A Mini-Interview With Bettina Inclan On Reaching Out To Hispanics

Yesterday, I did a short interview via phone with Bettina Inclan. Bettina is the former Executive Director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly and is currently the Communications Director for Rep. Thad McCotter (R-MI), Chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee.

We discussed how the Republican Party can do a better job of reaching out to Hispanic Americans and an edited transcript of our conversation follows.


Bettina Inclan The Hispanic vote is roughly what, 14% of the population, and in the last election it went 70/30 for the Democrats? Correct?

Yes. There are different numbers out there, but that’s about it…it’s a significant drop from what the President got in his last election cycle. Some people think it’s high as 44%.

But, it’s probably more like 38%-39%. That’s the election where the exit polling data was off. Correct?

I think I was reading an article today that had it at 40% and another that had it at 44%. So, they said it’s around 40% that the President got.

Right. Now, if you believe some people, Hispanics are voting almost entirely based on whether or not we’ll let in an almost unlimited number of illegal aliens. You think that’s true?

I think it’s completely false. I think Hispanics are a very diverse group. You can’t say that they’re monolithic on any issue though they have a lot of cultural things that put them in line with the Republican party. I think most Hispanics understand the need for law and order, but also want some compassion.

I think the immigration debate is not so much about policy as it is about rhetoric. You can see fine examples of that from Senator Kyl in Arizona. He was strong on immigration and still had a very high percentage of Hispanics in Arizona voting for him (in 2006) because he understands that you can talk about the need for immigration reform without blaming all the problems of the country on Mexican-Americans or Hispanics.

…Well, there seems to be a rough consensus developing on the right that we need to take a security first approach on illegal immigration. But, is there a particular way that conservatives should talk about illegal immigration to make sure that they don’t put off Hispanics?

I think that people should keep it simply by talking about the need to secure our nation and the importance of making sure that we know who’s in the country for the benefit of everyone without saying, “There’s a mass influx of immigrants coming into our country and they’re going to take over!” There’s a clear line that I don’t think you have to cross over.

We can talk about, “We need to secure our country, we need to know who’s coming into this nation because we live in a different world after 9/11.” …Mexico itself has very strong rules on coming in and out of that country. I think people understand that.

It’s when people try to play a lot of the liberal routines of (drumming up) emotion and saying things like, “These people are invading our country. They’re going to take over. There’s not going to be any more traditional America!” (that we get in trouble)…

What issues, aside from illegal immigration, do you think particularly resonate in the Hispanic community?

I think that Hispanics aren’t single issue voters and I don’t think that there are going to be very many Hispanics that vote (solely) on illegal immigration or immigration in general.

…In the last election cycle, I think immigration hurt Hispanic numbers (for the GOP), but…issues that are important to them are the war in Iraq, healthcare, employment, education reform — all those things are incredibly important.

…Hispanics that are registering now may not be registering for the Republican Party, but they’re not registering for the Democratic Party (either). There’s a huge influx of independent voters that are Hispanic. So, I think that says a lot. The Democrats aren’t winning Hispanics (and) the Republicans aren’t winning them either. I think it’s a huge battleground and we have the opportunity to sell the Republican message to Hispanics.

(A lot of Hispanic immigrants) left their country because there was corruption or because of leftist dictatorships and they came here for opportunity. The Republican message is that of opportunity — opportunity for small business, opportunity for education, opportunity for a better life. That’s the message of the Republican Party and it resonates with Hispanics.

Should the GOP do Spanish language debates and commercials?

…With Hispanics, there are three basic groups. There are the recent immigrants. (Next are) the first or second generation — like my mom — she came here when she was young, from Cuba; she lived here her entire life. I am second generation. My dad’s Mexican and my mom’s Cuban and I grew up in the United States. Then there’s 3rd, 4th, and up generations.

These three groups are very different and if you’re trying to appeal to recent immigrants, who have somewhat of a higher percentage with the Democratic Party — sometimes they’ll say silly things like — I have heard this story (more than) a few times: they are excited to come to the United States and they register for a party and they see Democrats…and they say, “I live in a democracy, so I am going to vote Democrat.” It’s just that they’re getting educated on a lot of things. For those people, for recent immigrants, Spanish radio is a great way for outreach.

With the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, they don’t always do everything in Spanish, because 99% of Hispanics who are registered voters are completely fluent in English. There’s a small percentage that because of age, different loopholes, they’re 90 and they just became residents or whatever — (and they can’t speak English).

When you see people doing Spanish ads, it’s not so much because Spanish is the only way of communicating, it’s more of an outreach thing. (They’re saying) “I care about you and I care about your community.” I think it’s always a good idea when you can do something to tell people that, “I care about you and your community.”

I don’t think (candidates) have to bend over backwards. President Bush does not speak Spanish. He speaks a few words and tries as much as he can to communicate, but…it’s more of the effort in trying. It would be great if we could have a Spanish debate, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen. But, we can try to have a debate with minority journalists and talk about issues that are important to the minority community — not just Hispanics, but other minorities here in the United States.

Bettina, I really appreciate it. Thank you very much!

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