That was the message from Gov. Susana Martinez to conservatives attending the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in downtown Albuquerque on Friday night.
“They 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. If you don’t, all they hear is the rhetoric,” said Martinez, the conference’s keynote speaker.
Martinez’s comments were a central theme at the HLN regional conference, which continues through Sunday afternoon. The organization is an offshoot of former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman’s American Action Network, which identifies itself as a moderate Republican group.
Featured panelists addressing attendees at events throughout the day were harsh in their characterizations of conservative efforts to court Hispanics.
Andresen Blom, executive director of the conservative American Principles Project, told a crowd at the Hyatt Regency hotel that the conservative approach has been akin to telling a girl she’s ugly, slapping her and then asking her out on a date.
“This is how conservatives have treated Latinos, and we need to change this,” Blom said.
Despite a poor history of working with the Hispanic community, there is still an opportunity to win over the Hispanic vote, said Dan Judy, a pollster with Republican firm Ayres, McHenry and Associates.
Judy said surveys by his company have show that Hispanics identify themselves as conservative more than liberal, but still identify as Democrats more than Republicans.
Martinez, who was a Democrat until just before she ran for district attorney in Doña Ana County in 1996, referenced her own conversion as a blueprint to bringing Hispanics to the right.
Martinez said that she and her husband had a dinner conversation with another couple that talked about specific issues. At the end of the meal, she said, she realized she was a Republican.
“We started having that discussion with lots of people. That’s the way we won,” Martinez said, referring to being elected district attorney four times and winning the gubernatorial election in 2010.
Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman Javier Gonzales said Thursday that Hispanics would see the conference as lip service to the community.
“Them coming into Albuquerque and putting on this dog-and-pony show is not going to get Hispanics to vote for Republican candidates,” Gonzales said.
New Mexico Dia, a group of Hispanic high school and college students, stood outside the barrier of Martinez’s outdoor speech and dumped their driver’s licenses and diplomas into a basket in protest of Martinez’s vocal support of stopping illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.
“I attended the conference today,” said Emma Sandoval, a 24-year-old who attended the protest. “The people that are there do not represent the values of me and my family.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal