Latino Lite 

Rick Perry can be called many things, but “Latino” certainly isn’t one of them.

Perhaps he’s been hanging around those border sheriffs featured in his campaign commercials a little too much or has too dark a tan, because Latino Leaders magazine named him one of its Top 101 Most Influential Leaders in its December 2006-January 2007 issue.

Yes, Rick Perry is right up there with Shakira, Carlos Santana, San Antonio’s Henry Cisneros, and comic George Lopez. But before any of you “real” Latinos out there get too upset, one
didn’t actually have to be Latino to be named to the list by the Plano-based publication; you just had to be “influential” in the “Latino Community.”

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It’s still Rick Perry from the block.

In Governor Perry’s case, this consists of shooting a campaign commercial while wearing cowboy boots and riding in a helicopter over the Mexican border with some people who look like they might know how to speak Spanish.

According to the magazine, Perry was selected because he “regularly reaches out to Hispanic voters” and “has the ability to influence the lives of millions of Hispanics, many of whom live in terrible conditions in ‘colonias’ along the U.S.-Mexican border.” That, and he has an “inclusive cultural approach to politics.”

Tell that to the people who had to vote on El dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe.

Latino Leaders may believe Perry is building bridges with Texas Latinos, but scheduling a congressional election on a major Catholic-Latino holiday doesn’t exactly demonstrate cultural sensitivity.

Latino voters don’t think much of Governor Perry. Exit polling by the San Antonio-based William C. Velásquez Institute indicated that only 13.9 percent of Hispanics supported governor Perry in last November’s election. A Dallas Morning News poll released days before the election showed Perry’s support at a paltry 37 percent among Latino voters.

It is impossible to parse Perry’s relationship with Texas’s Latino community without looking at his border policy, which includes more flip-flops than the discount rack at Shoe Carnival. Throwing out red meat to the salivating masses at the Republican Party of Texas convention in June of last year, Perry said, “`T`here is no such thing as homeland security without border security. That entire border with Mexico is viewed as a prime point of entry by terrorist organizations, gangs, and drug traffickers.” He shamelessly pandered to the anti-immigrant, border-security fears that were a major building block of the GOP’s 2006 election rhetoric, and all but specifically advocated a border wall.

After the campaign, Perry changed his tune. He called a border wall “preposterous” and criticized measures such as those that would cut off public programs for illegal immigrants, saying that they needed to be ditched in favor of “real solutions.”

This about-face has ruffled the feathers of some of Perry’s core base (though you may be hard-pressed to find a lawmaker who will say so). Following Perry’s criticism of the border wall, one conservative pundit suggested that Perry had “lied and stabbed conservatives in the back.”

While Perry has tempered his immigration rhetoric, the groups that mix the Kool-Aid regularly consumed by his base have not. “`T`he acknowledgement that Texas invites illegal immigration … is the basis upon which effective immigration reform should be based,” states a recent report by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. Although a fairly large chasm exists between the ideas and desires of groups like the TCCRI and Perry’s alleged kinder, gentler approach to immigration, the fact remains that the governor is no friend to Latinos. From disenfranchising Latinos by rubber-stamping mid-decade redistricting to advocating budget cuts that knocked children of all races off government-subsidized health insurance, it’s difficult to see how anyone could consider Perry an influential leader in the Latino community — unless that influence is negative. 



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