This past weekend, Albuquerque was the stage for the first Southwest Regional Conference of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a center-right organization engaging Hispanics in the political process. More than 30 speakers participated, from local elected officials and members of Congress to national experts in five core areas: jobs, education, health, small business and immigration.
During the conference, many Hispanics shared stories about how their families achieved the American Dream. I was struck by how many people shared my experience of having parents born in extreme poverty at a time when no government programs existed to provide a hand up. I was also struck by how many fellow Hispanics of my under-40 generation openly expressed anxiety about being able to fulfill the same dreams as generations before us.
The goal of the conference was an open dialogue about the principles and ideals that drive the conservative movement. Gov. Susana Martinez, the conference’s keynote speaker, said it best, telling participants, ” think the same as you do – they have the same values – but you have to bother to have a conversation with them about those values.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spoke with great passion about education. Outlining his six-point plan to improve schools in his state, Jindal touched upon an issue at the center of the education debate in New Mexico – how to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality education and is not trapped in a failing school.
Jobs and the economy also took center stage at the conference. The unemployment rate among Hispanics is a dismal 11.5 percent, a clear indication our community has been disproportionally affected by the bad economy. Panelists spoke about the need to keep government from encroaching upon the private sector and keeping taxes as low as possible.
It’s not hard to connect the dots. When government reduces spending, there is no need to raise taxes; with no new taxes, American families get to keep more of their hard-earned money and American businesses do more hiring.
In that same vein, experts addressed the importance of empowering small-business owners by removing burdensome government regulations that prevent them from growing.
The need for immigration reform, including border security and a guest worker program, was also discussed. Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador, an immigration lawyer, explained why there has been no progress on that front: Simply put, it is not politically expedient for Democrats in Congress to solve the immigration and border security issues. In saying that, he really nailed it.
Democrats love to blame Republicans for every setback in achieving immigration reform. However, during his first two years in office, President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress could have moved the needle on immigration. They did not. Instead, they are more interested in an emotionally charged political fight.
The gathering of about 300 center-right Hispanics apparently touched a nerve with New Mexico’s top Democrat operatives, who resorted to the usual childish, empty rhetoric. The real scam is the Democrats’ persistent line that its policies work in favor of our community. That’s a particularly hard sell when, for example, Hispanic youth unemployment is over 35 percent, and former Gov. Bill Richardson ended his tenure with our state ranking 49th in public education performance – and an achievement gap as deep and wide as the Rio Grande Gorge.
The nasty and factually incorrect criticism from the other side is not surprising. They are scared. With a record of broken promises to Hispanics, Obama is certain to lose a big chunk of the Hispanic vote.
Our community deserves better, and the HLN is serious about expanding the dialogue on issues that matter most to the Hispanic community. Hispanics must know that we have a choice; no longer do we have to support the party that no longer represents our values.
Jamie P. Estrada is a public affairs and international trade consultant.