Can a Republican preaching free market economics win in a district that is heavily Democratic and Hispanic? How about if he stresses family values and faith? The short answer seems to be: “Yes, but it’s not easy.” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, in fact, is said to be cautiously optimistic about the future for his party after examining the outcome of two House races in 2012: David Valadao’s in California’s 21st and Steve Pearce’s in New Mexico’s 2nd.
Interviews with both lawmakers reveal a common thread: You need to have more than a casual acquaintance with the Hispanic community and you have to go beyond the GOP talking points when discussing issues.
Take the case of Valadao, representing the Golden State’s Central Valley. In his first run for the House last year, Valadao handily defeated a prominent Hispanic Democrat, John Hernandez, 58 to 42 percent, in a district where Democrats out number Republicans by 15 points (47% to 32%) and Hispanics make up more than 50% of the registered voters.
A dairy farmer and former state legislator (and the son of Portuguese immigrants himself), Valadao told us what gives him credibility are his family’s deep roots in the area and his constant face-to-face meetings with the Hispanic community. (His position on immigration is low-key: he wants to fix a system he says is “broken,” making it easier for legal immigrants
to get work permits and unite with their families.)
But his major pitch to Hispanics on economics is solidly conservative. Valadao focuses on job growth, low taxes, energy development, reducing expensive green energy mandates, ending subsidies for corn-based ethanol, lowering the jobs impact of the Endangered Species Act, etc. –everything that should make a Tea Party enthusiast jump for joy.
Businesses, big and small, are being hurt by various governmental actions, he says, but their welfare is not his central message. What he tells constituents is that the policies harming business are raising their electric bills, increasing dinner table costs and wasting their taxes. “You just can’t say it’s bad for business,” he allows. “You have to demonstrate how these policies are affecting the individual and his family. I always bring it back to that.”
Even Democrats in his district understand that oil drilling, which he champions (with sound environmental safeguards), “means cheaper energy and lots of jobs, It’s not a hard sell here,” he tells us. That’s why they cheered when he took on a state appointed official, no longer in that post, who was reluctant to issue drilling permits. The change, he says, has been positive.
His effort to soften the impact of “green energy” mandates won him fans as well. California requires that one-third of the energy consumed must come from “renewables,” such as solar and wind power, but these mandates, says Valadao, “have increased energy costs 40%” in parts of his district and “even as high as 70% in places like Los Angeles.” Valadao has not only sharply criticized the mandates, but, when an assemblyman , he pushed through the legislature a measure that would allow hydroelectric power to be included in these mandated renewables. “The cost is just a fraction of solar and wind,” he tells us. If renewables are going to be required, he argues, why shouldn’t they be a low-cost item which benefits the consumer?
This 36-year-old first generation American is relentlessly working to improve the conditions of this major agricultural district, which, he boasts, is the “largest dairy district in the country. We have more cows here than anywhere else. Some 300 different crops are also grown, including corn.” But he adamantly opposes subsidies for corn used in ethanol production.
“Last time I checked,” he told me, “everyone of my constituents eats. And when you take 40 percent of the corn in the country and you burn it in fuel tanks, as the federal formula required last year, that’s raising everyone’s food costs. Folks are not only being hurt by the taxes they pay for the subsidy but by the higher prices they pay for food. I introduced a measure in the legislature to get rid of state funded corn ethanol projects It passed, and I made people realize I was doing these things for them.”
Valadao’s up-front yet winning conservative message seems almost tepid compared to New Mexico’s Steve Pearce, a hero of Eric Erickson’s hardline RedState, which ranks Pearce as one of the most conservative lawmakers in Congress. A 66 year-old Anglo and former air force pilot, Pearce is an across-the-board right winger who takes his views directly to the Hispanics in his district. He’s against tax hikes, ObamaCare, same-sex marriage and abortion. And he doesn’t believe in amnesty for illegals.Yet he wins by landslide margins. In 2010, a big Republican year, he won 55 percent to 46 percent. Just two years later, with the momentum shifting to Obama and the Democrats, Pearce did even better–walloping his opponent 59 percent to 41 percent.
Rose Garcia is a lifelong Democrat who voted for President Obama last year, but she’s also a big supporter of Pearce. She heard him tell an Hispanic gathering that a path to citizenship for illegals begins with their going home and then getting “in line to apply like everyone else.” She told the Wall Street Journal she disagreed with Pearce on this and other issues, but that his message on self-reliance resonated strongly with her. She’s also impressed by his constant attention to his constituents, including showing up unexpectedly to help eight Latino families move into new homes purchased with the aid of Ms. Garcia’s nonprofit housing organization.
Pearce tells Human Events that he wins through a combination of factors, including his continuing interaction with the Hispanic community and his views on business and job creation, formed in part by degrees in economics and his past ownership of Lea Fishing Tools, an oilfield services firm. But he’s also big on stressing traditional values, which many Republicans avoid like the plague. “I talk about values a lot, including families, faith and freedom,” he tells us. “I’m also for traditional marriage. People can live however they like, but I don’t want them to redefine marriage.” He believes these issues, including his pro-life position and his stance against the government’s creeping infringement on religious liberties, help with large numbers of Hispanics, most of them Catholic. “At the end of the day I get about 25% of the Democratic vote and I couldn’t have won without it.”
Is he as direct with his economic pitch? “I am,” he tells me. “A couple of years ago I was in southern Dona Ana county, just north of the border. It’s very poor, very Hispanic–sixty per cent or so–and I had to have an interpreter at a town hall meeting. And I was saying that the best way to help the economy is not to levy more taxes or burdensome regulations, as we are doing now. I explained in some detail that taxing the rich wasn’t the path to prosperity either and that, in fact, the Buffet tax on millionaires and the $60- billion a year tax hike that Obama wanted and Congress passed wouldn’t make a significant dent in our trillion dollar deficits. Those policies have been chasing corporations away and shutting down jobs. The Environmental Protection Agency, I pointed out, has embraced regulations that are now moving Navajo Indians making $60,000 a year in the coal industry back to their reservations.”
Pearce stressed that policies that grow jobs in the private sector are the answer to most of our problems, “since spending on the unemployed goes down, and the new hires put taxes into the Treasury. They were nodding in agreement and were with me. By the end of the session, it was clear we had won the day, significantly.”
Pearce recalled he had a similar experience before LULAC, a very left-leaning Hispanic group. And after his talk a guy came up to him and said: ” ‘As you can see, I’m an Hispanic. I’m a liberal and am a professor at New Mexico State, but I’ve never heard the conservative message articulated that way. You may be a conservative, but you made me stop and think. You’ve got good points that I didn’t have the answers to.”
Typically, Pearce went on, “our side has talking points but they don’t work very well at town hall meetings because you can’t use them and respond to the ebb and flow of the conversation. I know economics pretty well, majored in it in college. I’ve lived my life in business and know how to use numbers and feel comfortable explaining these issues. In Dona Ana, he said, “they thought my views made sense and said so, asking, “How come we don’t hear this on the evening news?”
Pearce unveiled another arrow in his political quiver. He has helped spark street protests against government agencies whose regulations have endangered homes in the area and were an impediment to job creation. He also stood with Catholics who insist the Obama Administration is curbing their religious freedoms. “I tell them,” he says, “that you can’t wait for Washington to act. We can’t solve your problems there. You can do many things in your community to improve health care, housing and employment.. And you should march in the streets to protest bad governmental policies.”
He then concluded: “I think my strong support of these activities helped me win by a much bigger margin in 2012.”