News Column

NCLR's Evolution

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Ms. Murguia notes that having grown up as part of a large Mexican-American family in Kansas, a state not typically thought of as having a significant Hispanic population, gives her added insight. "I have a perspective that our community is not just represented in certain states, and certainly not in just some regions. I grew up in the Midwest, and I've seen the Latino community in all pockets of the country and we have established populations in so many different parts of this country and not just in the traditionally known places."

Ms. Murguia's political experience also is expected to bring NCLR benefits in its Washington lobbying, education, and advocacy efforts. Although she was serving as executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas when she was selected to the NCLR position, she is a 15-year veteran of the Washington political scene. Ms. Murguia began her career in Washington, D.C., as legislative counsel to former Kansas Congressman Jim Slattery, serving for seven years. She then worked at the White House in various capacities from 1994 to 2000, ultimately serving as deputy assistant to President Clinton and deputy director of legislative affairs, functioning as a senior White House liaison to Congress. Ms. Murguia also was deputy campaign manager and director of constituency outreach for the Gore/Lieberman presidential campaign.

"One of the important lessons I've learned," she says, "is how to work with people on both sides of the aisle and to find common ground. I believe I bring that to my work at NCLR."

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Ms. Murguia's native Kansas agrees. "I've known her and her family for a long time," he says. "She's very professional and very honorable in her dealings. She knows the process well and understands the bipartisan nature of Congress."

Ms. Murguia's bipartisan credentials are echoed by Maria Echaveste, deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House: "She was responsible for a number of issues and she was a leader very diligent, very intelligent, and very persuasive. In that capacity [as deputy legislative director] you have to work with members of Congress from both political parties, and she had the ability to do it. She has a reputation for being fair. Her skills and experience fit NCLR fabulously. I'm very impressed with her selection to lead the premier Latino think tank. She will be able to hit the ground running."

1968: Hispanic leaders establish NCLR's predecessor, the Southwest Council of La Raza (SWCLR), with the initial goals of establishing and supporting community organizations, promoting empowerment, increasing voter registration, and developing Hispanic leadership.

1972: The Committee to Re-Elect the President demands that SWCLR's leadership endorse President Nixon. SWCLR's leaders refuse and, as a result, the organization loses its federal funding. SWCLR becomes a national organization, changing its name to the National Council of La Raza to reflect its goal of serving Mexican Americans nationwide.

1973: NCLR's Washington office becomes the organization's headquarters.

Mid-1970s: Controversy erupts within NCLR's leadership over the organization's focus and direction, leading the Ford Foundation to threaten to withdraw funding. The funding was renewed, however, with the resignation of Executive Director Henry Santiestevan and the appointment of Director Raul Yzaguirre.

1975: NCLR becomes more involved in public policy, converting its National Services component into the Office of Research and Policy Analysis.

Late 1970s: Mr. Yzaguirre works with NCLR's board to overhaul the organization's mission, programs, and priorities. NCLR obtains federal money for various projects and begins to focus more closely on obtaining private-sector funding.

1979: NCLR's board states its position of advocacy on behalf of all Hispanics, not just Mexican Americans.

1980: Congress approves massive budget cuts that, in eliminating almost all direct funding for community-based nonprofits, hit NCLR hard.

1981: NCLR's budget falls from $5 million to $1.7 million, resulting in layoffs that claim all but 32 of its staff of about 100. Meanwhile, the number of NCLR affiliate offices falls from 124 to 74.

Mid- to late 1980s: NCLR increases focus on its Policy Analysis Center to draw more attention to Hispanics' socioeconomic conditions, but resists calls to eliminate its community-based service operations.

1996: Federal welfare reform gives states more power over the delivery of social services, prompting NCLR to move away from strictly federal advocacy efforts in favor of more state-based policy proposals.

2001: NCLR embarks on fundraising to establish a general endowment fund and secure a permanent center of operations in Washington, D.C.

2003: NCLR adds 26 new affiliates, four of them in the previously unaffiliated states of Alabama, Alaska, Maine, and Tennessee.


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