News Column

Washington Insider: Issues Count More Than Affiliation

July/August 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESSS Magazine

Patricia Guadalupe

NO SURPRISE: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has formally endorsed the candidacy of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

John Kerry

"After three years of tough talk and little progress, Americans need a president who will actually deliver the things they care about most: making healthcare affordable again, making the homeland safe for our families, and bringing good, well-paying jobs back to America," said Rep. Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.), chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congress. Mr. Kerry called the endorsement an "honor," adding that he looked forward to working with the caucus. The endorsement comes as no surprise, since all 20 members of the Hispanic Caucus are Democrats.

George W. Bush

Meanwhile, the Congressional Hispanic Conference, formed a year ago as a "counterforce" to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and composed of all Republican members, endorsed President Bush for re-election. The group is chaired by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Fla.).

NOVEMBER CLIFFHANGER: Hispanic voters say they will vote for the presidential candidate who best represents their interests, regardless of party, and are adopting a "wait-and-see" attitude about the two major candidates, according to results of a series of nationwide town hall meetings held earlier this year by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

"We found that although traditionally political observers and academics have characterized the Latino electorate as Democratic-leaning, both registered Republican and Democrat Latinos in this election are watching carefully how the candidates address the issues that are of particular interest and concern to the nation's fastest-growing population segment," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO. The organization's report on the results of the meetings also notes the issues of greatest concern to Hispanic voters include education quality and opportunities, economic growth, and the war in Iraq.

Robert Menendez
Rep. Robert Menendez

The report comes amid a crucial election year and as NALEO's board of directors named John Bueno to a one-year term as president. Mr. Bueno, who is of Ecuadoran descent and a city council member in Pontiac, Michigan, is the first Republican and first non-Mexican American to lead the organization in its 28-year history. He replaces Arizona Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.); Mr. Vargas remains as NALEO's executive director.

NAFTA ADVANCE: In a move that could boost trade with Mexico, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a North American Free Trade Agreement provision allowing Mexican trucks to freely travel in the United States can move forward without an air-quality impact study. Under NAFTA, a restriction that prevented Mexican trucks from traveling beyond a 20-mile border zone had been lifted, but its implementation had been delayed by courts that had ruled in favor of environmental groups first seeking an environmental impact report. Opponents of the provision had argued that Mexican trucks tend to be older and more polluting. In its ruling, which sided with the Bush administration, the high court said the executive branch has authority to implement trade agreements that have already been negotiated and signed into law.

GLORIA'S THE ONE: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) wants singer Gloria Estefan to play her if a movie about the Cuban-born congresswoman is ever made, the Miami legislator said in an interview with The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication that covers Congress. "She's short, as I am, and feisty, and feels passionate about important issues – but she has better hair," Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said in the paper's "Meet the Lawmaker" feature.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen also added that "the best thing about public life" is helping people. "We have a lot of recently arrived immigrants who are bewildered by democracy. [Helping them] is a great opportunity to be reminded every day what's great about America," said Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, who immigrated to the United States when she was a child.


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