The phrases “states’ rights” and “porous border” may be uttered in an unlikely place next session: the offices of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
Last week’s GOP rout included the election of five Hispanic Republicans to the Texas House, including several who prevailed over members of MALC. As Latinos, the winners are automatically eligible for membership in the group, which is focused on "matters of interest to the Mexican-American community," according to its bylaws. MALC chairman Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, says he has reached out to four of the five thus far: Larry Gonzales, who beat Round Rock's Diana Maldonado; Raul Torres, who defeated MALC member Solomon Ortiz, Jr. of Corpus Christi; Jose Aliseda, who knocked off Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles of Alice; and John Garza, who beat San Antonio's David Leibowitz. Dee Margo, who beat another MALC member, El Paso's Joe Moody, also claims Hispanic heritage.
“I am looking forward to everybody who's Latino being a part of MALC. I want them to know right away that we're nonpartisan, we’re issues-based and we are very pro-Latino,” he says.
For now, MALC is composed of only Democrats — there are currently no Hispanic Republicans in the House. But Gonzales says he is “absolutely” going to join and is looking forward to his fellow GOP freshmen following suit. He hopes his opinions about issues affecting Latinos could signal a change in the way MALC members come together. “Why is there such an attempt to have just one opinion? We don’t have one opinion, because the Latino opinion is very diverse,” he says.
During the 81st Legislature, MALC put forth a united front in opposition to one of the session’s most divisive issues: voter ID. Though some members were more vocal than others, the caucus as a whole participated in the “chubbing” that successfully killed the bill on the House floor.
Assuming that all Hispanics will lock arms this session would be a mistake, Gonzales says.
“It does Latinos a huge disservice to say we all think alike,” he says.
Asked about whether he would vote for an Arizona-style immigration law in Texas, Gonzales said it would be “irresponsible” for him to deal with a hypothetical. But, he says, he supports the Arizona Legislature’s interpretation of what it believes is best for the state.
“I totally respect Arizona’s right as a sovereign state to do what it feels it needs to do,” he says.
Martinez Fischer is optimistic that differences can bridged.
“Yes, they are Republican. Yes, their ideology is different. But we are all Latinos,” he says. “I don’t see why an issue that affects me one way should be 180 degrees opposite somewhere else.”
Because the incoming freshmen are part of the majority party, Martinez Fischer says, there should be even more pressure on them to advance the Latino agenda and deliver results.
“I expect them to stand up and represent our folks inside the caucus just like they do in their party,” he says.
Martinez Fischer says he supports the recent creation of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas PAC, whose mission, he says, is similar to that of MALC when it officially formed in 1973: to make sure Latino voices are heard by the party’s leadership.
“MALC came together because the Latino Democrats didn’t feel comfortable in the larger Democratic Party,” he says.
The PAC's spokesman, Trey Newton, denies that the PAC’s existence was the result of Latino Republicans needing to separate themselves from their party. Instead, he maintains, it's an outreach effort to educate Latinos about GOP values.
“Republican values are the same as Hispanic values," he says. "Traditionally, there has not been a group that has reached out to Hispanics from the Republican side. I don’t think it’s quite the same as MALC, where the Democrats might have felt left out.”
Though MALC will lose 12 of its current members next year, including three-fifths of its executive committee, some will be replaced by Hispanic Democrats. State Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, lost to Naomi Gonzalez. Tara Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, was beaten by Kingsville's J.M. Lozano. And Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, who chose not to seek reelection following his indictment for failing to properly disclose income, will be replaced by Palmview attorney Sergio Muñoz Jr. All three freshmen are expected to join the caucus, Martinez Fischer says.
MALC also lost non-Latino Democratic members this cycle who, per the caucus's bylaws, had been allowed petition for membership: Waco's Jim Dunnam, Terri Hodge of Dallas (who was trounced in the Democratic primary) and Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs.
Rose, however, won't necessarily be missed. During his unsuccessful re-election campaign, he aired a commercial that contained what some Democrats considered divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric. “We just don’t have any tolerance for those who want to play political games or use immigration as wedge to advance some partisan agenda,” Martinez Fischer says. “Had he won the election, Patrick Rose would have learned first hand what it means to kick Latinos down the road like they're some sort of aluminum can.”