News Column

Hispanic Republicans Form Interest Group

March 19, 2003

Maria Recio

Hispanic Republican lawmakers who have refused to participate in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for political reasons are creating their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who was elected in 2002, is the main organizer of the five-member group, along with his brother, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. They will formally announce the Congressional Hispanic Conference at a news conference today.

The group intends to act as a counterweight to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made up of 20 Democrats, including five Texans.

The other members of the GOP group are Reps. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; and Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Bonilla is Mexican-American; the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ros-Lehtinen are Cuban-Americans; and Nunes is Portuguese-American.

Bonilla said last year that he does not participate in the Caucus because he eschews ethnic identification and considers himself "a member of the human race."

Bonilla, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen left the Caucus in the mid-1990s when it supported improved relations with Cuba.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Conference recently wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal supporting Miguel Estrada's judicial nomination. Hispanics have been divided along party lines on the conservative lawyer's nomination to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, opposed Estrada for not stating his views on issues of concern to the Hispanic community. The other Texas members of the Caucus are Reps. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio; Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; and Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.

Reyes welcomed the GOP group, but Hispanic aides said they were concerned that the new group could divide Spanish-speaking communities.

"The core priorities of the Hispanic community are education, health care and immigration, and it's important that all sides work together, regardless of party affiliation," said Cindy Jimenez, spokeswoman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.



Source: Copyright ©2003 Fort Worth Star Telegram. All Rights Reserved.


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