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Maldonado: GOP can’t just serve tacos and expect Latinos to sign up

March 13, 2010 |  4:51 pm

State Sen. Abel Maldonado, the moderate Santa Maria Republican running for lieutenant governor, opened his speech to party convention delegates Saturday afternoon by acknowledging the discomfort many of them have with him for supporting new taxes, among other votes he has taken. When he walked into the room, he said, a delegate greeted him by saying, "Hey Abel, I think you're with the wrong party."

"And I looked at him, and I said, 'I'm not with the wrong party, I'm with the right party. Let me tell you why.' "

Maldonado, who spoke after the room had somewhat emptied following a speech by Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, retold an oft-told story about his father's journey from Mexico to the United States in 1963, penniless, and his success as a farmer thereafter. He used that tale to convey that Republicans need to better engage Latinos, saying their desire to get ahead is a more natural fit with the GOP, yet Latinos flock to the Democrats.

When his father arrived, he said, he picked a job line over a welfare line; had he picked welfare, he would have become a Democrat, Maldonado said, and he picked up the lesson. Maldonado recalled being asked by another Latino why he was a Republican. "You want to be poor?" he said he responded. "The other folks keep you poor."

Maldonado faces the more conservative Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) in a Republican primary. It wasn't clear if he would win any votes by his suggestion that the party had not done enough to speak to and embrace Latinos, but he hammered that theme, handing out a card afterward that said, "GOP's Ojo (eye) on America …. 46 Million U.S. Latinos=The GOP's Future."

"They agree with us more than they agree with the Democrats," Maldonado told the delegates. "But we don't talk to them. Ronald Reagan, our great president, what did he say? 'Hispanics are Republicans. They just don't know it.' We can't put up a bumper sticker during an election that says 'Viva the candidate's last name' and expect that they're going to vote for us. It's not going to happen. We can't go out and have a fiesta and have tequila and mariachis and tacos and think they are going to register as Republicans. That's not going to happen."

--Michael Rothfeld in Santa Clara