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Seneca’s take on Latino Leadership in Washington, D.C.

November 12th, 2008 · 9 Comments

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.

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Tags: Congressional Hispanic Caucus · Congressman Joe Baca · Jewish - Latino relations · Rep. Albio Sires · Rep. Hilda Solis · Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart · Rep. Silvestre Reyes · Sen. Mel Martinez · Sen. Robert Menendez · Seneca

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jammer // Nov 12, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    A few years ago thr LA Times did an interesting article on the millionaires in Orange County California. They listed 64, a large number for the time(early 90′s) and I am sure that number has grown. What impressed me about this article was two things. The lack of involvement and philanthropy by the group and individuals as a whole. Most were busy and occupied with their narrow money making interests. Few served on any boards or agencies, and only one or two were considered power brokers. The other notable thing was the lament from all of them that no one asked them for their money nor their time. Is it that we have been excluded for so long that it’s buried in our psychic.., that we are not wanted? For the sake of our community we have to shake this feeling and make ourselves invited and accepted even when we are not. As Latino’s, we have helped to build this country and helped a African American be elected as President of this great republic and we need to make our voices heard and accepted and demand that we be included.

  • 2 Mexitli // Nov 12, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    This articles slant is pretty obvious.

    I’ve never heard the 43rd District referred to as a barrio. I’d be willing to bet that whites are the majority in every city in the 43rd.

    Mexicans have never produced a presidential candidate. Greek Americans have produced two. Cuban Americans are equal to the Greeks, therefore, Cubans are better than Mexicans.

    “…the Hispanic community, as a whole, does not significantly contribute funding to political causes and charities like other ethnic groups do.”

    Source please.

    Also, what is an immigrant mentality? I’m not getting into that “my family has been here for 90 million years” line but is he calling us immigrants?

    Comparing Cuban Americans to Mexican Americans is a big boo boo, IMO.

    There are a lot of sweeping generalities in this article. But it is the premise of this article that is flawed. Cubans and Mexican-Americans have little in common. Most Cuban Americans are white people. Only 10% (if that) of Mexicans are white. And most that do have Spanish blood in them haven’t had a Spanish Ancestor in 100, 200-300 years or longer. And still most Mexicans have never had a European ancestor at all. Anyone can read more about this in the Mexican Census.

    Many Cuban Americans, from what I’ve seen, seem to resent the fact that Mexico trades with Cuba. And that spills over into the Cuban American and Mexican American communities.

    But anyway, I do not need a strong leader of figurehead at the top in Washington. I need low interest rates, low taxes and access to short term capital. Frankly, that old cliche “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” scares the bejezuz out of me.

    Look at Barack Obama, For example. People think they have overcome something now that he has become president elect. Newsflash: Obama will have to resign his seat in the senate when he takes office. Leaving ZERO African Americans in the senate. That one figurehead at the top gives a false sense of equality having been reached. It would be better to have more senators than just one figurehead. Actually, it would be better to have both more African Americans in both houses and an African American president.

    I honestly do not believe the race/ ethnicity or any other type of label really matters when it comes to the politicos in the U.S. Gov. So long as taxes and spending are low and we’re all kept safe so that we can go about our own business.

    “…Latinos are at every awards’ dinners and gala receptions.”

    Invite got lost in the mail, did it?

    Lastly, We Mexicans don’t overcome; we OVERWHELM.

    lulz

  • 3 webmaster // Nov 13, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Mexitli,

    Maybe you haven’t been to California’s 43 district, which includes South Ontario, Colton, parts of San Bernardino, etc. If some of those places aren’t barrios, please correct me.

    No single district is going to be entirely barrio or otherwise.

    Of course, Seneca’s post has generalizations. He works in Washington and has experienced how Latinos are viewed by many in the halls of power.

    I am not in D.C., but even here in CA, many people paint Latinos with a broad brush. I have heard some (usually WASPS) think that we are all beans from the same pot, including Cubans. Sure, the Miami Cubans are largely white and many came here with the resources to establish themselves, which is very different from the Mexican experience. Just as the Mexican-American experience is not entirely immigrant either — we know that.

    As for the part about Latinos at awards dinners and galas, maybe you don’t know much about NCLR’s Alma awards or the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Dinner (where Joe Baca makes his daughter sing). I’m sure if you contribute enough to either organization, the invite will arrive in your mailbox.

    I don’t see Mexicans (I think you mean Mexican-Americans or Chicanos) overwhelming the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, or even the White House. Maybe we clean those buildings after hours, but very few of us are walking around those halls in suits, carrying laptops, and blackberries.

  • 4 BettyM // Nov 13, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Wonderful reading – not only is the problem/s stated well but Seneca offers a solution!! Hope our Latino politicans are reading this!

  • 5 Michaelr // Nov 13, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Mexitli…

    Overwhelm them with our numbers? What use are numbers if you have no representation in the body politic? What an incredibly stupid thing to say. All Seneca is saying is what had been discussed in universities, think-tanks, and coffeehouses for the last twenty years; that the vast majority of Latino politicians don’t function very well as representatives for the Latino community. They seem to have another agenda…like enriching themselves. Is that too difficult for you to understand? If you read further, you will discover Seneca actually offers a solution. There is a reason why we as an ethnic community have been at the bottom of the food chain here in the United States. And this enrichment attitude is one big reason.

  • 6 Mexitli // Nov 16, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Ms. Webmistress,

    “Maybe you haven’t been to California’s 43 district…”

    I have, most my life, in fact.

    “If some of those places aren’t barrios, please correct me. ”

    Some of those places have barrios, or as I, an OG calls then, varrios. But look at the cities overall. Just because they have cholitos in them does not a barrio make. There are blacks there, too. Are these enclaves now ghettos?

    “Of course, Seneca’s post has generalizations. He works in Washington and has experienced how Latinos are viewed by many in the halls of power.”

    OK.

    “As for the part about Latinos at awards dinners and galas, maybe you don’t know much about NCLR’s Alma awards or the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Dinner (where Joe Baca makes his daughter sing). I’m sure if you contribute enough to either organization, the invite will arrive in your mailbox.”

    How much does the NAACP pay for their primetime airtime?

    And how much does ABC charge the ALMA Awards?

    And I do not get an invite, regardless of how much I donate. I am far too controversial. ;)

    “I don’t see Mexicans (I think you mean Mexican-Americans or Chicanos) overwhelming the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, or even the White House. Maybe we clean those buildings after hours, but very few of us are walking around those halls in suits, carrying laptops, and blackberries.”

    I agree, I do not see us either. Give us time.

    Maybe whites, blacks and others clean as well.

    “but very few of us are walking around those halls in suits, carrying laptops, and blackberries.”

    I know. This is not OUR COUNTRY. We’re just here. Like everyone else, to serve the European. Europeans started this country for them(selves).

    They let in immigrants to serve them.

    Anyway, please believe me when I say I was not launching a personal attack on Seneca or his take on things.

    Moreover, I was trying to convey or offer up explinations as to why IMO things are viewed his (and others) way.

    Respectfully,

    Mexitli

  • 7 Mexitli // Nov 16, 2008 at 2:40 am

    BTW.

    The NAACP gets FREE airtime. The ALMA Awards was paying 1 mil in 2004. Paul Rodriguez told me himself.

    I cannot be more specific than that.

  • 8 Mexitli // Nov 16, 2008 at 2:41 am

    “Overwhelm them with our numbers? What use are numbers if you have no representation in the body politic? What an incredibly stupid thing to say.”

    I was JOKING.

  • 9 resipsa // Mar 25, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Stating that “the Hispanic community, as a whole, does not significantly contribute funding to political causes” … like other ethnic groups do” depends on what the writer means by “significantly”. My research shows that in the 2008 presidential campaign, Spanish surname contributors gave:
    Obama: $6.8 million
    Hillary: $4.7 million
    McCain: $2.7 million
    Romney: $.5 million.

    Whether this is significant compared to other groups I don’t know. I do know that Spanish surname contributors in traditional Mexican American states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas overwhelmingly gave most of the campaign money mentioned above. Regrettably, Mexican Americans were not able to leverage their donations (and their overwhelming votes for Democratic candidates) to obtain a more visible presence in the Obama Administration.

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