May 11, 2007

Latinos Dominate Statewide Gathering of Democrats

By E.A. Barrera

One by one, the candidates who would be the next American president came to San Diego and spoke to Democrats who are desperate to change the national political landscape.

Hillary Clinton gave a rousing speech – almost a revival sermon against the war and the Bush administration’s policies. With each phrase and each blast at Bush’s presidency, there was a stirring roar of anger - a lustful joy for the chance these California Democrats think the next few years will bring to break the stranglehold Republican conservatism has had on the national agenda.

Assemblymember Mary Salas, Speaker Fabien Nunez and others endorse Hillary Clinton for President.

The same energy for Hillary could be sensed in the rock-star reception Barack Obama got when he bounded on stage and called for “a new type of politics.” It could be felt in the enthusiasm John Edwards and Bill Richardson received for their denouncements of President Bush and his Iraq War.

And through it all, sitting ten feet from the podium with a large, satisfied smile on his face was the chairman of the California Democratic Party – Art Torres.

“Arturo!!” shouted Governor Bill Richardson as the two men joined hands above their heads and acknowledged the new found power both found in polls showing Americans wanting change - with Latino voters finally, after decades of unfulfilled promise, flexing their political muscle in the nation’s largest state and across the country.

“Arturo! Si se puede!!” shouted a beaming Richardson to a beaming Torres.

Si se puede ... Yes we can. If any message resonated through out the underbelly of this recent California State Democratic Convention, held for the first time in San Diego, it was the realization that Latinos in the state were finally coming into their political day.

“No community deserves more support than the Latino Caucus,” said Torres. “This is a growing caucus which becomes more powerful and has more responsibility with every election cycle.”

From Chairman Torres and Governor Richardson to City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who spoke to the delegation; and California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, who celebrated his Spanish-Basque heritage and campaigned through out the convention center like a man running for Governor in 2010, there was a feeling of power resonating within the Latino Caucus.

“Latinos will decide the next president of the United States,” said attorney Steven Ybarra. “By 2020 we will control this state.”

Patty Solis-Doyle spoke to over 300 delegates at the Latino Caucus during the state convention. Solis-Doyle, Hillary Clinton’s national campaign manager, told the meeting she never thought she - a 42-year old, Chicago-born daughter of an illegal immigrant - would one day run the campaign of a former First Lady and front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“This meeting is a powerful symbol of the growing strength of Hispanic voters in California and across the nation,” said Solis-Doyle. “Senator Clinton has been endorsed by a number of Hispanic - sorry, I’m from Chicago and back there we say Hispanic, not Latino - leaders across this nation and will continue to seek their support and advise as she prepares to become the first woman president of the United States.”

Clinton received the endorsements of California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and 79th Assembly woman Mary Salas during the convention. Though he disagreed with Solis-Doyle’s use of the term “Hispanic” and preferred “Latino” as a more correct description of heritage for those whose families hailed from Mexico and Latin America, Ybarra also noted the high level of support Latinos were offering Clinton.

“You’ve got Solis and Raul Yzaguirre (former president of the National Council of La Raza) as major players in her campaign. Clinton sees the numbers and understands where the votes will come from,” said Ybarra.

A current member of the Democratic National Committee and a former head of the California Latino Democratic Caucus, Ybarra said it was important to see the dynamics of Latino involvement in the 2008 presidential race from the perspective of where the caucus had started.

“When I was head of this caucus 10 years ago, you could have fit the entire meeting in the back of my car. Now we have more than eleven chapters and it is the fastest growing caucus within the Democratic Party. Latinos are the future of this country and the smart politicians who understand this will reap the benefits,” said Ybarra. “In Florida alone, if Democrats can carry the Latino vote, they will win the state. This is true in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and across the country.”

California State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero announced her support for Obama during the convention, while political activist and former head of “Latinos for Howard Dean” organizer Carlos Trujillo spoke in favor of Richardson.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to elect one of our own to the White House,” said Trujillo.

Ybarra said Richardson was the main focus of Latino thought at this stage of the race, since he represented the chance for a Latino to become President. But he said Latinos were enthused about several candidates and like other delegates at the convention, the issue of the war in Iraq could override other concerns.

“This is Hillary’s biggest problem,” noted Ybarra. “She’s a great candidate and there is a lot of support in the Latino community for Hillary. But she has yet to really say she made a mistake in voting for the war. Until she does that, this could remain a very open race - with the possibility that two or three candidates could go into Denver without enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot (the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where the nominee for president will be officially chosen, will be held in Denver).”

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