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Florida defection costs GOP another Latino leader

May 14, 2013|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Then-incoming Republican National Committee Chairman Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla)., left, with outgoing Chairman Ken Mehlman.
Then-incoming Republican National Committee Chairman Sen. Mel Martinez… (Nick Wass / Associated Press…)

It seems that Republicans have long held out hope that Florida might be the state where the GOP could make inroads with Latino voters. However, any effort to woo Latinos was probably dealt a setback this week when Pablo Pantoja, the former GOP director of Latino outreach in Florida, announced he had changed party affiliation.

Pantoja explained his decision in a letter that was made public. In the missive, he refers to the “culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today.” He goes on to express concerns about the GOP’s reaction to a recent Heritage Foundation report on immigration that was coauthored by Jason Richwine, who has since resigned from the conservative think tank. Richwine recently came under fire for his 2009 dissertation that asserted Latino immigrants had lower IQs than white Americans. Pantoja writes that although some Republican leaders tried to distance themselves from the report, those efforts don’t “take away from the culture within the ranks of intolerance.”

Pantoja’s objections to the report and the party's reaction are understandable. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a few other Republican leaders denounced the report, but many in the party still use terms such as "anchor babies" to refer to the U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

Still, I don't think Pantoja's very public breakup with the GOP will carry much sway with Latinos. After all, Pantoja isn’t the first or the most prominent Latino to publicly disagree with the GOP's  stance on immigration.

In 2007, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) abruptly quit as general chairman of the Republican National Committee. At the time, Martinez expressed frustration with the tenor of the immigration debate taking place. The departure of the Cuban American senator was described, at that time, as a real blow to the GOP’s effort to woo Latino voters.


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