curiosity, not a reality
Hispanics claim economic parity but not political power under GOP
By JOHN O'CONNOR
Daily Record Business Writer
Ribas owns his own consulting and construction firm, has earned
three post-graduate degrees and has served time in the military.
But despite his accomplishments, the Ecuadorian immigrant feels
that he and other members of Maryland’s Hispanic community
have a glaring shortcoming.
Jorge Ribas and a handful of other GOP loyalists recently established
a state Hispanic Republican Caucus with a long-term plan and the
goal of electing more Republicans — Hispanics or otherwise
— in the next few years.
“We have achieved economic power but we’re not achieving
political power,” Ribas said. “Both parties take us
for granted. We’re still a curiosity, not a reality.”
From the apartment buildings and established communities in Montgomery
and Prince George’s counties to the burgeoning neighborhoods
in Baltimore County and the city, and even the immigrants who came
to the Eastern Shore to grow lopes or work for Perdue, there is
dissatisfaction about the way the Hispanic community is perceived
and treated by state leaders.
There is action, too.
Last year state voters elected two Hispanic members to the House
of Delegates, Victor R. Ramirez in Prince George’s County
and Ana Sol Gutierrez in Montgomery County. Montgomery voters also
elected Tom Perez to the county council. Sen. Alex X. Mooney, who’s
mother is Cuban, is the state Senate’s only Latino.
In Baltimore City there is a Hispanic Democratic club and Amigos
de O’Malley to support the re-election of Mayor Martin J.
O’Malley, while groups such as the Maryland Latino Coalition
for Justice have been vocal advocates in Annapolis for immigration
issues. Hispanic Chambers of Commerce have also been started in
nearly every county of the state.
Ribas and a handful of other GOP loyalists recently established
a state Hispanic Republican Caucus with a long-term plan and the
goal of electing more Republicans — Hispanics or otherwise
— in the next few years.
But despite these successes, Hispanic leaders note that their community
lacks the political infrastructure developed by blacks, labor, issue
advocates and others looking to elect candidates sympathetic to
a particular point of view. Ribas, and others like him, hope to
build those foundations and capitalize on the growth of Hispanics,
who the U.S. Census Bureau declared the country’s largest
minority group June 18.
"This is a watershed event I think what you're seeing right
now is an awakening,” Ribas said. “This is the first
well-thought-out and well-organized effort to build an organization
within the community a self-sustaining organization. In the past,
Ribas said, Latinos political groups were vanity efforts on the
part of their leadership. But the disaffection with their political
situation, Ribas said, means the leadership of the new GOP group
is more interested in the big picture.
Nationwide, the Hispanic population grew to 38.8 million by July
1 last year, according to Census Bureau figures. Hispanics accounted
for half of the country's growth between April 1, 2000, and July
1, 2002. About half of the growth among Hispanics was immigrants.
About 228,000 of Maryland's 5.3 million residents are Hispanic,
but local advocates say those estimates are low.
Such numbers have drawn interest from the two major political parties,
who hope to capture as large a slice of that population as possible.
The issue first drew national prominence in 2000,when both presidential
candidates, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, spoke
Spanish and addressed immigration, labor and other issues crucial
to the Latinos.That Latinos feel as if they have been turned into
a commodity does not surprise Rodney E. Hero, a political science
professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written books
on Latino efforts to build their political base.
“To some degree there is some sense of that,” Hero
said. “That’s certainly not uncommon.” Reaching
Fueling problems, he said, are differences with Republicans over
immigration policy and indifference by Democrats who feel Latinos
are already committed to the party. Those differences can prove
galvanizing. California has elected a Latino Speaker of the House
in the state legislature as well as a Hispanic lieutenant governor
in part, Hero said, because of outrage over the Proposition 187
debate that would have denied state services such as education or
health care to illegal immigrants.
To best reach Latino voters, Hero said, public officials must carefully
consider their views on education policy and its implementation.
Economic security and crime control are two other areas of concern
While Maryland may not have as strong a Latino lobby as Texas,
Florida or New York, state Hispanics already have successfully argued
for the availability of bi-lingual social services, and pushed this
year to study loosening restrictions for illegal immigrants to acquire
a driver’s license and another bill granting in-state tuition
rates at state universities to the children of undocumented workers.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed the driver’s license bill
— in part because millions in federal aid depended on its
provisions — but vetoed the reduced tuition bill. Another
bill allocating Hispanics 2 percent of all state Minority Business
Enterprise contracts never made it through the Senate.
L. Nieves, executive director of the Centro De La Comunidad Inc,
says, ‘When they talk about the increase in the Latino vote,
that may be, but I don’t personally think we’re that
strong yet. … In the long term it will be a huge influence.’
The rancor — and ignorance about immigration issues —
over the tuition bill provided Ribas and other Hispanic leaders
more proof that it was up to them to take care of their own needs,
despite lip service from both parties.
“What I think is happening in Baltimore City and the state
of Maryland is the Latino community has no political power and no
one is going to do anything for us,” said Angelo Solera, a
Spanish immigrant, who is running for Baltimore City Council in
the newly redrawn 1st District. “That’s why you’re
seeing more Latinos in politics.”
have traditionally broken down along black and white, Solera said,
intending both figurative and literal meanings. Hispanic candidates
must work for the entire community, he said, but have a better understanding
of the issues affecting Latinos.
“When you hear ‘minorities’ they’re really
talking about women and African Americans,” Solera said. “At
some point you’ve got to say to yourself ‘you know what,
enough is enough.
Hispanic neighborhoods differ
But Solera and other candidates are finding that the Hispanic community,
though strong in numbers, is not as politically savvy or organized
as other groups. In addition, Hispanic communities in Montgomery
and Prince George’s counties differ in significant ways from
those inthe Baltimore area or on the Eastern Shore.
In the D.C. suburbs, said Carmen Nieves, executive director of
Centro de la Comunidad, many Hispanics live in apartment complexes
in a few neighborhoods. Some of these buildings can be entirely
Hispanic with many people living in a single apartment. The arrangement
can lead to neglect by landlords who know those residents won’t
complain, Nieves said, but such densely inhabited complexes bend
the rules also.
The advantage for those seeking public office, Nieves said, is
the ability to deliver a message to many people quickly.
In Baltimore, she said, Latinos are more likely to own homes and
— save recently nicknamed Spanish Town, long known as Upper
Fells Point — are slightly more scattered in the city.
Centro de la Comunidad helps new immigrants acclimate to Baltimore,
and most of the immigrants Nieves has seen arrived in the last five
years. Those Latinos will not be a factor politically because they
are not yet citizens, a process that takes at least seven years,
but are having plenty of children born as American citizens.
"There are some things going on. The majority [of Hispanics]
have been traditionally Democratic, I think that may be changing,”
Nieves said. “The people who have been here the longest are
taking the lead.
“When they talk about the increase in the Latino vote, that
may be, but I don’t personally think we’re that strong
yet. … In the long term it will be a huge influence.”
On the Eastern Shore, many Hispanics have settled into stable jobs
with employers such as Perdue who take care of transportation and
other needs, said Robert Correa, president of Manufacturing Support
Industries in Salisbury.
The community has adjusted, and it is not uncommon to see Spanish
advertising in newspapers. Correa sees little in political organizing
on the shore, despite the fact that Hispanics now dominate the main
streets of rural communities such as Georgetown, Del.
But Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were the first
parts of Maryland to see significant growth in the Hispanic community.
Many Latinos there are settled, own homes and have businesses or
careers. They also are looking to get involved.
Sol Gutierrez, who was first elected to the Montgomery County School
Board in 1990, said those voters made the difference in her successful
campaign for a House of Delegates seat representing Kensington and
Chevy Chase last November.
There was no way that we even had the numbers we had in
2002. No single ethnic group could have made a difference,”
Gutierrez said. “We were looking at targeting certain Anglo
communities, Latino votes and African-American votes. I think that
the difference was made by having such a solid bloc of Latino voters.
Angelo Solera, who is running for Baltimore City Council from the
1st District, says, ‘What I think is happening in Baltimore
City and the state of Maryland is the Latino community has no political
power and no one is going to do anything for us. That’s why
you’re seeing more Latinos in politics.’
After years of voter registration drives, Gutierrez, who is of
Salvadoran descent, said there were about 6,000 Hispanic voters
in her district and she encouraged them to “bullet vote,”
a technique where Latino voters cast only one vote — they
could vote for as many as three candidates — to ensure Gutierrez
The technique worked, with Gutierrez edging incumbent Leon G. Billings
for the third Delegate seat by just 217 votes.
“They responded because no one has reached out,” Gutierrez
said. “It is a community that has never been reached out to.”
There is a new political awareness among Latinos, she agreed, but
a nascent constituency led to some misunderstandings that Gutierrez
experienced first-hand during the campaign. One of the biggest problems
was that many Hispanics are less inclined to make campaign contributions.
“It’s still not a giving community, it’s not
something that we’re politically savvy enough to understand,”
Gutierrez said. “All my checks were small. Latino businesses
were invisible. Clearly we’re working with a very new political
Politics always has been about getting out, shaking hands and meeting
people, but Gutierrez said it became more important in meeting Latinos
because often several generations live within one home. Studies
have shown, Gutierrez said, that recommendations from friends and
family are the most important factor in building a relationship
with Spanish-language-dominant Hispanics.
Gutierrez also used a traditional political tool that, she believes,
is especially critical to reaching constituents.
“The media was wonderful, it’s always been very supportive,”
Gutierrez said. “I think on their part it was an awakening.
It was the first time I saw them stepping up to provide that communication.
I’m convinced the only way you’re going to reach the
community is through full use of the media. The Latino listens to
the radio. You have to do it in their language; you have to do it
But in Baltimore, Centro’s Nieves said, it is more difficult
to organize Hispanic voters because much of the media is imported
from the Washington suburbs. There are no local television shows,
she said, and the local newspapers and newsletters are not “pure
journalism.” The few locally produced radio programs air at
“When you talk about local issues, local news, it’s
not ours,” Nieves said.
And while religion and church are powerful influences among Hispanics,
she said, church leaders are not as interested in motivating voters
as many black ministers and churches are. Though she has tried to
organize a conference of religious leaders, Nieves said most were
more interested in pursuing only God’s work.
The attitude among church leaders is similar to that of the rest
of the community, and Gutierrez said that the lack of a strong political
tradition among Hispanics means there is not a “strong bench
of Latinos leaders sitting around.”
The Democratic and Republican parties are interested in bringing
those voters into their fold. Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Southern
Maryland, the recently elected House Minority Whip, said that Montgomery
County was a “target rich” jurisdiction for the Republican
Party. They have been reaching out to Hispanic voters, but O’Donnell
said it was “a work in progress.”
That relationship was almost scuttled this year because of ideological
fights about immigration and naturalization.
CASA de Maryland, and its lobbying group the Maryland Latino Coalition
for Justice, pushed hard for the in-state tuition bill but were
rebuked by Ehrlich and conservative members of the General Assembly.
Gutierrez was stunned by the reaction of many of the GOP caucus
to the in-state tuition bill and saw that it was a sign that more
educating about immigration issues needed to be done. She was also
surprised that black leaders, most notably Del. Emmett C. Burns
Jr., D-Baltimore County, spoke against the bill, worried that illegal
immigrants could displace black students at state universities.
The battle over the tuition bill left CASA de Maryland director
Gustavo Torres with a healthy skepticism of the state's political
Ana Sol Gutierrez, representing Montgomery County in the House
of Delegates, says the Latino community still is not very giving
with its political contributions.
Now I think that people from both parties are starting to
think about it more, which is good,” Torres said of their
interest in his community. But, “their agenda is not our agenda.
“I was very, very disappointed to see the majority of Republican
delegates speaking against the legislation and at the same time
saying they want to reach out to the Latino community.”
Solera, the Baltimore City Council candidate, shares that skepticism
noting that both parties are misleading because they promise that
“If you come with us you have a better chance at getting something.”
“They don’t do anything for us and that is the bottom
line,” he said. “None of the two parties. The Democratic
Party is not doing anything for me.”
Such disaffection with Democrats and Republicans is good news for
Lorenzo Gaztanaga, a Cuban American who was the Libertarian Party
candidate for Lieutenant Governor last fall. Often marginalized
by the media, Gaztanaga hopes that meeting voters might convince
them to choose an alternative.
“I have chosen to travel a different political path,”
he said. “Immigrants do take more time to look into political
alternatives. I would like to see at some point Latinos do realize
that there is something more.”
Libertarians, like Latinos, believe that the family is the foundation
for government, Gaztanaga said. Despite misconceptions, he said,
Hispanics are as interested in becoming Americans as anyone else,
and cites Baltimore as Exhibit A of the historical success of immigration.
Being politically involved is part of the process.
Gaztanaga recently attended the funeral of long-time Baltimore
Hispanic activist Beltran Navarro, at which someone suggested they
sing the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I was very moved by that. Most people knew the words,”
Gaztanaga said. “Sometimes when I hear people talking about
immigrants I just say to them ‘I’m an American, and
I’m an American by choice.’ I think some do share that.
… Being an American is a state of mind.”
Job application unanswered
Latinos wonder if Ehrlich’s staff letting him down
By JOHN O'CONNOR
Daily Record Business Writer
Maryland Latinos are putting pressure on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich
Jr. to rectify what they perceive as a lack of Hispanics appointed
to top state jobs.
Among those pushing the hardest are Republican Hispanics —
some of whom worked tirelessly to elect Maryland’s first GOP
governor in more than 30 years — who have written Ehrlich
a letter requesting he appoint a Latino to serve as secretary of
the Maryland Higher Education Commission and to create a Special
Assistant to the Governor on Hispanic Affairs.
“The few Hispanic appointments made by your administration
until now have been staff or advisory,” the letter reads,
“and all the appointees have been from the Baltimore Metropolitan
area — specifically, a woman to the State Board of Education
(unpaid position); a businessman to a minority contracting task
force (unpaid position); and an executive director for the Governor’s
Commission on Hispanic Affairs (paid position), the latter a feckless
advisory body created by Governor Marvin Mandel back in 1971. Our
input for any of these positions was never sought despite numerous
calls to your staff.”
The letter, written by the Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus,
alleges that no Latinos have been appointed to any of the top 125
state positions and that Ehrlich is failing to fulfill a campaign
pledge to make his government representative of the entire state.
The group has scheduled a meeting with Ehrlich later this month
to discuss the issue.
“I think they can do more to include Hispanics,” said
Jose A. Fuentes, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Reed Smith
and a member of Ehrlich’s fundraising team. “There are
a lot of qualified Hispanics willing to join the state government
and they need to start addressing that matter.”
Ehrlich has blacks in the top position in two of 18 state departments,
while women head four others. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is black,
and minorities have leadership roles in a number of other state
organizations. Ehrlich also has moved aggressively to make sure
the state deals fairly with minority businesses.
The successes achieved by black appointees, the letter said, should
encourage the governor to seek more diversity for the state government.
A number of Hispanics are serving in top positions, said Ehrlich
spokesman Henry P. Fawell, including MHEC member Maria Torres-Queral;
Carmen Pratt, who oversees divisions within the Department of Health
and Human Services; and Hector Torres and Miguel Boluda, who direct
Fawell had no way to identify what the top 125 state positions
were, but said there are still many positions yet to be filled and
that Ehrlich is committed to a “talented and diverse”
The governor recognizes that there is a problem, Fuentes said,
and that it is not easy to change state government because his party
has been out of power for so long.
“It will come with time,” he said. “I know Ehrlich
is aware of the problem.”
Others are tired of waiting and question a governor who would fight
tooth and nail for failed Department of the Environment nominee
Lynn Y. Buhl but seemed less willing to work as hard to find qualified
Latinos. Ehrlich also has been criticized for top-heavy appointments
to Baltimore County allies, Republican legislators and their spouses.
“There is no welcome sign for Hispanics — period,”
said Jorge Ribas, a Montgomery County businessman and chairman of
the Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus. “They do nationwide
searches for everyone else but not for Hispanics?”
Ribas was told that Hispanics are not applying for jobs, but when
he sent in an application to test the system he got no response
from the governor’s office.
A governor is only as good as his staff, Ribas said, and they may
be letting Ehrlich down. He said loyalty should not be the only
litmus test for employment.
“I don’t think Mr. Ehrlich has had that opportunity,”
Ribas said of the governor’s ability to vet Latino candidates.
“We respect the governor, we’ll continue to support
the governor — up to a point — but my job as chairman
is to represent the group and a majority of my membership is unhappy
with Mr. Ehrlich.”
Republicans have worked hard to court Hispanic voters both nationally
and in Maryland. Hispanics share some of the same social views as
Republicans, now own homes and businesses and are a fast-growing
minority whose votes could break the Democrats stranglehold on the
state legislature and U.S. Senate seats. Ribas estimates that about
15,000 to 20,000 Latinos become Maryland citizens every year.
Roger Campos, a member of the Ehrlich transition team who works
for the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce in Washington, predicted
politics could provide some impetus to appoint more Latinos.
It's got to change and I know it will, Campos said. "The elections
are right around the corner and we've got to be on the same page.
Hispanics push for leadership
They seek a bigger role in Ehrlich administration
By David Nitkin
Originally published July 15, 2003
Prominent Maryland Hispanics say Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. must
hire more Latinos to well-paying administration positions or risk
losing support from an increasingly influential interest group when
he seeks re-election.
The Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus has scheduled a meeting
with Ehrlich next week to discuss what its members see as a lack
of diversity in appointments. The group is demanding that the governor
conduct a national search for a Hispanic higher-education secretary
and that he appoint a top adviser to handle Hispanic affairs.
Jorge Ribas, chairman of the recently formed caucus, said that
no Hispanics have been appointed to what he calls the "top
125 government positions" in Maryland, which include Cabinet
secretaries and their deputies, as well as the governor's staff.
"It is a new ball game in town. You better listen to us, because
people are extremely dissatisfied. And you are not going to find
loyalty with dissatisfied people," said Ribas, a pathologist
and consultant from Montgomery County, in an interview yesterday.
"People want to be players. People want to sit at the table.
And if that doesn't happen, they'll be looking for another candidate."
Administration officials say that while they do not keep such a
breakdown of high-level hires, they do not dispute Ribas' claim.
However, they point to five Latino appointments, including the first
Hispanic member of the unpaid State Board of Education. The other
positions are midlevel jobs.
Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said that the governor remains committed
to diversity and has filled only a small portion of the positions
under his direct control.
"There are a number of bright, talented individuals from the
Hispanic community presently under active consideration for prominent
positions in the Ehrlich-Steele administration," Fawell said.
The caucus' aggressive stance comes as Hispanics in Maryland and
elsewhere are learning to wield a strength that comes with numbers.
The U.S. Census recently reported that Hispanics have surpassed
blacks nationally as the largest minority group in the United States.
In Maryland, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Central and South Americans
are a small but growing political subset that has never commanded
much political attention. The 2000 census counted 227,916 Marylanders
of Hispanic extraction, or 4.3 percent of the state's population.
But Ribas said the figure does not include those fearful of reporting
their status. He believes that the true population, including growth
over the past three years, is closer to 400,000.
Maryland Hispanics are not yet sufficiently organized to make statewide
politicians such as Ehrlich tremble, said Del. Luiz Simmons, a Silver
Spring Democrat who returned to the State House this year after
an absence of two decades, during which he switched parties.
"There is a percolating Hispanic vote, but I'm not sure it
has come to a boil yet," Simmons said. "There's got to
be more effort, frankly, on the part of people like me to go out
and participate in a sustained voter registration drive."
While Ehrlich may be well-positioned to capitalize on Hispanic
interests, he has yet to turn campaign rhetoric into tangible results,
Simmons said. In May, Ehrlich vetoed a bill that would have allowed
certain undocumented immigrants who graduated from Maryland high
schools to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities.
"I really don't see Governor Ehrlich resonating with Hispanics
the way that President Bush does, or [Florida] Governor [Jeb] Bush
does," Simmons said. "Just giving a speech in which you
say 'Hola' does not necessarily generate a program or personal empathy
that people are going to buy into."
Although exact figures are not available, some observers say that
Hispanics voted for Ehrlich in large numbers and that Ehrlich has
recognized in speeches the importance of their efforts.
"The Ehrlich campaign did reach out to Hispanics, and they
did spend money on the Hispanic community," said Jose A. Fuentes,
a Republican and former Puerto Rico attorney general who lives in
The outreach illustrates a growing political trend: Republicans
believe they can parlay their more conservative positions on social
and family-related issues into Hispanic votes, winning over a constituency
more typically thought to be aligned with Democrats.
Fuentes said that Maryland governors have turned their backs on
Hispanics for decades, and the hope is that Ehrlich will be different.
"It has to change, because the number of Hispanics in Maryland
has really increased," Fuentes said. "If the Republican
Party in Maryland wants to participate in the migration of Hispanics
that has taken place from the Democratic Party to the Republican
Party, they have to show their support and they have to show their
Frustration with Ehrlich is not universal. Sen. Alex X. Mooney
of Frederick, the Assembly's lone Hispanic Republican (he is of
Cuban descent) said administration officials contact him regularly.
"I feel I've been looked to and included in my input and help,"
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