By Hans Nichols
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are withholding their party membership dues until they receive assurances from House Democratic leaders that the party will make a concerted effort to engage Hispanic voters and better serve the needs of the Hispanic community.
Lawmakers withholding their dues said that their decision was the culmination of several years of frustration with what they view as the Democratic Party’s failure to reach out to Hispanics and include them in the decision-making process. They are also increasingly concerned by results at the ballot box and of post-election surveys showing that President Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Caucus members last week demanded meetings with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and told The Hill that they would use their pending party dues as leverage to secure an audience. Pelosi was scheduled to receive the caucus in her office March 10, and Emanuel will host members one week later at DCCC headquarters.
Party leaders are levying dues which range from $100,000 to $600,000 on a quarterly basis this cycle, and the Hispanics’ threat that they might not comply by March 31 is the first instance of lawmakers chafing under the new deadline.
It was unclear how wide and deep Hispanic disenchantment with their party leaders ran, with several members saying that their threats on dues was a caucuswide initiative. But Emanuel said he had already received dues from at least two Hispanics, Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), and his staff later added Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) to that list.
One Hispanic lawmaker, who requested anonymity, said, “We’re withholding our dues until we get some agreements.”
“We’ve made that very clear and will make it clearer,” the lawmaker added.
A spokeswoman for caucus Chairwoman Grace Napol-itano (D-Calif.) said that this week’s meetings were not officially brokered by the caucus but rather by individual members. Napolitano, however, was not in Washington last week and missed the Wednesday meeting where some of the plans to withhold dues and seek meetings were hatched.
“We don’t take a stand on members’ personal meetings,” Imelda Aguirre said. “It’s not a caucus meeting.” However, both Pelosi’s office and the DCCC had the meeting scheduled as a caucus event.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said, “It’s not a single person. It’s a group protest to say there needs to be a serious discussion on strategy, on the integration of staff, and more attention paid to Latino issues.”
“We are saying that we have the money and that until we have an honest, serious and frank discussion, we’re not going to give it to you,” Grijalva said.
“We want to feel fully vested in the effort,” he added.
Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) said that Hispanics wanted the meetings “to sit down and talk about more participation in the community.”
“Not enough money has been spent” on reaching out to Hispanics, he said.
Caucus anger with the party first bubbled to the surface in December when congressional leaders wrote a bristling letter to Democratic National Committee delegates that they would ignore Hispanic concerns at their own peril.
Solis confirmed that she had paid her dues and said that she was unaware of any caucus plan to withhold them. But she added, “I missed the last two meetings.”
“I was invited to their regular Wednesday morning meeting and I am going to attend like I’ve been invited to other groups,” said Emanuel.
Greg Speed, spokesman for the DCCC, later said that the meeting had been scheduled at the committee’s headquarters.
The DCCC has launched some new Hispanic outreach initiatives. A senior member of the DCCC met with Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) to identify key leaders at the grassroots level, a Democratic leadership aide said.
The article was reprinted from “The Hill” The Newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress, (http://www.hillnews.com). Published March 8, 2005.