This month, America marks Hispanic Heritage Month, or Mes de la Hispanidad. It’s a time to celebrate the countless contributions that Hispanics have made to this great country for generations. It’s a time to celebrate Latino history and Americans’ shared future.
But I also want to take this moment to say a word — to send an open letter, if you like — to my fellow Republicans, including candidates and officeholders at every level, from the courthouse to Capitol Hill: If you’re not engaging with the Hispanic community, you better get to work.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic group in America. In the past decade they accounted for more than half of the nation’s population growth, according to Pew Hispanic. No party can fully represent the American people if it doesn’t build relationships with the Hispanic community. That’s why the RNC has made an unprecedented investment in building a long-term year-round presence in Latino communities across the country. We’re going where people live, work, and worship. We’ll be at community events and swearing-in ceremonies, sharing our positive vision for America but, more importantly, listening to Hispanics’ concerns and cares.
This infrastructure is important. But individual candidates must do their part too. Hispanics deserve candidates and a party that will fight for their vote. In working to earn Hispanics’ trust, though, Republicans have to remember that it’s not just about what we say, but how we say it. Our principles are sound, but we have to be thoughtful in how we discuss them. Too often, a candidate’s tone can turn off voters, promote divisiveness, and feed mischaracterizations of our party. So if your tone isn’t welcoming and inclusive, you’re doing it wrong.
Also, any engagement effort has a media component, and Republicans must engage with Hispanic journalists. If I can speak with Jorge Ramos and José Diaz-Balart about the future of the party, so can everyone else. Juntos podemos hacer más — together we can do more.
But let’s be clear: This isn’t just about vote tallies. Putting electoral politics aside for a moment, let’s recognize that Democrats are doing a disservice to our fellow Americans. When we don’t fight for the Latino vote, two things happen. Some Hispanics sit out elections, which was the case in the last election, or Democrats take their votes for granted. As a result, we miss opportunities, and Democrats feel free to prioritize the demands of moneyed special interests over the interests of individuals and families.
Some Hispanics are sadly stuck in failing schools. But do Democrats stand up and say those kids deserve a shot at attending another school? No, they systematically oppose school choice at every turn, doing the bidding of the teachers’ unions. Republicans believe it shouldn’t matter whether the schools children attend are traditional public schools, charter schools, or private schools. It matters only that they attend good schools.
Hispanics also face a higher unemployment rate than the national average. But do Democrats stand up and concede that government spending hasn’t solved the problem? No, Democrats think that if we mortgage our children’s future, jobs will magically appear in the private sector. But the proof is in the pudding: The president’s spending binge hasn’t helped Latinos. Republicans believe it’s not the government’s responsibility to pay for jobs that are created but rather to ensure a business-friendly environment that allows for job creation.
Before the recession, Hispanics were starting businesses faster than any other ethnic group, according to the Kauffman Foundation. But do Democrats ever stand up and admit that Obamacare is hurting small and medium-sized businesses with added expenses? Do Democrats not watch Telemundo and listen to the stories of business owners forced to decide between laying off workers or closing their doors for good? Do they recognize that their law is cutting workers’ hours and crushing the dreams of Latinos who want to grow their family companies? Republicans believe that real health-care reform should lower costs, protect access, and not sacrifice jobs.
In 2014 we’re going to hold accountable vulnerable Democrats like Ron Barber, Raul Ruiz, Joe Garcia, Pete Gallego, and Patrick Murphy, to mention a few, who have failed their constituents, a significant number of whom are Hispanic. And in the long term — 2016 and beyond — the same will go for Democrats all across the country.
So, my fellow Republicans, it’s up to us to keep Democrats from taking Hispanic voters for granted. It’s up to Republicans to tell our story and offer a better way. And it’s up to every one of us to engage with Hispanic voters. If you’re not doing that now, get with it.
— Reince Priebus is chairman of the Republican National Committee.