News Column

Washington Insider: A Busy Political Season for Hispanics

October 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Patricia Guadalupe

*The number of Hispanic members of Congress is likely to grow by at least two, with the election of a pair of siblings of current members virtually assured. Republican Mario Díaz-Balart, a Florida state senator and brother of Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart (R-FL), is expected to win in a newly created Southern Florida district with large numbers of Hispanic and Republican voters. In California, attorney Linda Sánchez, a sister of Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA), is expected to be successful in her bid to represent a newly created Hispanic majority district in Southern California. In another California race, Democratic state legislator Dennis Cardoza is running in a competitive race to win the seat occupied by his former boss, Rep. Gary Condit (D-CA), whom Mr. Cardoza defeated in primary balloting. With little or no opposition, all 19 current Hispanic members of Congress are expected to win their respective races next month, including members in New York and Illinois – two states that lose congressional seats this year because of population losses. Hispanics who have less of a chance to join the congressional ranks include Dario Herrera in Nevada, María Guadalupe García in Southern California, and New Mexico state senator Richard Romero. Mr. Herrera, a Cuban-American Democrat, is running in a newly created district with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, and he has been trailing Republican state senator Jon Porter. Ms. García, a Mexican-American Republican, is running behind incumbent Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) for a seat that Mr. Filner has occupied since 1993. Mr. Romero is running behind GOP incumbent Heather Wilson, who has been in office since 1999. On the Senate side, former Federal Communications Commissioner Gloria Tristani – a Democrat and granddaughter of former U.S. Senator Dennis Chávez – is not expected to win against six-time incumbent Pete Domenici (R-NM).

*In gubernatorial races, New Mexico residents are assured of a Hispanic governor regardless of the outcome of next month’s election. Former Clinton administration official Bill Richardson, who once represented New Mexico in Congress, is running against freshman Republican state legislator John Sánchez, a young businessman and relative newcomer who first gained political visibility two years ago by defeating former state House Speaker Raymond Sánchez, a Democrat who had served for 22 years. John Sánchez, 39, owner of the Right Way Roofing Co. in Albuquerque, is the only Hispanic Republican running for governor in the United States. Currently, no U.S. state has a Hispanic governor. Mr. Richardson, who served as energy secretary during the second term of the Clinton administration, has had to endure negative publicity related to a lawsuit filed by nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. Mr. Lee, who had been accused of spying, recently filed a lawsuit against the government, deposing both Mr. Richardson and former FBI director Louis Freeh. Messrs. Richardson and Freeh are at odds over comments Mr. Richardson made during the case. Mr. Freeh contends that he told Mr. Richardson not to talk about the case, while Mr. Richardson maintains that no one told him not to talk about the case and that he did not know the information he disclosed was classified. Mr. Richardson has also been caught up in a controversy over membership in a computer company under investigation for alleged fraudulent accounting practices. Stockholders of the San Diego–based Peregrine Systems have sued current and former board members, including Mr. Richardson, for failing to "responsibly oversee" the company finances. Mr. Richardson, who resigned last June from the board after winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary, has maintained that as an "outside member" who owned no stock and held no management positions, he was not involved in its day-to-day operations and was unaware of any financial irregularities. New Mexico Republicans nonetheless have criticized Mr. Richardson for accepting campaign contributions from the company’s chairman. Peregrine Systems is accused of overstating revenues by at least $100 million. The company was once run by Mr. Richardson’s brother-in-law. In the Texas gubernatorial race, multimillionaire banker and oilman Tony Sánchez is running in a contentious battle against Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Mr. Sánchez is closing in on the double-digit lead Perry enjoys by spending nearly $1 million a week on television ads, more than any candidate in Texas history. Both camps have been running negative ads, starting with Mr. Sánchez’s "We didn’t elect him, we don’t have to keep him" broadside against Mr. Perry, and the governor’s campaign escalating it with an ad accusing Mr. Sánchez of letting drug money be laundered through his Laredo bank. Mr. Sánchez recently fired the director of his Dallas campaign office for placing an ad seeking "racially specific actors" for a campaign commercial attacking Mr. Perry. The ad had stated that the campaign was looking for "a mix of people, with an emphasis on Caucasians, willing to say something like 'I’m sick of Perry’s negative ads.'" A large portion of the electorate remains undecided. If he is victorious, Mr. Sánchez would be the first Hispanic elected to the Texas governorship.


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