is whether immigration reform is being stalled by the “broken promises” of Democrats who take Latinos for granted or because it would put an unacceptable-for-corporate-intersts upward pressure on wages. Actually, isn’t everything Obama has been slow or ineffective on inevitably tied to corporate interests? He sure isn’t afraid to have that “Assata Shakur-loving” rapper Common at the White House poetry slam once in a while. At least not until poetry is taken over by military contractors.

Latinos need to come together and fight for their interests, and it’s clear that immigration reform, although a much-needed and an essential human rights concern, is not even at the top of the list. It’s also in our interests to form coalitions with other marginalized interests. Certainly a third party or national movement based on a confused mish-mosh of “ethnic” concerns is not the answer. I think we can all drink to that.


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