January 26, 2011
New Hispanic Republican Group Could Have
Signficant Voice on Volatile Issues in House
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
The six new Hispanic Republicans in the Texas House have joined forces with the creation of a caucus in a move that's designed to broaden the perspective of the GOP supermajority on key issues that the lower chamber considers this year.
With almost 20 percent of the GOP's 101 House members eligible for membership as a result of their districts' demographics, the Hispanic Republican Conference appears to have the potential to play a significant role in shaping the agenda that conservatives hope to pass at the Capitol in 2011.
The Hispanic Republican Conference was conceived by State Rep. Aaron Peña, a South Texas lawmaker who served four terms as a Democrat before switching to the GOP late last year. Peña's colleagues agreed that he should serve as the caucus' first chairman as the only Hispanic House Republican who's not a freshmen legislator.
The group's charter members include first-term State Reps. Jose Aliseda of Beeville, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock, John Garza of San Antonio and Raul Torres of Corpus Christi. State Rep. Dee Margo of El Paso is a founding member of the new group as well as a freshman lawmaker whose grandfather was Hispanic.
Two House Republicans who are Anglo - State Reps. Tryon Lewis of Odessa and Connie Scott of Corpus Christi - have joined the HRC after qualifying for membership as legislators who represent districts where more than 40 percent of the residents were Hispanic when the 2000 Census was taken. State Rep. Dwayne Bohac of Houston is eligible to be a member of the caucus as well as a Republican lawmaker in a district with a population that was more than 40 percent Hispanic when it was drawn 10 years ago.
Ten more House Republicans - State Reps. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Dan Branch of Dallas, Tom Craddick of Midland, Drew Darby of San Angelo, John Frullo of Lubbock, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs, John Kuempel of Seguin, Ken Legler of Pasadena and Geanie Morrison of Victoria - have the option to sign up for the new Hispanic caucus as non-voting members as reprentatives from districts where at leasat 30 percent of the residents were Hispanic at the start of the last decade.
Several more GOP lawmakers could qualify for membership in the HRC after the 2010 Census figures are released in late February or early March.
The Hispanic Republican Conference, which held its first meeting this week, plans to meet again next week with Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott as the featured guest.
As one of the first orders of business for the new caucus, Pena gave his colleagues in the group a list of legislation that's been filed on illegal immigration and voter identification. Pena said the group's members plan to examine the bills in question before determining if the caucus will take positions on those issues and what they will be.
In a chamber that had no Hispanic Republican members in 2009 and only one in the two previous regular sessions, the HRC hopes to enlighten their GOP colleagues on issues that are high priorities for Hispanic constituents.
Immigration and voter ID have been the most controversial topics in parts of the state with large Hispanic populations. The Hispanic Republican Conference's members - as a consequence - face a delicate balancing act on those hot button issues in a chamber where they appear to have overwhelming support among GOP members at the same time they're fiercely opposed by Democrats.
With the exception of Peña and Garza, the House Republicans who are Hispanic won seats in the lower chamber in November when they ousted incumbent Democrats who are Hispanic as well. Scott claimed a House seat when she unseated a Hispanic Democrat who was seeking re-election last year as well.
Peña ran unopposed as a Democrat in a winning re-election bid last fall. After emerging from the general election with 99 House seats, Republicans gained their first supermajority in the chamber when State Rep. Allan Ritter of Nederland and Peña left the Democratic Party and joined the GOP amid high-level fanfare in December.
Garza is the only Hispanic Republican House member who captured a seat in the lower chamber in 2010 by defeating a Democratic incumbent who's Anglo. Twenty-five current House Democrats - or 51 percent of the minority party's members in the Capitol's west wing - are Hispanic.
The original slate of officers for the new Hispanic Republican caucus includes Aliseda as first vice-chairman, Margo as vice-chairman of administration, Torres as vice-chairman for financial affairs, Gonzales as vice-chairman for legislative issues and Garza as vice-chairman for membership.
This article appeared on January 26 on Capitol Inside. Courtesy of Mike Hailey.