A group of young Republicans, including Jeb Bush Jr., is trying to put GOP leaders in better touch with Hispanic voters. Published 6/8/2011 in Florida Trend by Amy Keller
» John Ellis Bush Jr., 27 TITLE: Chairman, Florida Hispanic Outreach FAMILY: Wife, Sandra Algudady; father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush OCCUPATION: COO, Jeb Bush & Associates, which provides business-consulting services. “Dad’s Jeb Bush, and I’m the associate,” says the younger Bush, who is also president of Bush Realty, which specializes mostly in commercial real estate. ROOTS: “My mom is Mexican. I don’t necessarily consider myself Mexican or Hispanic or Latino, rather just American, so maybe that’s just a younger approach. I don’t know.” POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS: “I’m certainly one to move forward with public service, which I feel that SunPAC is doing. I also do a lot of work with St. Jude Children’s Hospital. So as long as I’m involved with things like this, I’ll be happy. Elected office, I don’t know. You never know. Volunteerism is the bottom line, and that’s what’s important. I certainly want to do that and will continue to do that.”
David Cardenas, 26 TITLE: Director/founding member, Florida Hispanic Outreach FAMILY: Wife, Caroline Rickert Cardenas OCCUPATION: Vice president, Cardenas Group; director, Cardenas Partners, his father’s government-consulting firm ROOTS: His father, Al Cardenas, emigrated to the United States in 1960 at age 12 when his parents fled Fidel Castro’s regime. Al Cardenas became a lifelong supporter of conservative causes, working on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, becoming chairman of the Florida Republican Party and most recently taking the helm of the American Conservative Union. MAKING INROADS: The Sunshine State is now home to growing numbers of Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, and the GOP needs to make inroads with those voters now, Cardenas says. “A huge segment of that Puerto Rican population is in that Tampa-Orlando area, which, as you know, is one of the more competitive areas in Florida and is key to winning elections in the future.”
Underwhelmed by outreach efforts orchestrated by former Gov. Charlie Crist and ousted Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, a group of young, prominent south Floridians is mounting its own effort to woo Latinos to the GOP in 2012.
Among the founders of the Miami-based organization — Florida Hispanic Outreach, also known as SunPAC — are Jeb Bush Jr. and David Cardenas, son of former state GOP Chairman Al Cardenas. They have two main goals: To promote conservative values in the Hispanic community and to help elected officials “tailor their message to start attracting Hispanics/Latinos into the party.”
Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority in Florida and nationally, according to the latest Census figures. While non-Hispanic populations in the U.S. grew 5% from 2000 to 2010, the U.S. Hispanic population jumped 43%. In Florida, the Hispanic population soared 57% over the past decade, from around 2.7 million to more than 4.2 million.
The demographics make Hispanics an increasingly powerful voting bloc. But anti-immigration broadsides by hard-line conservatives have alienated many Hispanics who might otherwise be attracted to the GOP’s conservative outlook.
Bush Jr. says he believes Republicans can repair that fractured relationship if they moderate their tone when talking about immigration. The focus, he says, needs to be on “how we’re going to use immigration to help our economy, how we’re going to use immigration to start expanding our tax base and start paying off our debts.”
Lawmakers in Tallahassee recently backed away from passing an Arizona-style immigration bill after it sparked an outcry from the Hispanic community and Florida business groups.
Florida, says Bush Jr., “has a different situation than Arizona and therefore requires a different set of solutions. Arizona has more of a serious security issue and that’s a federal issue and people need to start holding their federal government accountable.”
Aside from immigration, Bush says Republican stances on the economy, education and free trade generally resonate well with Hispanic voters, and his group plans to emphasize those issues around the state. “The thing that kills me, just wandering around the Hispanic community, (is that) most Hispanics — the majority — are conservatives. They just don’t know it,” says Bush.