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May 12, 2014
Bruce Maiman: Latino Caucus not as inclusive as it claims

Rocky_Chavez.JPG(May 12 - By Bruce Maiman, Special to The Bee)

He supported the Dream Act and the bill enabling undocumented immigrants who have passed the State Bar exam to practice law in California. He advocates for the homeless and for veterans, favors increased rehabilitation programs in our prisons, and he doesn't care if gays get married.

And he is Latino, but he cannot join California's Latino Caucus because he is a Republican.

"Call me Rocky," he says as we begin our conversation. "Nobody calls me Assemblyman Chávez."

Even if he wasn't in consonance with his fellow Latino lawmakers - and they certainly have areas of disagreement - can it be that a body claiming to represent the interests of the Latino community is telling a Latino lawmaker he can't join that group because there's an "R" after his name?

How often do we laugh at the folly of people who vote "all R" or "all D"?

Chávez jokes: "You mean you like to think?"

The Oceanside Republican got his "unvitation" shortly after being elected in 2012. He never received an official explanation, though he says many caucus members privately support his admission.

Would they admit that publicly?

"I wish you would ask."

I did. I called several members, including the caucus chair, Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens. No response. You wonder whether word came down not to say anything, or if people were afraid to say anything, fearing they might incur the wrath of the chairman or the leadership. Conspiratorial? Maybe, but if true, would anyone be surprised? Politicians made wagon-circling an art form long before the Donner party made it to the pass.

A spokesman did call, Roger Salazar, but if his is an official explanation, it's pretty flimsy.

"By rule, the Latino Caucus is a Democratic caucus," Salazar tells me.

Since when are Democrats strict constructionists? The caucus was formed 41 years ago. Most of today's members were barely out of diapers back then. You can't be a party arguing that the Constitution is a living, breathing document - an assessment with which I would agree - and then hedge on changing 41-year-old bylaws.

"It potentially could be changed," Salazar admitted, "but I'm not sure it would benefit Republican members who may not be walking the same line on policy issues."

Just a minute: Chávez already walks the same line on many issues of interest to the Latino Caucus.

"Then we welcome his support," Salazar said.

Then make him a member.

Various legislative caucuses are bipartisan, and there's no indication that those of single-party membership would reject anyone from another party. So what gives?

On the floor of the Assembly last Monday, Cinco de Mayo, outgoing Speaker John A. Pérez proudly hailed the Latino Caucus as the embodiment of American inclusion. "There is a great deal of diversity of culture, of background, of history and worldview," he said. "And that diversity is our strength because it serves to remind us of the common bonds that we all share as proud Latinos, proud Californians and proud Americans."

How does Chávez, a career Marine with business experience, including years operating a charter school, not fit that definition?

Californians should care. The caucus is funded by state taxes. It has an official website supported by California taxpayers. Its legislative activities are managed by employees of the Legislature. Guess who pays them? The caucus claims to be nonpartisan, beholden to neither party, yet it uses the tax dollars of Republican voters while excluding Republicans who represent those taxpaying constituents.

It's also about power. Caucus members can go to a college campus to talk about various Latino concerns, Chávez notes, "but I'm a Republican and won't be in the room, so the young voter won't know there are actually Republicans who support some of those positions."

It's a way to influence voting blocs, particularly younger voters and Latino voters, two demographics coveted by both parties but solidly in the Democratic camp. You can be sure Democrats want to keep it that way.

It sounds like little more than a taxpayer-funded super PAC for Democrats. Should Republican tax dollars be paying for that?

The hypocrisy is what gets me. When a Republican tub-thumping about family values gets caught having an affair, we rightfully point a scornful finger. For all their talk about equality and tolerance, what say you to Democrats who deny a fellow Latino the opportunity to provide his constituents equal representation in the statehouse simply because he's a Republican?

When Pérez spoke last Monday, the caucus was presenting its 13th annual Latino Spirit Awards honoring the accomplishments of various Latinos to the state of California. There stood Pérez, acknowledging the honorees, exemplars of "the nation's fundamental belief in inclusion, opportunity and equality." Indeed, he stressed, "The caucus itself is an expression of that spirit of inclusion and opportunity."

Not if you're a Republican, apparently.

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Contact him at brucemaiman@gmail.com.



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