How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Republicans launch initiative courting Latinos in California and other key states

RNC Hispanic engagement

Josie Huang/KPCC

The Republican National Committee has appointed Francis Barraza as its new California Hispanic state director.

National Republican officials are wooing Latinos in California by hiring a first-ever Hispanic state director to shore up the GOP presence beyond the temporary campaign offices that pop up during election season.

"The Republican National Committee has not made this commitment before where we are literally hiring people year-round and permanently," said Jennifer Sevilla Corn, a RNC deputy political director. 

The RNC launched its initiative during a Thursday luncheon in Santa Ana, where new state director Francis Barraza introduced herself in brief comments to Republican Latino leaders from across Southern California. Many recognized her from her work as executive director at the Republican Party of San Diego. 

Barraza, who declined an interview, will oversee 11 "Hispanic engagement" staffers in communities where there is a high concentration of Latino voters and competitive political contests, according to the RNC.

The project is part of a $10 million, multi-state effort by the RNC to bounce back from the landslide vote Latinos gave President Obama in his 2012 re-election bid. Only 27 percent of Latinos voted for GOP challenger Mitt Romney, whose support of "self-deportation" continues to haunt Republican leaders today.

Polls continue to show a majority of Latinos lean Democratic and are turned off by Republican stances on immigration and health care.

"It's really clear that the Republican party has both a serious brand problem and a serious set of issue problems with the Hispanic population," said Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit research group in Washington.

In a survey the institute released late last month, respondents favored a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

For Republicans, "this is a big problem given that immigration reform has passed in the Senate, stalled in the House and largely stalled because of Republican leadership not taking action on the bill," Jones said.

But RNC officials counter that Obama broke a campaign pledge to push a comprehensive immigration bill through during his first year in office, and also has overseen record levels of deportation during his presidency.

Corn said field representatives and volunteers will fan out across California neighborhoods getting out the word about how Democrats have failed the Hispanic community, while  stressing the GOP will improve the economy with as little government involvement as possible.

"They are going into the community, making sure we're showing up at all the community events, naturalization ceremonies, talking to the Hispanic business leaders, Hispanic churches," Corn said.

A network of volunteers will be built through the help of a state advisory council. Hawthorne City Councilman Alex Vargas, who's been appointed the council's Los Angeles County Chair, said he will not only tap Republicans.

"There's a lot of people who are interested and a lot of independents who are thinking about becoming Republicans," Garza said. "I think if we start going forward with this effort, I think you'll see a lot of people coming forward and extending their support."

Other named to the council are:

  • Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, State Chair
  • Assemblyman Eric Linder, Riverside County Chair
  • Ron Garcia, Orange County Chair
  • Delores Chavez, San Diego County Chair
  • Errol Valladares Los Angeles County Chair
  • Michelle Martinez, Pasadena City Chair
  • Alex Galicia, Chula Vista City Chair
  • Councilwoman Lupe Ramos Watson, Indio City Chair

The RNC said it's setting up similar operations in Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia and plans to expand to 10 other states in the coming months.

RNC spokeswoman Izzy Santa said the RNC is also targeting outreach efforts to other minority groups such as African-Americans and Asian Americans.

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