Latino Republicans court GOP defector Hasan

Conservative Latino organization Somos Republicans, which has battled the rise of what it sees as bigoted, big-government positions on immigration among Republican leaders, is courting high-profile Colorado Republican Party defector Muhammad Ali Hasan. The group Monday asked Hasan not to become a Democrat, as he announced he would do last month, but to work with Somos Republicans and its supporters to “change the Republican Party from within.”

“We can identify with Hasan on many levels with regard to attacks launched by extremists who are attempting to hijack our Party,” the group said in a release. “These segregationist thinkers have launched attacks on immigrants, minorities, Muslims…  [W]e must all pull together and thwart these restrictionists from our Party – and we hope to begin this movement with Muhammad Ali Hasan.”

The Colorado Independent broke news last month that Hasan, who was raised in Pueblo and who has now added “Miguel” to his name to signal identification with Latino Americans, has grown increasingly disenchanted with the Republican party his wealthy family has famously supported over the last several decades.

Hasan ran as a Republican for a state House seat in 2008 and for state treasurer in 2010. He said anti-Muslim bigotry among Republican voters and party delegates colored each of the races on some level and that the rhetoric employed by GOP leaders in discussing gay rights, immigration reform and the proposed lower Manhattan Cordoba Center or “Ground Zero Mosque” last year suggested the party had moved away from the ideals of liberty, equality and opportunity that inspire him and continue to shape his politics. In November, Hasan met with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and she won him over. Hasan said he thought Pelosi was steely in her convictions and recalled that she called for investigations of the people opposed to the Cordoba group’s right to build its community center in New York. When so many national Republican figures were all falling like dominos behind the hate rhetoric, Pelosi stood up for the Constitution. “She was a total gangster,” he said.

Steve Rodriguez, Colorado director for Somos Republicans, said Hasan’s story struck a chord among Conservative Latinos. Rodriguez told the Colorado Independent that he has been personally battling GOP leaders recently for letting bigotry shape the debate over immigration reform in the state.

“Let’s just say people involved in the party here have told me to leave the party. They don’t like my views on the rhetoric they’re using. They see me as being soft on immigration. But across the country we’ve had GOP officials call Hispanics rabbits and cockroaches… I’m not going to be bashful about being opposed to that… Our group wants to root out that kind of rhetoric and the people behind it. We want to root them out of the party and not let them root us out of the party.”

Hasan sent a response in Spanish and English to Somos soon after the group brought out its release.

“This is a bitter sweet invitation,” he wrote at the group’s Facebook page. “My decision was never easy. In my heart and my blood, I believe in a government that is very small, and a United States that gives liberty to all. These were the promises of Ronald Reagan, George W Bush, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Hamilton ( my favor Founder).

“I will always hope that the GOP will [work] towards a destiny of liberty—liberty for immigrants, Muslims, gays, for everyone. For now, it is more important, for me, to work for causes that will benefit the liberties of the immigrants and gays, in addition to a fiscal conservatism. To me, these causes are more important than saving the GOP. For me, the most important cause is to save the GOP. **

I love my brothers and sisters of Somos Republicans—I, Miguel Ali, am your brother forever!”

The Republican Study Committee immigration meeting

Rodriguez said tensions escalated between himself and state party leaders this fall when the Republican Study Committee announced that GOP legislators in Colorado intended to introduce Arizona SB 1070-style immigration laws here. Study Committee lawmakers such as Sen. Kevin Lundberg organized a public meeting at the state capitol in November to discuss immigration in advance of drafting the legislation. As the Colorado Independent reported at the time, the so-called experts tapped to speak at the meeting, however, were all supporters of new more punitive Arizona-style laws. Two of the eight speakers at the meeting represented groups founded by white supremacist John Tanton, including the controversial Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies.

Rodriguez said he voiced his concerns at the time about the meeting’s proposed roster of speakers but that those concerns went unheeded.

“I refused to go to the meeting. The agenda was clear. They said they were trying to be fair,” Rodriguez laughed. “I said there was nothing fair about what they were doing. FAIR is not the kind of group you call to lead a genuine discussion in Colorado. We want people to have a balanced view. [Colorado Republican leaders] don’t want to have that conversation.”

Rodirguez said his group doesn’t want to leave immigration reform to the Democrats but that it can’t leave it to extremist Republicans either. “We’re letting Tom Tancredo– who is not even a Republican– define who is Republican,” he said.

“They just want us to keep our mouths shut and vote,” national Somos Republicans Director Dee Dee Garcia Blase told the Independent. She said her group is encouraging Latinos to become GOP party precinct captains and delegates.

The Somos release today described a strategy that would seek to, in effect, marginalize the marginalizers.

“We call upon the Colorado State Party Chair, Dick Wadhams, to invite Muhammad Ali Hasan back to our Party as a signal that bigotry should have no place within the GOP.  The vile rhetoric espoused by Tom Tancredo caused a massive exodus of Hispanics and the loss of the Gubernatorial and Senate races as they voted overwhelmingly against him during the 2010 Mid-term elections.  In 2008, Tancredo’s anti-immigrant rhetoric propelled over 200,000 brand new Hispanic voters to vote Democrat. As a result, we believe that a serious effort to box these extremists into a corner is the first and right direction to prevent more exoduses of all minorities to the Democrat Party.”

On rooting out bigotry

Hasan agrees with Somos that bigotry has no place in the party and he has accordingly made gay rights a major platform in his politics. It’s a subject area that will have to be hashed out between Hasan and Somos before they join forces to box out the Tancredoists.

Rodriguez and Garcia Blase agreed that, while the group favors full civil rights for gay people, it also strongly supports “traditional” views of marriage.

“We fully support civil unions,” Garcia Blase told the Independent. “We believe gay people should have full rights… But right now, we’re not tackling the gay issue.”

 Rodriguez said he thinks gay rights and immigration rights are “different matters.”

“I’m a conservative Christian,” he said. “I’m for equal rights but not for special rights. I don’t put [bigotry against gays] in the same category as bigotry against people of color.”

He said he very much looked forward to debating the points with Hasan.

“Democrats don’t agree on anything. Republicans can disagree and still be Republicans. What we’re looking for is officials who will take our interests to heart. They’re not doing that.”

**NOTE: Ali Hasan wrote to clarify the message he sent to Somos Republicans. (See his note in the comment thread below.) Saving the GOP, he writes, is less important to him than working to advance the causes he is backing. Hasan reports that he sent the note in Spanish and Somos Republicans provided the English-language translation.

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