Latino Democrat leaders across the nation seem to have enlisted in the organized Democrat crusade against President George W. Bush's Latino judicial appointee, former Bush (41) and Clinton Assistant Solicitor General of the United States, Miguel Estrada. Unabashed by what could be interpreted as political cannibalism, Latino Democrat legislators have joined in the vicious tirades against Estrada, named by the President to the prestigious Circuit Court for the District of Columbia.
The ideological enemies of Estrada, typified by the very liberal "People For the American Way" and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (its name now sanitized into "NARAL Pro-Choice America"), have led the way to the historical filibuster ongoing in the U.S. Senate, with Democrat Senators Hilary Clinton, Charles Schumer, Patrick Leahy and Teddy Kennedy carrying the forward-most spears.
Undeterred by a lack of senatorial voting credentials, Latino Democrat Congressmen Charles Gonzalez and Silvestre Reyes of Texas convinced their California and other colleagues on the Republican-excluding Congressional Hispanic Caucus to issue an anti-Estrada declaration last September. It was forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it was enthusiastically snapped up and exploited by non-Hispanic Senatorial stalwarts like then Leader Tom Daschle and perennial Latino panderer Ted Kennedy, as they began their "hearings" on Miguel Estrada.
Also aiding and abetting the seemingly pre-ordained and ideological lynching of the brilliant and magnificently qualified Latino lawyer were MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund) and the SVREP (Southwest Voters Registration & Education Project). Both Latino groups are well known in California and purportedly are non-political and non-profit organizations who tout themselves as engaged in noble causes as they aggressively seek donations from corporations and generous donors like the Ford Foundation. But now they are in apparent lock-step with the anti-Bush Democrats.
Some of the egregious examples of these Latinos eating their own include: MALDEF President Antonia Hernandez, who in the L.A. Times calls Estrada "an unqualified Latino", goes on, "Estrada is an ideologue who hides his views and who is so lacking in experience, we have little choice but to oppose the nomination." More cannibalistic is another Latino lawyer, Marisa Demeo, MALDEF's Washington head, who stated just a tad excessively, "the American dreams of the majority of Hispanics living in this country will come to an end through his future legal decisions."
Last week, Democrat Xavier Becerra, eastern Los Angeles Congressman, kissed off Mr. Estrada by calling him, in La Opinion, LA's Spanish language paper, "an empty glass, a blank sheet of paper". Newly anointed by California's Nancy Pelosi to be the highest ranking Latino in the House of Representatives, non-Californian Robert Menendez (NJ) argued strangely for his opposition to Honduran-born immigrant Estrada. Perhaps estranging his Central American voters for good, he intoned, "Being Hispanic for us means much more than having a surname; it means having some relationship with the reality of what it is to live in this country as a Hispanic American." (Mr. Estrada has lived in the U.S. for 24 years, immigrating at 17.)
Not to be outdone by Cuban-origin Menendez, Angelo Falcon, an official of the New York based Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), railed about the "Latino Horatio Alger story that's been concocted" about Estrada's success and the "concocted, invented Latino imagery of Estrada's life." Inadvertently taking on the U.S. Census on what "Hispanics" are, Mr. Falcon went on, "It's not good enough to simply say that because of someone's genetics or surname that they should be considered Hispanic." Huh?
Meanwhile, Senator Leahy has been ousted as committee Chairman by the November 2002 elections and is now busily conspiring on the options of the filibuster outcome with the heart of the Senate's liberal wing. But there are winds of concern building up in Washington and questions are circulating among Democrat Party leaders about potential alienation of Hispanic voters in 2004 by the anti-Estrada effort. The anti-Bush zeal demonstrated by liberal Latino groups like MALDEF, PRLDEF and SVREP and their Congressional enablers may not be shared by moderate or independent voters...including Hispanics.
Now Mr. Bush has upped the ante. He has appointed Judge Ed Prado of Texas to the 5th District Court of Appeals in New Orleans and Judge Consuelo Maria Callahan of California to the notoriously liberal 9th District Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Even more disconcerting to Democrat 2004 campaign plotters, Superior Court Judge Carlos Bea of San Francisco is said to be in the clearance process for yet one more appointment to that occasional hotbed of judicial wierdness, the 9th District appeals court. He and Judge Callahan would join Latino Judges Ferdinand Fernandez (Bush 41 appointee) and Richard Paez (Clinton appointee) in the 9th District Court.
Given these new cards in the mix, will the true believers like MALDEF persist in taking the lead of Democrat Senators in continuing to bash otherwise qualified Latinos for some of the highest courts in the land....on flimsy but politically correct grounds for opposition? Will the Latino electorate sympathize with these flagrantly political moves and forego increasing the Latino presence at the highest levels of the American judiciary? Might the all-Democrat California Latino Caucus of the Assembly and State Senate take guidance from their Washington soul-mates and join the possibly unwise feeding frenzy, trashing professional Latinos whose only crime is not being liberal enough for them?
With a Democrat Governor facing recall; with a Latino community about to suffer horrendous reductions in state programs in health care, health insurance, child care, local government assistance, etc., it would seem prudent for Latino Democrats and their "patrones" to think of the political future. Usually, it is their very "Hispanic-ness" that has put them in office. Could Latinos of another political persuasion run for their "safe" seats or Republican candidates demonstrating sympathy for Latino interests challenge their "leadership" in the near future? Unsatisfied voters should always worry the pros.
The Democrat reaction to the naming of Miguel Estrada has started something. It could be a bellwether for a Latino escape from confinement within the Democrat "base," not just in California but other places where Latino voters swing.
Fernando Oaxaca writes for Hispanicvista.com and Latino.LA.com and is a long time community and political activist in Los Angeles. He is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org