Latino Republican anti-bigotry campaign draws angry Colorado GOP response

As the nation’s political class wrestles with the violence in Arizona that killed and injured more than 20 people and landed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital with a bullet through the brain, leading national Latino conservative organization Somos Republicans is spotlighting the harsh backlash it drew from members of the Colorado GOP to a campaign it launched last week lauding former state Republican Muhammad Ali Hasan for speaking out about growing bigotry in the party.

The group’s Arizona-based national director DeeDee Garcia Blase sees the reaction in Colorado as a tremor rising from a fault line running through the contemporary Republican Party. She told the Independent that she was aghast but not surprised by the angry messages from Colorado that filled her email inbox and the Somos Facebook page.

“I mean, wow,” she said. “What’s in the water up there? The same thing that’s in the water down here, I guess.”

‘Are you people crazy???’

Garcia Blase posted the emails she received this week at the group’s website. She sees them as an example of the way discussion about immigration and national security even among some party leaders slides easily into fear of certain kinds of people.

Since 9/11 in particular, the risk on the right has been that aggressive anti-terror and anti-illegal immigrant messaging would open the door for racists and, more significant, that the messaging would work to move Americans who would never call themselves racists to succumb to bias along the lines of religion and ethnicity. As Garcia Blase points out in light of the messages directed at Somos this week, immigration becomes detached from economics and free-market ideology and is hooked instead on rough talk about punishing “illegals.” Terrorism is replaced with Islam, reducing debate about national security to attacks on one of the world’s most popular religions — attacks bolstered by interpretations of the Koran that suggest no follower of the faith can be trusted.

Patricia Nohavec-Fink has been active in Douglas County Republican politics for years. A GOP district captain in Castle Rock, she was elected vice chair of the Douglas County Republican Party in 2010 by a wide margin. She resigned shortly after, citing internal politics, but said she continues to host fundraisers and work with top elected local and state officials. She told the Independent that news of the Somos campaign asking Hasan to return to the party rocketed around her Republican circle, where strong feelings about Hasan and Islam and immigration predominate. Nohavec-Fink joined with local politicos such as repeat candidate for office Cleve Tidwell, former Rebuild the [Republican] Party founder Guy Pacot and small-time strategist Bill Sparkman in writing emails to Garcia Blase rejecting the Somos campaign.

In her exchange with Somos, Nohavec-Fink makes dark assertions about Hasan’s character and allegiances. She sees his career as a filmmaker as a sign of degeneracy and repeats the rumor that it was Hasan’s father who leaked the information that 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis plagiarized articles the Hasan Family foundation paid him $300,000 to write — information that ultimately sank the McInnis campaign.

Garcia Blase said she thought Nohavec-Fink’s emails — angry and conspiracy-laden — exemplified the kind of thinking that is alienating minorities in the party, and so she pushed Nohavec-Fink to explain herself. The full exchange is available here as a pdf.

Excerpts from the thread:

From: Patricia Nohavec-Fink
To: DeeDee Garcia Blase (Somos Republicans)
Subject: RE: Hispanic Republicans Invite Hassan [sic] Back to GOP

Are you people crazy???
Ali Hassan [sic] is a trader [sic] not just to our party but to our country.

I know him personally – he doesn’t stand for one thing that the Republican party does. He has always been a liberal but ran Republican hoping to get voted in.

[…]

Do you believe in same sex marriage? Do you believe in the Muslims taking over America? Do you think after bringing terror to our nation that their [sic] should be a Muslim temple at Ground Zero? Do you believe that women should be covered and have no voice, be treated like animals? Not to mention his movie making…

His mouth has two sides – one of what a person wants to hear and one that is what he truly believes.

I highly suggest you do some research and find out the truths about this guy. Because of his Daddy and money we now have another socialist for Governor and 4 more years of liberal governing.

I can’t believe this – who is responsible for this action?????? This isn’t going to set well with any Republican I know, that’s for sure.

——-
From: DeeDee Garcia Blase (Somos Republicans)
To: Patricia Nohavec-Fink
Subject: RE: Hispanic Republicans Invite Hassan [sic] Back to GOP

Patricia,

You really think Hassan [sic] is a Muslim trying to take over America? Whatever happened to FREEDOM OF RELIGION?

——-
From: Patricia Nohavec-Fink

Freedom of Religion is our country’s asset, not taking over the country.

[…]

Ali is not a Republican and I hope he stays where he is, with the liberals…

——-
From: DeeDee Garcia Blase (Somos Republicans)

How is Hassan [sic], a Muslim, taking over the country? You still have not articulated on why you believe he “taking over”. You sound like a xenophobe.

——-
From: Patricia Nohavec-Fink

Have you read the koran [sic]? You would then know the answer to the question….

——-
From: DeeDee Garcia Blase (Somos Republicans)

Of course I read the Koran, but it doesn’t mean that all Muslims are out to bomb Americans. Judas Priest….

At some point, GOPers like you need to snap out of your fear, and love your “neighbor”. Hassan [sic] is no terrorist… You give the GOP a bad name. I hope you leave the Party while we restore it to the Party of Abe Lincoln, because your comments are making him roll in his grave right now.

Nohavec-Fink was mortified that her emails might be published and said she was sure her thoughts would be taken out of context. She told the Independent that as a candidate for treasurer Hasan had presented information on investing that was dubious and that that’s what she was referring to when she said he was untrustworthy. She said she is not biased against Muslims but she doesn’t think Islam is compatible with U.S. democracy. She said that, in effect, Islamic teachings in the end lead to political control that would infringe on constitutional rights.

Hasan told the Independent that Somos shared Nohavec-Fink’s emails with him and that the emails shocked him. He said he had long counted Nohavec-Fink among his friends, that she was extremely popular among Douglas County Republicans and surely had a lot of influence. In fact, he said, he had won a GOP fundraiser bid for dinner at her house last fall that he guessed he wouldn’t be cashing in now.

“That Pat is criticizing me for supporting … gay marriage and the right of Muslims in New York to worship, basically tells me that I made the right decision to leave the GOP,” Hasan wrote in an email. “As seen through Pat, the [party] is starting to stand for everything against liberty — against gays, against Muslims, against immigrants, and most sadly, against fiscal conservatism. Quite frankly, I think all the GOP stands for is a pro-security agenda of high taxes and massive regulation, where the government’s biggest job will be to keep Muslims and immigrants out of America.”

The underbelly on display in Loveland

The Independent broke news last month that Hasan, whose wealthy family has supported Republican politicians and causes for decades, was leaving the GOP. Hasan ran as a Republican candidate for a state House seat in 2008 and for treasurer in 2010. He was a strong supporter during his treasurer’s bid for three failed tax-slashing ballot initiatives authored by Colorado small-government crusader Douglas Bruce. Hasan remains a strong fiscal conservative. He said it was his experience with biased voters on the right as a candidate and the heated rhetoric led by top national Republican figures against gays and immigrants and Muslims this year that made up his mind to switch parties.

Hasan has since said that he thinks the controversy raging over the annual Conservative Political Action Conference speaks to these same tensions on the right that the party seems unwilling or unable to adequately address.

Social conservative groups and and anti-terrorist/anti-Muslim groups led by right-wing national security pundit Joseph Farah are threatening to boycott the conference and to “purge” CPAC-host American Conservative Union from the conservative movement if it doesn’t exclude conservative gay and Muslim groups from the conference. Hasan said he spoke at CPAC in 2009 and saw the same fault line opening then.

“2009 was the year where you saw the most emphasis on minority outreach and letting go of the social issues,” he wrote at Colorado Pols last week. “However, there was also a vacuum…. None of us knew which side would win: (a) the ‘liberal’ Constitutionalists (like myself) who were socially liberal and ultra fiscal conservative; (b) the Christian Coalition; (c) the anti-immigrant factions?”

Hasan believes the liberal Constitutionalists lost that battle. Somos Republicans, in asking Hasan to return to the party, doesn’t believe the battle is over. Yet the group’s experience with its pro-Hasan anti-bigotry campaign this week suggests the intensity of the fight Somos and its supporters face.

Former Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes also weighed in tangentially on the Somos campaign. In a Facebook post and email to supporters, he said that during the 2010 campaign, racism tied to immigration and terrorism colored the primary races. Although he said nothing about it at the time, he believes race-based bigotry torpedoed Hasan’s treasurer bid and that it was also a palpable factor in his contest against anti-immigration crusader and Republican-turned-American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo.

I was sickened when I was leaving the state assembly last May when someone from the Hassan [sic] campaign, I do not remember if it was Ali himself or not, advised us that the word “Muslim” was written on the back of some of their yard signs placed outside. This came up as part of the conversation we were having as we exited the Budweiser Arena in the context of how much of a blow out the Treasurer’s race had been between Ali and JJ Amment [sic]. The large spread of high seventy’s by JJ to Ali’s low 20’s shocked the hall.  Ali had worked too hard to get that low of a vote.  Race had to play a part.

I had not heard much about race in the campaigns up until that point. I had certainly benefited from some Latinos warming up to me as a result of their affinity to the last name Maes.  Many recognized the name as Latino in Colorado and whether I was or not did not seem to matter to them.  That was enough for some.  But it all changed when the third party candidate [Tancredo] got closer to jumping into the race.  I started to get phone calls… from people asking about my ethnicity.  Hostile voices accused me of being Mexican, as if that were a crime in itself.  A couple of my supporters who were past supporters of the third party candidate specifically asked me what my ethnicity was before they tentatively supported me only to leave me when the new arrival came to the race.  

Not giving up

Somos Republicans Colorado State Director Steve Rodriguez told the Independent that he has experienced serious push-back in response to the group’s Hasan campaign. Republicans are reportedly telling him to ease off the message because it will only damage the party. He won’t be dissuaded. He ran for a state House seat in 2010 and felt the sting of bigotry. He argued against a biased roster of experts put together for a hearing on immigration reform by Colorado Republican lawmakers in the fall. And he believes now is the time to act, when the heated immigration debate is set to start again in Colorado with the opening of the legislative session this week. He said there is still plenty of room for good policy proposals on the right and that his group is determined to place them onto the table.

“We want a complete immigration overhaul,” Garcia Blase said. “Democratic leadership told Hispanic Democrats not even to bring up immigration reform until 2013. They told the DREAM Act advocates, don’t bring it up anymore. There’s nothing coming on that side of the aisle.

“[Somos Republicans] wants to handle immigration reform in a free-market way. We’re not for the restrictionist, isolationist approach. The American economy relies on immigrant labor. Let’s look at it seriously. Let’s secure the borders and let’s ask industries — the construction industry, the agricultural industry, the dairy farms — let’s get an honest count of the immigrant labor they need and set up guest-worker programs that work. We’re for a path to citizenship. Let’s have people who are here to work acknowledge that they’re here illegally and pay a fine for committing a civil misdemeanor offense and let’s get them out of the shadows.”

Somos is looking for Republican leaders to take up the case and stand strong against bigotry, but major Colorado Republican Party and conservative politics backer Seeme Hasan, Ali’s mother, seems doubtful that those kind of leaders will emerge anytime soon.

On guard against Trojan Horses

At the Facebook comments thread snaking off of Maes’s entry on racism and the 2010 election, Seeme Hasan felt compelled to weigh in with three posts that suggest how difficult she thinks it is for minority candidates to gain support from Republican voters in the state. Complaints always come in that minority candidates haven’t been fully vetted, she writes, based primarily on the fact that they’re not Christian or have brown skin.

Ali has been interacting with Republicans from the day he was born. First Pueblo County and then Eagle County and for the last three years he had spoken at almost every Republican Breakfast or Lunch club and most County Central Committees. How much more can you vet a person? Steven [Rodriguez] who ran in Pueblo for a House District Seat as a Republican has been involved in the County forever and yet he was prejudiced against. How much more vetting did he need? Mark Hotlzman who was running for Governor, same thing, the moment people found out he was Jewish, they started attacking him. He had worked harder than anyone for the party. How much vetting did he need?

It’s not vetting. Problem is when you are a minority the Republican leadership does not want you to win an election. They start rumors, which people … believe.

If the Republican Party alienates longtime hardcore supporters like Seeme Hasan, it’s tough to see how it will ever win over and retain rank-and-file minority voters.

“Let me tell you it was a humiliating experience as a Muslim to walk out of that [state GOP] Convention in Loveland Colorado,” Seeme Hasan writes in another comment. Ali Hasan told the Independent that the Loveland convention was the site of a whisper campaign that argued the Koran instructs Muslims to lie and so he couldn’t be trusted to be treasurer or even to explain his own religious views. The passage in question apparently concerns a Shia tenet, , taqqiya, that allows believers to hide their faith if they feel threatened.

Seeme Hasan continued:

It was made clear to us that, as Muslims, we are not accepted. That is why I told Ali, leave this party because you have no future here, they will not even listen to you. I could not believe how Republicans were behaving.

I noticed when I gave over Three Million Dollars to make the Malik and Seeme Hasan School of Business, no one complained. When I gave more than a million dollars during the eight years of Bush to both national and state candidates, no one fussed. When I paid for free concerts all over Eagle County every summer for the last fifteen years, there was no protest. When I gave thousands of dollars in contributions to my Eagle County Republican party, no one protested. The moment my son ran for an election, suddenly there was howling and protesting from every County. Tell me this was not prejudiced. Colorado Republicans don’t want Muslims, don’t want Jews, don’t want Latinos? What do you want? Let’s be honest and up-front…

The very next comment, a response penned by a Connie Mason Bennett, asked readers if they had “ever heard of a trojan horse.” She later expanded on the idea by adding that “everyone needs to read the Koran … Then you will know a little more than what you have been told. Then do a little research on something called taqiyya. Open your eyes…”

Nohavec-Fink told the Independent that she doesn’t really believe Hasan was ever a Republican, not in his heart, despite his strong fiscal-conservative views, his standing up for the Bush administration policy on terrorism and in the Middle East and the long support of his family for conservative causes.

“I’ve watched him,” she told the Independent. “I gave Ali a fair chance but when you watch someone for a long time, you can see how they act, you can tell where they really stand.”

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