In Washington, it is most difficult to obtain or discover any vignettes or indiscretions by Latinos because the vast majority simply do not hang out in the nation’s capital after hours or on weekends. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why only one Latino member of Congress is considered to be part of the Washington inner circle: Senator Bob Menendez. It helps explain while in the House, he moved rapidly to become Democrat deputy minority whip and then by the time the Dems regained the House in 2006, he was moving to the Senate.
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is highly regarded by the Washington power brokers and well prepared especially on economics. He sits on key Committees of the Senate: the Banking and the Budget Committees as well as Energy and the Foreign Relations Committees. Menendez is perceived as a mover and shaker on each one. Sadly, no other Latino (out of nearly thirty Congress members and Senators) is considered to be a real power figure. From his perch on Foreign Affairs in both the House and Senate, he always questioned the State Department’s poor employment record on Latinos. The key to his success is reading the legislation before him, mastering the subject matter, and surrounding himself with the most clever young minds to staff his office and committees. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus writ large (see Congressman Joe Baca for example) is viewed as parochial and leaves town at the first opportunity to seek comfort back home in the barrio precincts. This is great for constituencies, but it is not the most recommended way to move forward if you want to make a difference in Washington, D.C.
Speaking of insider games and access to power, many Washington insiders view the Latino constituency as growing in size impressively, but still the Hispanic community, as a whole, does not significantly contribute funding to political causes and charities like other ethnic groups do. Worse we Latinos do not vote at a level that moves the white establishment to feel the Latino time has come. The result is that we are not taken seriously, yet Latinos are at every awards’ dinners and gala receptions. The normal fare for the Hispanic political and bureaucratic denizens of Washington are heard to repeatedly state: we will overcome with our numbers. Fact is that only the Cuban Americans with their ‘exile’ mentality instead of the traditional immigrant mindset have been in the last 25 years the only Hispanic group to grab the white establishment ‘s attention in a notable way in both parties: they possessed a sizable voting block in one pivotal swing state (Florida) in Presidential elections (the sum of their principal political muscle). Hence, when the National Cuban-American Foundation emerged in the early ’80s with the late Jorge Mas Canosa as its head, this segment of the Latino community was heard and felt in Washington: not only as a voting block in swing state but they raised serious money for both political parties.
In 1992 and 1994, Mas Canosa supported Jesse Helms and raised money for him and also got behind Bill Clinton and tilted the state toward him in 1992 as well as Democrat Governor Chiles in Florida over Jeb Bush in 1994. Mas Canosa initially hired lawyers from the Israeli Lobby to help set up his foundation. He would teasingly say that he would be like the Jewish Lobby, but only inversely: the Jewish Lobby bought Democrats and rented Republicans. Mas Canosa would buy Republicans and rent Democrats. He was considered the only true Hispanic political power broker in the last forty years: he could deliver money and votes with perfect timing at the right place. After Mas Canosa’s death in the late 1990s, Jeb Bush and his Cuban crony Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balart successfully teamed up to destroy the Cuban American Foundation or at least divide it and render it largely impotent for its perfidious bipartisanship. With the exception of Mas Canosa, other Latino leaders largely have been elected politicians with great after-dinner grandiloquence, but they are not power brokers.
Congresswoman Hilda Solis is generally viewed as the sharpest Latina knife in the drawer in Washington. The Latino in Congress with the most powerful committee assignment is Silvestre Reyes, Chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, a most mysterious committee and riven with speculation of its stealth presence. Hence, Reyes’ committee is not a particularly suitable platform for the Latino groups’ attempts to grandstand the most recent Latino accomplishment or statistics demonstrating our “emerging power.” It can be demonstrated that Latinos make a difference. The Cuban Americans, despite the weakening of its main political vehicle, the Cuban American Foundation, consists of about 1.2 million people out of the over 45 million Latinos in the country. Cuban Americans count two US Senators (Menendez (D) and Martinez (R)) and four Congresspersons (Sires (D), Mario Diaz Balart (R), Lincoln Diaz Balart (R) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R). They have matched the Greek Americans for effective political efforts. They are about the same size in population as the Cubans and have had senators and congressmen plus two serious presidential candidates (Dukakis and Tsongas). Mexican Americans constitute about 65% of the Latinos in the country and have 17 congresspersons and one US Senator. Puerto Ricans have a total of three congresspersons. In the end, Washington is about becoming or placing your self or your person as a gatekeeper to policy decision-making especially in the economic regulatory sphere (and how it effects you constituency).
One goal in this Obama Administration is for the Latino community to have the first Hispanic named to the ultimate power entity (regulatory board) in the US: the Board of the Federal Reserve in Washington. The Mexican American, the biggest segment of the Latino population, should become more cohesive in order to attain maximum capability to manifest top cover for its appointees and recommended candidates for appointments. These Chicano congresspersons have shown consistently the inability to project real and sustained power in Washington. Simply the first thing is to master the establishment game being played out. The pool of Hispanic federal employees both career and politically appointed is below par in corresponding to the population nationally. The main reason: no top cover from the Congress or higher circles in any administration. I will comment more on this later. The figures for Hispanic federal employees are appalling.