GOP Email Squabble Belies the Real High-Stakes Game

If only it was as easy as a virtual “mano a mano” spat between two old Republican warhorses.

Chamber of the Americas chairman Gil Cisneros argues he’s fighting for the very soul of the Colorado GOP by demanding that Republicans create a safe haven for conservative Latinos. House Minority Leader David Balmer, in his part of the “he said/he said” squabble, just wants the relentless stream of emails from the indefatigable Cisneros to stop.

Somewhere in between is the ugly spectre of anti-Latino racism and politicians caught in the crossfire of political activists hellbent for leather to advocate for their community. Cisneros, who chairs the Colorado chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, complains that too many white Republicans sit idly by as members of their own party make outrageous statements, including this lovely thought attributed to a politically well-connected and virulently anti-immigrant activist at a county GOP meeting in Georgia:

(Immigrants) are not here to mow your lawn – they’re here to blow up your buildings and kill your children, and you, and me.”

Cisneros caps the same email with a public admonition of Rep. Balmer (R-Centennial), among others, for asking to be removed from his email list. He insinuates that they are, at best, apathetic to the needs of growing the Latino Republican base and, at worst, pandering “tamale-eating” politicians expecting votes on Election Day:

From: David Balmer
Sent: Sunday, May 06, 2007 9:21 PM
Subject: please delete me from your distribution list

Mr. Cisneros, please delete me from your distribution list.  I get about 150 e-mails a day, and I can’t keep up.  I appreciate your help on this.
Respectfully, David

Rep. David Balmer
Assistant House Minority Leader
Republican, Arapahoe County
Capitol DD: (303) 866-2935

Cisneros responds in kind:

Estimado Representative Balmer:

I want to respect your request.  At the same time, I want to remind you of the importance of the Hispanic
Vote to the GOP in future elections.

Your actions asking for removal from our list indicates that you have not made our community a priority.
You, as a Republican leader, should make this a priority!

I believe Democrats are listening to their constituents, why won’t you?

Please rethink your decision and choose to help us involve more Hispanics in our party.

The decision is yours.  But as the saying goes, “don’t come to us on election day and eat our tamales
and want us to vote for you.”

Saludos y Buena suerte,

Gilberto (Gil) Cisneros?1350 Independence Street
Chair, State Republican National Hispancic Assembly-Colorado
Denver, Colorado, 80215. USA
Tel:  303.239.5219
Fax: 303.239.5352
1.800.375.8884, X-219
Cel:  720.309.7686

Balmer further explained to Colorado Confidential that his email address was added to Cisneros’ list without permission and that “I receive about 100-200 e-mails a day on Legislative matters and another 100-150 business e-mails per day. I answer almost all personal e-mails that are addressed to me. However, I routinely ask to be removed from blast e-mail distribution lists, because they divert attention from e-mails from my constituents that are personally addressed to me.”

Entering the pixelated fray, Rocky Mountain News columnist Tina Griego weighs in with a rather gleeful account of the inbox controversy. Curiously, she completely misses the mark by focusing on the catty exchanges about the email list rather than delving into the much more important issue-how the Latino community, newly energized by the raging anti-immigration debate, is flexing its political muscle.

At the national level, those efforts appear to be benefiting the Democrats much to Cisneros and Latino Republicans’ consternation.

In a study released two weeks ago, the Pew Hispanic Center reports some fascinating parallels on how Latinos’ political views are deeply influenced by their religious affiliations:

Latino evangelicals are twice as likely as Latino Catholics to be Republicans. That is a far greater difference than exists among whites. Moreover, Hispanic conservatives who are Catholic favor the Democrats, while white conservatives consider themselves Republican regardless of religious tradition.

The Democratic Party holds a nearly three-to-one advantage among Latino Catholics who are eligible to vote (48% vs. 17% for Republicans). Because the Latino electorate is overwhelmingly Catholic (63%), Catholics represent the core of Democratic support among Latinos. Indeed, 70% of all Latino eligible voters who identify as Democrats are Catholics. Party identification among Latino evangelicals is more narrowly divided and appears to slightly favor the Republican Party. Among Hispanic eligible voters who are evangelicals, 37% say they consider themselves Republicans and 32% say they are Democrats.

In a separate study analyzing Census data, the Center reports that the U.S. Hispanic population (including both native and foreign-born persons) increased 21.5 percent from 2000-2005 to 41.9 million. Colorado’s Hispanic population grew at nearly the same rate during that time period to a little more than 891,000 persons.

And as any smart corporation with an eye to expanding market share would do, U.S.-based Spanish-language media in collaboration with the nonpartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, tested a public service campaign in Southern California to encourage legal immigrants with green cards to apply for U.S. citizenship and thus become registered voters.

According to a May 10 story in The Wall Street Journal:

More than eight million green-card holders — that is, legal permanent residents — are eligible to become U.S. citizens, and the majority are immigrants of Latin American origin, according to U.S. government data. Now, Univision Communications Inc. is using its considerable clout with the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S. to turn this latent voting bloc into an active and potentially potent force.

The citizenship drive, which is about to go national, could help turn Latinos into a key electoral constituency in several states. A larger bloc of new Latino voters would likely influence the immigration debate that has been dividing the country. In part because of this, Hispanic voters in recent elections have tended to cast ballots mostly for Democrats. For instance, in the 2006 congressional contest, Republican candidates who take a harder line on illegal immigrants than their rivals garnered only 31% of the Latino vote.

During the Los Angeles metro area testing period between January-March 2007 citizenship applications surged doubling the number received in the same time period last year.

While Colorado was not specifically cited in the expansion plan, Denver is the 16th-largest Hispanic media market and is the fifth-fastest growing market in the nation making it a likely target for the campaign.

To add even more heartburn to the local Republican National Hispanic Assembly’s efforts, Internet use by Latinos is soaring and reached an estimated 16.3 million people last year. The Dems hold huge advantages in netroots political activism, blogging, and social networking over their GOP counterparts.

The Wall Street Journal story also suggests the swing-vote potential of these newly-minted Latino voters in Colorado elections:

If the citizenship campaign culminates in two million to three million new Hispanic voters, “that could turn the tide in several states,” including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, says Sergio Bendixen, a pollster who specializes in ethnic markets. In 2004, Republicans won by a small margin in those states.