By Griselda Nevarez, Voxxi
Latino conservatives are poised to play a prominent role in this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which is the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservative politicians and activists.
More than a dozen Latinos are scheduled to speak during the conference, which will run from March 14-16 in Washington, D.C. Among them are Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who will speak during the conference’s opening day, and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who will join a panel discussion on immigration that same day.
The biggest speaking role of the three-day conference will go to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). He will become the first Latino in CPAC’s 40-year history to deliver the keynote address.
Cruz, who is a Tea Party favorite, has only been in office for less than two months but has already made a name for himself. He has done so by fervently defending gun rights during a recent gun violence hearing and by being a tough critic of President Barack Obama’s cabinet nominees Chuck Hagel and John Kerry.
Hector Barreto, chairman of The Latino Coalition, called the role CPAC is giving Latinos this year “a very positive thing” and was also quick to point out that this is not necessarily new.
Barreto, who will lead a discussion at CPAC about why businesses are conservative, noted that Latinos have attended and spoken at the annual gathering in past years. He also mentioned that a Latino, Al Cardenas, heads the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes CPAC. Cardenas was born in Cuba in 1948 and moved to the United States with his parents in 1960.
CPAC seeks to expand Latino base, showcase diversity
CPAC comes on the heels of the November elections in which the Republican Party saw steep losses among Hispanics voters. Now, the GOP is struggling to attract this voting bloc, which is critical to the party’s electoral future.
Organizers with CPAC know this reality and plan to address the issue through a panel discussion dubbed “Expanding the Conservative Movement with the Hispanic Community.” Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, will lead the discussion.
Barreto said that, like Republicans, Latinos are conservative on many issues, including family, faith, freedom and fiscal responsibility. However, he said it’s “not enough” to tell Latinos that they share the same conservative values in order to persuade them to join the GOP.
“You have to reach out to people, you have to invite people and you have to remind them what those ideas are and what those values are,” he told VOXXI. “And that’s what I think is going to be happening at CPAC.”
Besides Hispanics, Cardenas said this year’s CPAC will highlight the young people, African Americans and women who are part of the conservative movement.
“We’re going to have the most diverse and, I think, representative view of America at this year’s CPAC,” Cardenas said during an interview with MSNBC.
“I think the whole theme is that the conservative movement needs to grow with the demographic reality of America, and we’re going to be painting that picture at CPAC,” he added.
CPAC to hold discussion on immigration
This year’s CPAC will also address one of the most pressing issues for Latinos: Immigration.
Five speakers, including Rep. Labrador, will share their thoughts about immigration policy initiatives through a panel discussion dubbed “Respecting Families and the Rule of Law: A Lasting Immigration Policy.”
“We are thrilled to welcome these leaders to the CPAC stage, as they discuss immigration policy reform and its impact on families and the rule of law,” Cardenas said in a statement. “I am excited to hear what will no doubt be a lively discussion about a very important policy challenge.”
Last year’s CPAC also hosted a discussion on immigration and titled it: “Immigration — High Fences, Wide Gates: States vs. the Feds, the Rule of Law & American Identity.” It featured hardliner Kris Kobach, who helped draft some of the nation’s toughest immigration laws and was an influential voice in the GOP’s immigration stance last year.
Barreto said he expects this year’s conference will consist of people who don’t support any type of immigration reform and others who want to find a solution and move on to other issues. He added that there are Republican leaders, including Rubio, who agree that “it’s time” to pass immigration reform.
“It’s no longer a question of if something gets done, it’s a matter of when, and hopefully it’s this year,” he told VOXXI.
Barreto said he supports an immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements, a temporary workers program and “a much quicker” path to citizenship for undocumented youth who entered the country as children.
“There is a window of opportunity to get this done,” he told VOXXI about immigration reform. “I think all of us — from both sides of the aisle — who want a solution need to work together to get it.”
This article was first published in Voxxi.
Griselda Nevárez is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington D.C.
[Photo by CPAC]