Hispanic business owners discuss election results, GOP outreach


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on November 29, 2012 at 7:53 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 29 at 8:01 PM

AUSTIN -- At La Placita Supermercado in Pflugerville, the shelves are stocked with laser precision. Fresh vegetatables are laid out in careful rows and owner Tom Ramsey chats in Spanish with happy employees.

In the meantime, another discussion is taking place in the nation's capital and in party caucuses around the country. After 71 percent of Hispanic voters helped elect President Barack Obama to a second term, Republican leaders are trying to figure out what happened.

"Latinos seem to be the ones that keep getting this bad rap," said Ramsey, who turned what was a small catering business in 1996 to what is today a prosperous business, providing service and support to a fleet of some sixty catering trucks leased by independent family operators.

A small business owner, entrepreneur and Hispanic community leader, Ramsey says part of the problem has been the dialogue.

"There's no such thing as 'all Hispanics are Democrat and lazy and trying to beat the system.' I think that's the worst picture I see out there," said Ramsey. "Generally, Latinos are the hardest working individuals that I see out there as a culture."

This week, retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), along with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. John McCain (R-Z) filed the "ACHIEVE Act," which would grant legal status for some children brought to the U.S. illegally.

The bill has been portrayed as a GOP alternative to the "DREAM Act" and although its without the path to citizenship laid out in the Democrats' bill, it is nevertheless part of an effort by some Republicans to repair the party's relationship with Hispanic voters.

"We know that there are children in our country who have been brought here illegally by their parents, and we think the best step that we can take to address an issue that is very timely is to give a legal status that would be earned," Sen. Hutchison told media.

Texas is in a unique position. While the Republican-led legislature has pursued strict immigration bills to the dismay of many Hispanic voters, the state party this year endorsed a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants dubbed "The Texas Solution," and has aggressively promoted conservative Hispanic lawmakers such as U.S. Sen.-elect Ted Cruz and potential statewide candidate George P. Bush.

With the growing size and potential political influence of the Hispanic community both statewide and nationally, both parties have focused much of their efforts to win over Hispanic voters on the issue of immigration.

While it's an issue that hits close to home for many, Hispanic community leaders in Austin have long pointed out that Hispanic citizens by and large are by no means single issue voters.

"The business community is starting to recognize that public education is an economic development issue and it's always been a big issue in the Hispanic community," said business owner and activist Celia Israel. "We are also even more of a force when it comes to the economic power that we have. That economic power is vibrant, it's strong and it's getting stronger."

Despite the signs of renewed interest from some national Republican leaders in finding ways to soften the dialogue and re-examine some of the policy positions surrounding immigration reform, Israel is skeptical whether leaders in the Texas legislature are willing to do the same. Israel points to Cruz's hard-line stance on immigration and poor performance among Hispanic voters as a sign conservatives in Texas are on a trajectory leading further away from political middle ground.

"I don't know that we've learned that lesson. I think what we're seeing at the national level is the Republican Party trying to grapple with lessons learned," said Israel. "We are bracing ourselves for what's going to happen at the State Capitol. We can't forget that two years ago they were passing a myriad of very hateful and divisive bills just on the issue of immigration alone."

"The red and the blue need to just, in my opinion, need to go away," said Ramsey, who spent Thursday preparing to deliver thousands of meals personally donated as part of Celebration of Love, an annual Christmas event supporting troops at Fort Hood and needy families in the Central Texas area. "I think that what we need to do is work as individuals for the common good of our country to move forward so we don't have this situation that we're under. It seems like we have to pick a line."

As both sides take stock of the nation's evolving Hispanic community and prepare for a political course of action, it's clear there's still plenty of work to do.