Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Republican Primer on Latino Voters

And, who is Gretchen Sierra-Zorita......?

by: Gretchen Sierra-Zorita
Posted: 12/27/11 06:39 PM ET

With the Iowa primary less than two weeks away, Republican chatter on vice presidential candidates has amped up. Of particular interest to the Republican Party are Hispanic candidates that can attract Latino voters and reverse the damage done by a xenophobic primary season.

Florida's Senator Rubio, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval have been mentioned as possibilities, with Rubio receiving the most attention. Yet all three have been faulted by Hispanics for taking anti-immigration positions.

More recently, Governor Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico has been added to the list of vice presidential contenders. Touted as an effective fiscal and social conservative, he believes that a hostile anti-immigration stance is unreasonable and damaging to the Party.

This form of political name-dropping is disturbing because it indicates how little Republicans leaders know about the fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation. If Republicans are serious about expanding their Latino base in 2012, they need to rid themselves of several misconceptions.

First, Latinos will not vote for a candidate just because he is one of their own. The candidate has to deliver on the issues.

The two issues that matter the most to Hispanics are jobs and immigration. According to a recent Univision News/Latino Decision survey, a candidate's ability to fix the economy and generate jobs is by far the most important factor in deciding for whom to vote. However, 59 percent of the Hispanics surveyed are less likely to support a candidate who makes anti-immigration statements, even if they agree with him on the economy. Moreover, the majority of Latino respondents support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

So far the Republican Party has not produced an economic blueprint that resonates with the majority of Hispanics and all presidential candidates have managed to make amnesty sound like a dirty word. To win over Hispanic voters, Republicans need to do more than put a Hispanic surname on the ticket.

Second, another common misconception is that Latinos should vote Republican because they share traditional social values. This is not entirely accurate, because Hispanics are not conservative across the board. According to a Latino Decisions survey, Latinos are slightly more conservative than the general public on abortion but are more liberal on same-sex marriage. Moreover, Latinos are church goers but they are not value voters: 53 percent say their religion has no impact on their vote and only 14 percent believe that politics are about moral issues.

Third, enlisting a Hispanic vice president could improve Republican chances of expanding their Latino base but only at the margin. Among the possible candidates, Governor Fortuño stands the better chance of winning over new voters.

There are 4.6 million Puerto Ricans residing in the mainland. For them, immigration reform is a preference but not a priority because Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens. They mostly trend Democrat, but they would give the Republican ticket a second look if they saw a Puerto Rican in it.

The 848,000 Puerto Ricans who live in Florida, popularly known as Disneyricans, might be more receptive to a conservative pitch from Governor Fortuño. Disneyricans are considered independents, having voted for Obama in 2008 and for Rubio in 2010. Over 40 percent of them moved from Puerto Rico during the last decade, primarily for economic reasons.

Ironically, as governor of a U.S. territory, Fortuño is the ultimate outsider and unlikely to be nominated. If he were, he may have an edge over Marco Rubio who, as a Latino, mostly appeals to the Cuban Americans who are already part of the Republican base.

Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic voting bloc but they are no match for the Mexican-American community. There are 23 million Mexican American citizens in this country and they are the ones Republicans should be concerned about. After months of immigrant bashing, they will not be easily mollified by political window dressing.

According to the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of Republicans favor tightening the border and enforcing immigration laws and 14 percent favor creating a path to citizenship. However, 41 percent of them believe that both policy approaches should be a priority. This is not an insignificant number, and one which Republicans need to exploit if they are serious about readjusting their overall position on immigration and making some gains among Hispanic voters.

If the Republican Party is determined to make inroads with Latino voters, it has to be willing to engage in a credible immigration reform process. Equally important, it must come to terms with its tolerance of radical views that make minorities feel exceedingly unwelcome -- from Birthers to presidential candidates that talk glibly about electrified border fences and everything in between. The upcoming primaries will tell if it is too late for a turn around. And if it is, Republicans might have just fenced themselves out of the next election.
A Convenient Arrangement: Puerto Ricans and the Republican Party in 2012

by: Gretchen Sierra-Zorita
Posted: 10/ 5/11 08:17 AM ET
These days Latinos in the Republican Party feel about as welcome as an IRS audit. The presidential debates have been punctuated by unsettling displays of anti-immigration one-upmanship. Even if Republicans manage to nominate a moderate presidential candidate, it will be very hard for the GOP to recover and win over resentful Latino voters.

There is, however, a strategically important Latino constituency that might be receptive to a Republican appeal - the 848,000 Puerto Ricans residing in Florida, popularly known as Disneyricans.

Over 40 percent of Disneyricans moved from Puerto Rico to central Florida during the last decade, driven by the deteriorating Island economy. They mostly grew up in Puerto Rico and tend to be more socially and politically conservative than other Puerto Ricans on the mainland. Progressive immigration reform is a preference but not a priority because Puerto Ricans are born American citizens. 

While Disneyricans generally favor Democrats and overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008, they have also backed Republicans, like Governors Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio. President Obama won Florida by less than 240,000 votes and to win again, he needs Disneyrican support in 2012. 

All told, there are 4.6 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States today. They have a sense of cultural identity that runs deeper than the oft satirized New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade. Puerto Ricans care about their Island and at the national level they have rewarded the party that has represented the interest of Puerto Rico most consistently- the Democratic Party.

This dynamic can be altered in Florida, where the Puerto Rican electorate is less entrenched. But for this to happen, the Republican Party must find and seize an issue that is important to these voters. 

Conveniently, an opportunity to make inroads with Puerto Rican voters materialized in the form of H.R. 3020, the Puerto Rico Investment Promotion Act, a bipartisan bill that is critical for the success of Puerto Rico and that is consistent with Republican free-market principles.
Under this law, U.S. domestic companies incorporated in Puerto Rico that earn at least half of their income in Puerto Rico will not have to pay Federal taxes on profits generated in the Island. Moreover, earnings generated in Puerto Rico can be distributed to the U.S. parent companies as dividends, subject to a reduced, yet appealing, tax rate. 

At present, almost all U.S. companies operating in Puerto have few incentives to repatriate their earnings to their U.S. parent companies, where they will be subject to full Federal taxation. Consequently, these earnings remain outside the U.S. in foreign banks. This law will attract profits back to the U.S. where they will generate Federal revenues. This law will also strengthen and increase the number of job creators both on the mainland and the Island.

The bill is backed by Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño, the pro-statehood darling of the Republican Party, as well as by the opposing commonwealth party and the business community. Puerto Rican politics are dominated by bitter rivalries. The formation of a bipartisan Puerto Rican coalition is unprecedented. It is also indicative of the severity of the Puerto Rican recession and the immediate need to create jobs for the 16 percent of American citizens that are unemployed in the Island today. Without a structural intervention, the Puerto Rican economy will continue to deteriorate and related social ills will escalate.

Introduced by Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner and Democrat, Pedro Pierluisi, H.R. 3020 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. Given the current budgetary climate, it is unclear how Democrats will react to this initiative. What is clear is that this bill will need many backers to make it past the Congressional Deficit Panel gauntlet. There is no reason why Republicans cannot be the champions of this bill and push for its passage. 

The Puerto Rico Investment Promotion Act will create tens of thousands of jobs and jumpstart the Puerto Rican economy. Its passage will be welcomed by struggling American businesses and every single Puerto Rican in this country. If Republicans can claim credit for its passage, they will be in a better position to win over Puerto Rican voters, particularly in Florida, where it really matters in 2012.