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The Latino vote is “up for grabs” in the American political arena, despite impressive gains by President Bush in the 2004 election. That was the consensus among panelists at the “Latino Leadership at a Crossroads” conference held Wednesday at the Kennedy School.
Republicans made tremendous inroads into the Latino community last fall, according to Raul Damas, associate director of the White House Office of Political Affairs. “And now we plan to spend the next eight to ten years to make sure the gains we have made are solidified,” he said.
Those efforts are hinged on persuading Latino voters that Republicans share their values, remarked Ruben Barrales, deputy assistant to President Bush. “We are appealing to the same values,” he remarked, pointing to issues like education reform. “I think that is resonating in the grassroots.”
The two Democrats on the panel — Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and political strategist Lorena Chambers — faulted their party for taking the Latino vote for granted in recent elections.
“My party still needs to wake up and I can’t tell if they are getting the message,” Molina said. “If they keep doing it, we will lose more or our Latino base.”
Chambers concurred, saying that the Democratic Party has been undermined by the “consultant class,” a reference to the elite group of outside advisors seemingly out of touch with minority concerns. But she also credited the party for making important gains among Latinos in Florida, which she said, “bodes very well for us.”
Moderator David Gergen, director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL) noted the growing importance of the Latino vote for both parties, calling it the “most important prize in American politics.”
Opening remarks were provided by David Carrasco, professor for the study of Latin America at Harvard, who said that the Latino community in American has reached a critical crossroads, and requires strong leadership. “We need intense reflection, critical reflection on what is good leadership,” he said, “in order to gain more seats at the tables of the American power structure.”
The conference was sponsored by CPL in collaboration with the Harvard Civil Rights Project, Harvard Interfaculty Committee for Latino Studies, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard Divinity School, Kennedy School Latino Caucus and Harvard Concilio Latino.
Photos: Doug Gavel