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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Latino Group Disgruntled by Snubs From Gore Campaign

A regional business association has seen several invitations declined, and it has concerns about the Democrats' platform. Plus, Bush jumped at the chance to address its members.

August 16, 2000|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Democratic Party, hosting its convention amid the greatest concentration of Latino businesses in the nation, has frustrated and alienated one of the largest associations of Latino entrepreneurs.

Officials of the Los Angeles-based Latin Business Assn., which represents thousands of the 440,000 Latino entrepreneurs in the Southland, say they feel snubbed by the Gore campaign while Republican rival George W. Bush has made persistent overtures to court their votes.

Al Gore has repeatedly declined invitations to address the nonpartisan group over the last 2 1/2 years, while Bush snatched the one opportunity offered to him, giving the keynote speech at the organization's expo last fall, LBA officials said. A variety of other candidates--most of them Democrats--have also courted the group.

The group's leaders add that the Democratic National Convention agenda inadequately addresses issues of concern to Latino entrepreneurs, despite the crucial role they play in driving the local economy, accusations the Gore campaign denies.

In contrast, the Republican convention in Philadelphia earlier this month highlighted the growing power of Latino business in speeches by former Latin Business Assn. Chairman Hector Barreto and Virginia businessman Raul Fernandez.

The frustration comes at a time when Latino votes--long locked up by Democrats--are increasingly up for grabs, particularly among a growing class of influential business owners. It also comes on the heels of disappointment and anger by minority entrepreneurs here who believe they have not received adequate contract opportunities during the convention.

"There are members who would like to see more of an interest on the part of the DNC in Latino business . . . but there seems to be a perception that it's not a critical piece to the campaign," said LBA Chairwoman Ruth Lopez Williams.

Lopez Williams said she continues to hold out hope that Gore will accept an invitation to address the group's expo next month. The campaign has already turned down the request twice.

Gore spokesman Jano Cabrera said Gore's record proves his commitment to Latino business. Last fall, Gore addressed the umbrella United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce but "is unable to accept every invitation," he said.

He cited Gore's support of small-business tax breaks and lending, empowerment zones and initiatives to invest in depressed urban areas as evidence of his commitment.

But the difference in approach by the Gore and Bush campaigns to the mounting power base of Latino entrepreneurs has nevertheless left a mark, and it is stinging this week as the Democrats host their convention in the Latino business heartland.

"Clearly the Bush campaign is moving aggressively and has been for well over a year to court the Latino business community," said attorney Richard Amador Jr., the LBA's expo chairman. "We've been . . . surprised by the lack of responsiveness from the Gore campaign."

Lopez Williams said she is also disappointed that the convention hasn't directly addressed issues of minority entrepreneurship. Cabrera countered that the convention lays out many Gore initiatives that are favorable to small businesses.

Gore risks alienating a growing class of influential voters that extends far beyond the LBA's membership.

A recent survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showed Gore leading Bush among Latino voters by nearly 2 to 1, 55% to 29%. But like all small-business owners, Latino entrepreneurs tend to vote more conservatively than Latinos overall. A survey of the LBA's membership last year showed a slight majority were considering voting for Bush.

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