By Lori Rodriguez
Leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens meeting in Houston on Tuesday announced a systematic plan to find out where major political candidates stand on issues critical to their fast-growing but socially lagging community.
What leaders call “The LULAC Challenge” lists the 10 issues Hispanics consistently have identified as their most important. Topped by education concerns and ranging from political access to immigrant rights, the list also includes specific questions LULAC leaders want candidates to directly answer.
“We’re going to send every single politician in the country who’s running for statewide or national office a copy of this document and ask them to respond,” said LULAC Executive Director Brent Wilkes.
Politicians who don’t respond will be targeted through LULAC’s 700 chapters and members across the country, he said. Politicians who do will be graded according to how closely they agree with LULAC positions.
Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing electorate, are being energetically wooed by both major political parties; voters have to raise the bar for candidates, Wilkes said.
“Our issues should be the focus, not whether Perry says he thinks our values are the same as the Republican Party,” he said.”We want to say, here’s our values. You tell us which ones you agree with. Don’t finesse. Tell us yes or no so we know where you stand and how we can expect you to vote if you win. That way our community can make an informed decision on who they choose to represent them.”
The new political policy was accompanied by a compilation of social, economic and political indicators that show Hispanics still are a struggling community. Many are poor, underpaid and undereducated; 39 percent of Latino children live in families with incomes below the poverty line.
Hispanics in the 2000 Census made up 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for 20 percent of new HIV infections and 26 percent of Americans with no health insurance.
“The Latino community continues to face serious and ongoing challenges,” said Gabriela Lemus, the LULAC national director of policy and legislation who compiled the policy brief.
“We need more than just Spanish-speaking candidates,” she said. “We need policies that work for us.”
(Reprinted from the June 25, 2002 issues the Houston Chronicle)