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Wisconsin Republicans Reach Out to Americans of Spanish Heritage

I have been researching outreach efforts to communities in Wisconsin which have not, in recent years, been a very strong part of the Republican constituency. What I have discovered is that no outreach effort exists, and this is probably a good thing.

The reason for this is quite simple: Unlike the African-American community, Americans of Spanish heritage do not really form any sort of homogeneous group. There are great cultural — and even linguistic — differences between people of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc., heritage, and all of those differences are reflected in Wisconsin’s quite diverse Spanish-American population.

That said, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does have a member of its executive committee, pastor and Marine veteran Joe Medina, who serves as the volunteer chairman for Hispanic outreach. Mr. Medina would particularly like to see two things happen in Wisconsin: He would like to see a paid professional engaged in such an outreach effort, similar to the person employed in the African-American effort; and he would like to see the party coalesce around the immigration reform policy proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin’s First Congressional District. This sort of leadership, he feels, would draw many Spanish-speaking people, who generally espouse socially conservative views and are hard-working, into the party’s tent.

However, Mr. Medina also readily admits the differences between the various groups mentioned above, and those differences are very well highlighted by two rising stars of the Wisconsin state party. The first is Jessie Rodriguez, currently serving her first term in the Wisconsin State Assembly representing Wisconsin Assembly District 21, which covers the southern suburbs of Milwaukee County.

Mrs. Rodriguez paints herself as the quintessential embodiment of the American immigrant ethos. A native of El Salvador, she immigrated to the United States with her family as a child in 1984, in the midst of the Salvadoran civil war. She settled in the Milwaukee area, worked hard, and graduated from Marquette University with a degree in communications.

Mrs. Rodriguez sees herself primarily as representing and promoting the fundamentally conservative values of her constituency. Her campaign website says she will promote a business-friendly climate by lowering taxes and simplifying the tax code; continue to lower the tax burden on the state’s residents in general; support school choice; embrace all possible educational options to maximize the potential of each individual child; promote a pro-life point of view; and firmly support the right to keep and bear arms.

It is for this reason that, when she was sworn in as Wisconsin’s first Republican state legislator of Hispanic lineage after a 2013 by-election, she was not fazed when the Democrat-dominated “Hispanic caucus” refused to admit her. She sees herself first and foremost as a reasoning, intelligent naturalized citizen who happens to be a native of a Spanish-speaking country, not a member of a tribe.

The same may be said of Justin Moralez, who represents, if you will, the other end of the Republican spectrum from Mrs. Rodriguez. Mr. Moralez’ Spanish heritage comes to him  by way of his great-grandfather, who settled in America as the land of opportunity. Currently an alderman in the city of Cudahy, a largely blue-collar suburb of Milwaukee, Mr. Moralez is running to unseat the Democratic incumbent in Wisconsin’s 20th Assembly District.

Mr. Moralez sees himself as a “moderate” Republican. He embraces the Republicans as the party of abolitionism and civil rights, supports school choice, wants to be a bridge-builder and consensus-seeker, and thinks that his experience as an alderman in his heavily unionized hometown makes him a good candidate to defeat his Democratic opponent.  Though he still faces a Republican primary (he will not say anything negative against his opponents in the primary, merely that he believes himself to be the best candidate with the best chance of winning the seat from a seven-term democratic incumbent), he has received some impressive endorsements, most notably from Dr. Rosario Marin, the 41st treasurer of the United States.

Rodriguez and Moralez make clear that the best way for the Republicans to reach out to the various Hispanic communities is simply by continuing to be Republicans, translating the party’s message into Spanish via such vehicles as the Milwaukee-based El Conquistador newspaper (published in both English and Spanish), and countering distortions when they arise.

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)

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