The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong holds up the “Hook’em Horns” hand sign at a news conference in Austin Monday where he was introduced as the new football coach at the University of Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Charlie Strong shows the “Hook’em Horns” hand sign at a news conference in Austin Monday where he was introduced as the new football coach at the University of Texas. Strong becomes the first black coach of any Longhorns men’s team.(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

IT WAS NOT UNTIL well into my adult life that I came to understand that my beloved home of Texas may have been the Dixiest of all the Dixie states in the South.

In the 1860 Census, the last head count that included black people living in slavery in America and a year before the start of the Civil War, no state had a bigger number of slaves than Texas.

A century later, segregation and Jim Crow laws were as much a part of most of the Lone Star State as anywhere in the old Deep South, as the country moved into a less violent but equally important civil right war that ultimately would turn slavery on its head.

Most public schools were still segregated, as were for the most part almost all of the state’s colleges and universities that were not black schools, and nowhere was that most obvious than in collegiate athletics in Texas.

The late Southwest Conference, which included most of the large colleges in the state, had not a single black athlete on any major sports team.

As if to underscore that, in the 1957 and 1960 Cotton Bowl games, Syracuse’s All-America running backs Jim Brown and Ernie Davis reportedly received racial epithets from their opponents on all-white TCU and Texas teams respectively.

Even among the so-called educated class, race sometimes still existed as a joking matter.

In 1966, in a nationally televised season-opening game against Syracuse, the color barrier among Southwest Conference teams was finally broken when an African-American walk-on running back named John Westbrook entered the game in the second half with no announcement of the historic significance.

In the press box, however, in an unfortunate attempt at humor after Westbrook rushed for short gain, the public address announcer alerted members of the news media with this unfortunate comment:

“And that’s Baylor’s contribution to color television.”

But the color barrier fell – and nowhere was that crash felt as at the University of Texas, where eventually African American running backs Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams became the only two Longhorn players to win the Heisman Trophy.

It was a drastic contrast to 1969, when the Texas Longhorns of that season were the last all-white national championship team in college football.

“Forty years later,” says Dallas businessman Robert Pharr, my childhood friend and a University of Texas alumnus, “we have our first African American head football coach, and the fanfare is about his ability, not his skin color.”

This week, the University of Texas again took yet perhaps the most poignant step in showing how far the Dixiest of Dixie States has come when it named Charlie Strong its new head football coach – in what school president Bill Powers called “a historic day for the University of Texas and a historic hire for our football team.”

Strong, 53, formerly the head coach at Louisville where he dramatically turned that team from a virtual scrub to a BCS power, becomes the first black coach of any men’s athletic team at the University of Texas.

The Arkansas native succeeds Mack Brown, who despite winning a national championship in 2005 resigned under fire last month after several disappointing seasons — only nine victories shy of the school record held by his late mentor, Darrell Royal.

Strong assumes a job that comes with as much alumni pressure and media scrutiny as any head coaching position in the country. And although Austin is one of the most progressive cities in America, some of the school’s fanatic base isn’t.

There have been no negative race-twinged comments of note, though Twitter and other social media have had comments like:

“The coaching search of a generation ends up with Charlie Strong. I’m surprised that Texas would hire him. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s bleck (stet). Red McCombs gon be ten kinds of pissed off.”

Longtime UT benefactor McCombs is the San Antonio billionaire and co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, as well as former owner of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Vikings.

But according to an American-Statesmen report in December, McCombs would support the hiring of a minority head coach, if he was the right candidate for the job.

It is the same sentiment you will be through much of Texas today.

Robert Pharr can’t stress enough how far Texas has come from its old ties to Dixie.

The criteria under which Strong will be judged, he said, will be winning, winning big and, of course, beating the arch-rival Oklahoma Sooners.

“From Dallas to San Antonio, Texas is getting pretty cosmopolitan,” he said in discussing Strong. “If you go to deep East Texas you’ll find remnants of the Confederacy, but most Texans have rejected that culture.

“I seriously doubt that a noticeable number of UT alums will object to hiring a good Black coach. But if he can’t beat OU more than half the time, skin color will be a minor problem for him.”

Marco Rubio: Republican savior or Icarus?

Florida Senator Marco Rubio delivered the official response to President Obama's State of the Union.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio delivered the official response to President Obama’s State of the Union.

HAS ANY POLITICIAN making a nationally televised official response to a presidential State of the Union ever had the buildup that Florida Senator Marco Rubio had Tuesday night.

Most politicians in that position are lucky to have a paragraph about them in that day’s newspaper.

Rubio had his face plastered on the cover of Time magazine all over America, with the word “savior” in nice bold letters.

So Tuesday night, the expectations on the 41-year-old senator were unlike any that have ever been placed on someone in his position.

Marco Rubio may have taken a big lead in the 2016 Republican race for the party’s nomination, introducing himself to the country as “the Hispanic Obama,” the man who could be America’s first Latino president.

Or he may have ruined his chances, not by failing in his response to the president but by exposing himself as the man to beat and the candidate that other Republican and Democratic presidential wannabes alike will now attempt to marginalize, criticize and tear down.

For Rubio as a political rising star could now find himself like the mythical Icarus, flying too close to the sun and soon to crash.

But how can you not like what he did, delivering the official GOP response twice, in English and in Spanish, eloquently and talking about the middle class like someone who knows what it’s like to feel lucky to be there.

What was it he said?

“This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy.

“Presidents in both parties, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”

Hi-yo, Silver! was all I could say and wonder, watching him, what the Republicans were thinking last year in not taking a chance in having him as Romney’s running mate. Not because he’s Hispanic or bilingual or looks really good in a suit.

No, because Marco Rubio came across as committed, as the kid you watched growing up next door, as the young man you would want your daughter to bring home or the guy you would pick to be your son’s best friend.

When he reached down and chugged from a water bottle, he seemed real. When he talked about his immigrant roots, about his parents, about his middle-class neighborhood and neighbors and their concerns about Medicare and making ends meet, well, you’re not going to hear that from too many politicians.

“Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in,” Rubio said. “My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare.

“They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.

“The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs.”

The rhetoric was nothing more than Republican rhetoric, of course, and moments like this are more than just about the words. Moments like this are about the imagery, the style and the presentation.

In the television-plus age of multi-media, the moment is also beyond talking heads and more about charisma and how people move you or don’t.

Don’t take my word for it. Rubio was following a president who nine years ago excited America in a televised Democratic National Convention speech of which no one can honestly tell you what he said but they certainly remember his lasting image and the moment.

So is Marco Rubio the Republicans’ savior?

Well, the Democrats will need to step up in kind.

Will a Hispanic be the next Pope?

Colombia's Ruben Salazar Gomez (R) receives his biretta hat from Pope Benedict XVI as he made him a cardinal in November.

Colombia’s Ruben Salazar Gomez (R) receives his biretta hat from Pope Benedict XVI as he made him a cardinal in November.

WILL THIS BE THE time that the world gets its first Latino pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church?

With the Church struggling with increasing non-churchgoers but an ever-rising Hispanic population in the world, even Pope Benedict XVI sought to bring a more geographically diverse mix into the European-dominated College of Cardinals.

Last fall, he named a Colombian, Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez, as one of six new cardinals – part of what the pope called the “unique, universal and all-inclusive identity” of the church.

Salazar Gomez, 70, is thought by many to be a rising star in the church and an outspoken advocate for a peaceful resolution to Colombia’s civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

As such, he is also perhaps the only cardinal who fits the image of a warrior pope, albeit for peace, that could go a long way in reshaping the church’s image as an active crusader to calm the world’s turbulence.

“As church, we have always said that the armed conflict in Colombia must end through dialogue and consensus in order to achieve true and lasting peace,” he told Catholic News Service shortly before being elevated to a cardinal.

In January, the pontiff gave Salazar Gomez a new assignment, making him a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Salazar Gomez is also from the southern hemisphere, where two-thirds of the world’s Catholics live. Latin America, which boasts half of the world’s Catholics, now has 21 voting-age cardinals. North America has 14.

Europeans, though, dominate the group of 120 cardinals under age 80 who are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. Sixty-two of those cardinals are European.

But it is Latin America where the church has grown the most in recent decades. Latin America represents 42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the church’s largest single block, compared to 25 percent in Europe.

Other Latin American cardinals whose names have been mentioned as possible popes are  Odilo Scherer, 63, of Brazil, Leonardo Sandri, 69, of Argentina and Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, of Brazil.

The possibility of a Latino pope has also been heightened by recent remarks of who might succeed Benedict, among them Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope’s former position.

“I know a lot of bishops and cardinals from Latin America who could take responsibility for the universal Church,” he said.

The Bogota-born cardinal has been described by those who have worked alongside him as “a hard-working mediator who has been able to gain the respect of opposing forces in the country.”

“This is also an indication of the Vatican’s political support for the peace process that the church has supported in Colombia,” the Rev. Dario Echeverri Gonzalez of the National Conciliation Commission said of Salazar Gomez’s selection as cardinal last fall.

“He’s very serious, very executive in his approach. He’s very intelligent and able to take a position without making enemies.”

The National Conciliation Commission is an independent church group that works toward a solution to the civil war.

Bishop Nel Beltran Santamaria of Sincelejo has said that Salazar Gomez can almost seem “timid,” though that hides the complex character of a tireless, passionate worker.

“He’s the kind of unique individual that is able to earn the respect of everyone, thanks mostly to his hard work,” Beltran told Catholic News Service.

For traditional Catholics, Salazar Gomez also offers the usual conservative philosophy long associated with the Vatican, having vowed as his three priorities “protecting marriage as the union between one man and one woman, saving innocent life in the womb, and promoting peace in Colombia.”

 

 

Political inevitability for the Bush ‘darkie’?

George P. Bush with uncle George W. Bush and grandfather George H. W. Bush

George P. Bush with uncle, former President George W. Bush, and grandfather, former President George H. W. Bush

WHEN HE WAS LITTLE more than a child running around a national political convention, his grandfather had spotted him and joked that “he’s our little darkie.”

The grandfather was President George H.W. Bush, and no one knew exactly what to make of his comment about his dark-skinned grandson, George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife Columba.

Was it a racist comment, especially at a time when Republicans were beginning their worst period of disfavor among Hispanics? Was it simply politically incorrect? Or just insensitive? It also was a comment about a child, and not just any child but a quite privileged one.

The elder Bush was never heard to utter the comment again, at least not in public, and George Prescott Garnica Bush became just another face among those who often appeared on stage at conventions and political triumphs of his father who became governor of Florida and his uncle George W. Bush who, of course, became president.

Who would have thought, though, that the dark complexion over which an innocent comment made some squirm would one day become one of the young man’s biggest political assets.

Today he is known as P. Bush. He is 36, a former navy officer, head of an investment firm in Fort Worth and quite possibly the future of the Republican party in Texas, should the GOP succeed in maintaining it as a Red State in the face of meteoric Latino growth that some say will eventually swing it into the Democratic fold.

Bush is expected to make his first political run for Texas Land Commissioner in 2014 when his chances for election are excellent given that Republicans are still in control of the state.

But a lot of eyes will also be on P next year because it will offer the first real chance for predominantly Democratic Hispanic voters in Texas to react to a prominent “darkie” Republican – a Republican candidate who is not just Latino but bears the distinguishable characteristics of being mestizo, of mixed blood as are the majority of the state’s Mexican-Americans.

Texas just recently elected its first Hispanic to statewide office, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, but he is Cuban American and no one would ever have described him as “our darkie” because he is light-skinned and Mexican American voters did not especially take to him.

“P. Bush, though, looks like he could be the son of a Mexican American factory worker who has gone off to college and is doing well – he looks like me and my friends,” says Monica Romero, a school teacher in Houston.

“He’s Mexican American. He’s raza.”

Democrats, of course, will be the first to scoff at the notion that Mexican-Americans in Texas will vote for a Republican like Bush just because he is one of their own.

But as this past president campaign showed, Democrats were of that same thinking flying in their Mexican-American elected politicians like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to campaign for President Barack Obama wherever the number of Latino voters dictated the need.

It is the reason, too, that Hispanic leaders are concerned about the slowness of Obama to name a Latino to his second administration Cabinet – to appoint someone they can relate to, someone who will make that Cabinet reflect America and continue attracting Latino voters to the Democratic ranks.

Young Bush understands it will take more than a famous name and being known as the family’s beloved “darkie” to make it in politics, and he says that’s what he’s been doing with his life as he prepares to seek public office.

“My grandmother (Barbara Bush), who I always seek advice from, told me that before you enter politics — or even think about entering politics — you should distinguish yourself outside of politics by doing something in the business world or any other world,” he said in an interview.

“Make a name for yourself, have a family, marry someone great, have some kids, buy a house, pay taxes, and do the things everyone also does instead of just running out and saying, ‘Hey, I’m the nephew of or the son of or the grandson of…”

 

The Cabinet: Is there a Hispanic Sally Jewell?

re there any longshot Latino politicians who could make the grade on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet?

President Obama on Wednesday finally appointed a woman to his Cabinet, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. (AP Photo)

ARE THERE ANY longshot Latino politicians who could make the grade on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet?

It appears that’s what it’s going to take now that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has taken himself out of the running.

It’s a situation also brought on by the fact that no high-profile Hispanic office-holder appears ready to fall on his sword, politically speaking, and give up his office in Congress to give a Democratic president a sorely-lacking brown face on his Cabinet.

The talk of what Latino can serve in the Cabinet has gotten so bad that The Associated Press this week floated the idea that the president could name Villaraigosa’s cousin, California Assembly Speaker John Perez, as Secretary of Labor.

The idea evoked laughs in California, even with Perez, who has a long history as a labor organizer.

“Look, I’m always flattered if somebody thinks my work is worthy of other consideration,” Perez said, scoffing at the thought. “But I’m focused on being speaker for these next two years.

“And continuing to build back our economy, and continuing to build on the fiscal discipline that we’ve created here in California. And getting people back to work.”

Perez, though, may be no worse than some of the other Hispanic names being floated, among them current or past Cabinet under-secretaries and assistant secretaries.

In reality, those people probably have as much or more experience in running a Cabinet office than any big-name politician. But the Cabinet is still a highly visible political appointment, usually made up of important office-holders, large corporate heads or names that have a ring of political magic.

Of course, Obama’s nomination Wednesday of Sally Jewell as Interior Secretary lowers the bar to some degree. There are those who seriously wonder whether she would have been nominated had her name been Samuel Jewel.

No offense to Ms Jewell, but the president needed to name a woman to the Cabinet to offset the criticism that he was fostering a good ol’ boys club.

And he now needs to name a Hispanic.

So who will the Hispanic Sally Jewell be?

It will likely be a long-shot, possibly even the head of a Latino civil rights organization like Thomas Saenz of MALDEF or Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza. Those are good candidates whose presence might even elevate the stature of the Cabinet’s present membership.

Heck, it could even be John Perez, who some might call Villaraiosa-lite, except have you seen John Perez, who some might confuse as a candidate for NBC’s “Biggest Loser” weight-loss show?

Perez may have scoffed at the idea of being the Latino on the Obama Cabinet but he didn’t flat out rule it out.

“Let them ask,” he said, “and I’ll give you the answer then.”

 

Adjourning in the memory of Bill Orozco

California political consultant Bill Orozco and longtime companion Nancy Anne Nuno (with permission of Nancy Anne Nuno)

California political consultant Bill Orozco and longtime companion Nancy Anne Nuno

AN EDITOR WE BOTH knew used to say that my friend Bill Orozco had a strange obsession with death.

It seemed that the longtime California political consultant always was the first to call and let you know when someone in politics or Latino activism had died, and he would do it in the most unusual way.

“The City Council just recessed in memory of….” he would say, dropping the name of the recently deceased who had just been recognized by political leaders by having a meeting or hearing adjourn in his or her honor.

Often the elected officials paying tribute to the person who had died would have learned of the passing from Bill himself, as he hovered around the council chambers or meeting room having just received news of the death from one of his many sources.

It wasn’t unusual for Bill to follow up with phone calls notifying you of rosaries, masses or funeral arrangements, letting you know the names of the widow and children and offering a photo of the deceased from his own vast collection of pictures.

For Bill was a photographer as well – “an amateur,” he humbly called himself, though his pictures were often as good as those of a pro and sometimes better because he would go places few professional photographers dared go.

He once got a shot of then Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre dressed to the nines in a studded charro suit and a Mexican sombrero at some out of the way Latino rodeo, when the dapper politician normally wouldn’t be caught dead seen in anything but $2,000 designer suits.

Another time Bill captured an image of about 50 gangbanger veteranos who had shown up like groupies at some event to catch a glimpse of actor and former convict Danny Trejo after the making of the film “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”

Bill arrived with Danny Trejo, who was a longtime friend.

But Bill’s real passion was politics.

After a stint as an aide to former California State Senator David Roberti in the 1980s, Bill began consulting and strategizing for political candidates, mostly in Southern California, and sometimes outsiders challenging established power brokers.

“I’m a democrat with a little d,” Bill liked to say.

Though he had a lot of friends who were movers and shakers and political bosses, Bill in many ways was a rebel and loved the idea of opening the political process to newcomers and the young.

Nothing made Bill angrier than seeing entrenched politicians who took advantage of the system, especially when he suspected there were bribes involved or fixed contract bidding.

When the Los Angeles Times published a series of articles detailing graft and corruption involving Latino politicians in some of the county’s suburban cities, several people suspected Bill of being the whistle-blower, especially given that the wording in some of the stories bore a remarkable resemblance to what he had been telling anyone who would listen for years.

It may have also helped coming to that conclusion that Bill always called you the night before a Times story on the crooked politicians appeared to tip you off to check the newspaper the next morning.

“I don’t care if anyone knows,” he would say about this role as a whistle-blower. “I’m not the one taking bribes and rigging contracts.”

That was typical Bill Orozco.

“He was one of a kind – a lovable character,” said his longtime friend and East L.A. attorney Alex Jacinto. “He left us too early, and he’ll be missed.”

Bill apparently died in his sleep Thursday morning of no known cause. He was 63. An autopsy is being performed to determine the exact cause of death.

Fittingly, I understand that at least one meeting of elected officials recessed in Bill’s memory Friday.

I’m not completely certain because Bill wasn’t around to call and let me know personally.

 

In L.A. is Eric Garcetti Latino enough?

Eric Garcetti is facing questions about whether he is Hispanic enough to be mayor of L.A. (Los Angeles Times photo)

Eric Garcetti is facing questions about whether he is Hispanic enough to be mayor of L.A. (Los Angeles Times photo)

When is a Hispanic political candidate Latino enough?

That is the question that has been hounding Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti since he announced he wanted to succeed Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor.

And the questioning has intensified for Garcettiwhose grandfather, Salvador Garcetti, was born in Mexicoas the March 5 city election approaches.

Garcetti, 41, speaks Spanish fluently and has often referred to himself as being “Chicano,” but he is increasingly finding his claim to being Hispanic challengedso much so that a headline in the Los Angeles Times asked, “In mayor’s race, is Garcetti Latino enough?”

It hasn’t helped that Villaraigosa has not endorsed him, nor anyone else, as a successor, and that the mayor’s cousinAssembly Speaker John Perezis not only backing another candidate but is also among those questioning Garcetti’s Latinoness.

“There isn’t a Latino candidate running for mayor that I know of,” Perez recently told KPCC public radio.

As the Times wrote this week: “As the campaign begins to capture public attention, a big question is whether Garcetti can re-create the surge of Latino support that helped secure Villaraigosa’s historic election eight years ago as the first Latino mayor of modern Los Angeles.”

The answer so far appears to be a resounding no, especially as Eric Garcetti’s major opponent — City Controller Wendy Greuel — has amassed a number of influential Hispanic leaders who seemingly have rejected Garcetti as being one of their own.

In addition to the Assembly Speaker, these include United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta and County Supervisor Gloria Molina who remains one of the most powerful Latino politicians in California, particularly when it comes to behind-the-scenes jockeying.

Eric Garcetti’s Latino predicament of having his ethnicity claim challenged also resurrects an age-old ploy that was used in the Chicano civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s to discredit, or attempt to discredit, liberal-to-moderate Latino leaders thought to be out of the mold of Chicano extremist activism. 

They were branded as “Tio Tacos,” Latino Uncle Toms, ironic considering that eventually most of the Hispanics who have been elected to power in America in succeeding years have probably been closer politically to those so-called Tio Tacos than to the hardcore activists.

Garcetti himself is a descendant of Latino heroism of its own right. One of the reasons his grandfather’s family emigrated to the U.S. is that Eric Garcetti’s great-grandfather, Massimo Garcetti, was a Mexican judge who was hanged during the Mexican Revolution.

In any other Latino politician, Garcetti’s personal story would have him acclaimed the poster child of the American Dream. His father Gil Garcetti rose to district attorney in Los Angeles, and Eric Garcetti became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and the London School of Economics.

But the issue that hounds Garcettias it does many like himis whether he is of “Mexican blood,” something in these days of ethnic and cultural intermarriages would seem ludicrous, almost smacking of a bizarre wish for Latino ethnic cleansing.

Garcetti’s Mexican ancestors were Italians who emigrated to Mexico but apparently never produced mestizo descendants, children of mixed European and indigenous Mexican blood.

None of that should matter, according to Maria-Elena Martinez, associate professor of history and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, who says “Mexican” is neither a race nor an ethnicity, but a melting pot of a nationality.

“‘Mexican’ encompasses a lot of people,” she told L.A. Weekly last year in discussing Garcetti’s Mexican heritage. “If his family migrated from Europe to become miners and became Mexicans or because of a generation being born there, by all means they are Mexican.”

“Of course he can claim that he has a Mexican pastthat he has Mexican ancestors.”

How Garcetti fares in the Los Angeles mayoral race may well answer his critics or raise even more questions about the re-examination of Hispanic ethnic politics in America.

In Garcetti’s mind, though, there is no doubt of who and what he is.

“Weekends involved bowls of menudo at my grandparents’ and bagels at my cousins’ house,” Garcetti says of his childhood with a Mexican and Jewish background. “I think if you’re Latino, you’re very comfortable with the idea of mestizo, being mixed.

“So I kind of joke that I’m mestizo double, double mixed.”

 

2016 and the inevitability of Jeb Bush

Will Jeb Bush, right, in the family tradition, run for the presidency in 2016, following dad George and brother George W.?

Will Jeb Bush, right, in the family tradition, run for the presidency in 2016, following dad George H.W. and brother George W.?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush took a first step toward a 2016 presidential run Friday when he led a Miami gathering of Republican insiders mapping out how to appeal to Hispanics in future national campaigns.

Bush, the brother and son of the two last Republican presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, is at the heart of those GOP Latino-wooing dreams for both personal and political reasons.

“His Hispanic family ties and his pro-Latino record make Jeb Bush the face of any serious Republican effort to extend a sincere olive branch to Hispanic voters,” says California consultant William Orozco.

Bush’s wife is Mexican-American. He speaks Spanish fluently. And Bush himself has a long history advocating a comprehensive immigration reform.

But Bush’s Achilles Heel in seeking the 2016 nomination, say critics, is the suspicion of him by conservatives and Tea Partiers, though the 2012 presidential campaign debacle may have softened their strength

“I feel confident the governor would dispel any concerns about his conservative bona fides the minute he entered the race, if he does,” says longtime Bush friend Al Cardenas, former head of the Florida GOP and chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Cardenas also has told reporters since last November’s election that seeking the presidency “continues to intrigue him, given how much he has to share with the country.”

The Miami meeting Friday was organized by the Hispanic Leadership Network, a conservative group intent on broadening the Republican Party’s appeal among Hispanic voters, especially in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Cardenas’ American Conservative Union has removed any doubt of how quickly the jockeying for 2016 is happening with its 2013 CPAC March 14-16 in Washington, D.C., that is developing as a possible preview to the Republican presidential field.

Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are among the announced featured speakers along with new Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

Early GOP favorites for 2016 also include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

A recent Florida Insider Poll of more than 100 of Florida’s most important political campaign operatives, fundraisers, lobbyists and insiders found that 62 percent expect Bush to run in 2016 while only 45 percent think Rubio will.

Meanwhile, another survey of 400 Latino voters in each of four key states – Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida – lambasted the GOP for failing connect with Hispanic voters.

“The results make clear the size of the hole Republicans have dug among Hispanic voters over the past eight years,” the survey’s authors reported.

“If Republicans achieve 40 percent or more of Hispanics nationally, they can elect conservative Republicans to national office. Settling for a quarter or less of the Hispanic vote nationally will relegate Republicans to a regional party with few national prospects.”

It is largely to try to answer the challenges posed by that study that Friday’s meeting was taking place, according to a national Republican insider.

Jeb Bush, the insider said, is riding a tidal wave of credibility because of his Hispanic connections and favorability among Latinos.

In California, though, some Republicans close to Bush are concerned that the former governor may only be using this time as a stalking horse for Rubio, who has been like a protégé.

“We know Jeb and we would rally around him in an instant,” said the California supporter. “We don’t know Marco, and Jeb may just be clearing the field of other likely contenders for him as well as lining up contributors so that they don’t align themselves with anyone else.”

But clearly Jeb Bush already has a strong base.

Florida political blogger Steve Kurlander calls him “the most formidable — and electable — candidate for the Republican Party right now.”

“Jeb, with his successful record as governor and his recent realistic stances in addressing major inadequacies in the GOP’s positions on immigration and social issues, is the only national figure in the Republican stable who can both turn around the GOP and run nationwide and, possibly, win in 2016,” writes Kurlander.

Bush’s two sons have also recently staked out their own political paths.

George P. Bush, 36, has filed paperwork in Texas for a run at becoming the state’s land commissioner. Jeb Bush Jr., 29, has founded a political action committee, Sun Pac, to promote and recruit conservative Latino political candidates.

“The old line that blood is thicker than water is never truer than in politics,” says political consultant Orozco. “And it sounds like Jeb Bush’s family is circling the wagons to do something big.”

 

My life and time with Fidel Castro


An aging Fidel Castro delivers a speech with the image of Che Guevara in the background.

The not unexpected news that Fidel Castro lay near death, the one certainty that awaits us all, undoubtedly evokes mixed emotions in Americans who grew up in his time but especially those who bear the same last name as that of the former Cuban strongman.

In the late 1950s, Fidel’s early military campaign and victories in Cuba made me the most popular kid in my elementary school in Texas. The day that Castro’s uprising came to prominence in the news media, the principal of the school made a surprise visit to my classroom.

She asked me to stand up, and there in front of all my classmates, the principal carried on about this heroic man she likened to the American revolutionaries and how he and I had the same name.

I was one of two Latino kids in my class, and the other one was even more vaguely Hispanic than I. America hadn’t really discovered the Latinos in the country until World War II when they became readily disposable fodder for the military’s front lines. At the time, Hispanics represented a little more than five percent of the nation’s population, and their political power was as unnoticeable as their presence.

Was I related to Fidel, my principal wanted to know. I had no idea. I had never heard my family speak of him. I explained to her that my family was Mexican and Spanish, and that Fidel Castro was Cuban.

I’ve remembered the principal’s next words all these years as if they were tattooed on my skin: “Oh, I’m sure you’re related from back in Spain somehow.”

Over the following days, sometimes I did wish I was related to Fidel so that I could brag to anyone who asked if I was – and there were many – and tell them that, yes, he’s my long distant uncle or something.

All that changed one day, however, when the principal returned to my classroom and informed us all that Fidel hadn’t been the hero she and everyone thought he was. Instead, she said, Fidel Castro was a communist.

My classmates felt sorry for me. I might be related to a communist – and in the 1950s, there was no worse thing you could be in America than a communist. Hollywood black balled any directors and actors suspected of being communists. The country was caught in the vice of a Red Scare, and a demagogue U.S. senator even held congressional hearings to ferret out communists throughout America.

Fidel Castro was no longer my long lost relative, and I tried to put him out of my mind, though it was difficult. The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion kept him front and center in the news, as did his visits to New York and the United Nations. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis had us all checking out bomb shelters in our neighborhoods as we feared there might soon be guided missiles being sent to destroy our cities from tiny neighboring Cuba.

Through it all, I never once thought about visiting Cuba or meeting Fidel – that is, not until after my freshman year at college when, as a young reporter, I attended a 1967 rally in Austin, Texas, that leftists were holding in support of Castro’s Cuba.

There I met another young Texan who would become one of my closest friends until his death two years ago. His name was Carlos Guerra, and he had been a founder of the Chicano movement in Texas and later of La Raza Unida party.

This rally eventually led to a meeting for students interested in surreptitiously visiting Cuba through Mexico. In 1963, the U.S. had imposed regulations in its embargo of Cuba that effectively banned travel by Americans to the island. But U.S. citizens continued to travel there, though for reasons other than what they did during the pre-Castro era when Cuba boomed as a tourist and gambling destination.

Most of the Americans traveling there after 1960 were students, many of them activists. Carlos happened to be at the same meeting in Austin, along with a handful of others from the fledgling MAYO group.

Late that summer, we were among three dozen or so young men from the Austin meeting who flew from Mexico City into a small airstrip outside Havana on a ten-day “information mission,” as it was called. Most in the group were from the New Left and the Students for a Democratic Society.

All but Carlos, myself, and a Chicano activist from Colorado were white. But it was hard to tell about anyone’s ethnicity. Everyone’s skin was heavily tanned from the scorching sun, and many of the New Leftists spoke Spanish.

It was a watershed period for sympathizers of the Cuban revolution. In those first years after Fidel Castro came to power, more than a million Cubans learned how to read and 50,000 new homes were built. So many new doctors were being produced by the revolution that the country claimed there was one physician for every two hundred and fifty residents – a 400 percent improvement over the last years before the revolution.

Carlos was suspicious of everyone in our travel party, believing that at least several were FBI undercover agents. It made sense. The FBI had infiltrated most of the activist groups of the 1960s. That was to be expected, Carlos said. The trick was to steer clear of anyone openly advocating violence or the overthrow of the U.S.

“I’m just here because I wanted to interview Che Guevara,” I reminded Carlos.

“We stick together, carnal, and don’t trust anyone we don’t know,” he said.

So we did. We anticipated that there would be a hard-sell indoctrination, but we were wrong. It was like a vacation as we toured farms and nationalized plantations, spoke to peasants, visited schools, interviewed students, and spent evenings eating with local Cubans.

This was Cuba only five years removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis and eight years after the revolution of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had unseated the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The U.S. economic boycott was already in place, but Cuba was still some time away from appearing to be a country whose time had stopped in the 1950s.

We had been assured that we would also have a chance to talk to government officials, including some of the leaders close to Fidel Castro, and we wondered if this would ever happen. Finally, on our sixth day in the country, we were given a tour of El Capitolio, which had been the pre-revolution seat of government. It was empty and in need of repair, and the guide said it was being converted into a Cuban institute of arts and sciences. We moved on to the National Library, to the gray marble tower monument to Cuba’s national hero, Jose Martí, in the Plaza de la Revolucion, and then behind the memorial to the offices of Castro himself.

I don’t know why I thought we would get a private audience with him – that came with some two-bit deputy ministers of education, health, and agriculture – but we met Fidel in what seemed like a long assembly line of guests, possibly not altogether different than what any head of state must endure with visitors. I thought there would be some reaction from Castro when the aide introducing the guests mentioned my name.

Surprisingly there was none.

“He didn’t hear,” Carlos muttered as we passed. “He’s hard of hearing.”

“Are you serious?” It hadn’t occurred to me that Carlos was putting me on.

“The price of all that gunfire from the revolution.”

I don’t know what we were really expecting to see or experience. We weren’t revolutionaries, nor did we want to join the Cuban revolution. But in our own way I suspect we were like many who fall in love with the romance of revolution – little of which was to be found in the Cuba we visited.

Carnal, I thought it would be different,” Carlos said toward the end of the trip. “Didn’t you think it would be different?”

“Well, I came for Che,” I said.

“He’s not even Cuban, carnal!” Carlos shot back.

And Che had not been in Cuba. There had been reports of Guevara in several places, including Bolivia where he would be killed later that year.

I don’t know what I had intended to find in Cuba or if I seriously thought there would be a connection with Fidel. And I came away feeling that we had missed something – that there was an entirely different side to Castro’s Cuba and the revolution that had been hidden from us.

There really wasn’t, I would later learn in studying about Cuba and the Soviet Union and reading the accounts of defectors who usually maintained that all you saw was all there was – that spare parts were almost non-existent and that so much of the threat was little more than smoke and mirrors held together by Band-Aids. Castro and the Russians had had great poker faces, as it were, and for years we were so afraid of the threat of nuclear war that we hadn’t had the cojones to call their bluff.

Years later, on one of my visits back to Texas, I tracked my old elementary school principal to a nursing home where I paid my respects. I wanted to tell her what I had learned about this man who had brought me to her attention, how I had met him and that we had been like ghosts to each other.

But I didn’t say anything. She was still with us, but her mind wasn’t.

Her nurse kept repeating my name to her without getting much response.

“On one of her good days, tell her that a former student came by to say hello,” I said, giving the nurse my business card.

She looked at it curiously.

“Mr. Castro,” she said, looking up. “Are you, by any chance,  related to…”

The Hispanic Power Ranger Unmasks Obama

Obama heard loudly about what a disappointment he has been to Hispanics when Univision anchor Jorge Ramos insistently hammered the President about his failure to keep his promise of getting comprehensive immigration reform. (Unisivion)

“MEN GO TO BED WITH GILDA,” Rita Hayworth used to lament about her unhappy love life. “They wake up with me.”

Gilda had been the role in a film of the same name that made Hayworth a Hollywood cultural icon. But that image was a far cry from her real self, the legendary actress said, and the disillusion often led to disappointment.

But then, illusion has always been a powerfully seductive aphrodisiac, not only sexually but also politically, as we all usually find out, though too late.

In 2008, America went to bed with the hope and change promises of Barack Obama, and four years later the infatuation remains so strong that polls show the country will likely ignore waking up every day to the worst economic crisis since the Depression and the nation more bitterly divided than at any time since the Civil War.

On Thursday, Obama heard loudly about what a disappointment he has been to Hispanics when Univision anchor Jorge Ramos insistently hammered the President about his failure to keep his promise of getting comprehensive immigration reform in the first two years of his administration when he had a Democratic House and Senate.

“I want you to acknowledge that you did not keep your promise,” Ramos said to him Spanish language Univision presidential forum live-streamed and broadcast nationally in Spanish and in English on Facebook.

Confronted like that, almost at the start of an hour-long historic event for Latino voters in the U.S., what was our political Gilda to say?

His defense was that the promise to Hispanics had been forced to take a back seat to the plummeting economy and Obama seemingly so one-minded as to feel he could not champion two causes at the same time.

Fighting to stave off another Great Depression was his reason, which is a great answer if you don’t consider that what the country got instead was an Obama Depression, and now a lot of nice sounding blame-it-on-the-economy excuses like:

“Even in that first year, one of my first acts was to invite every member of Congress who (supports)… comprehensive immigration reform to the White House and say, we need to get this done… What I confess I did not expect… is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform… suddenly would walk away. That’s what I did not anticipate.”

To which Jorge, who sounded like the second coming of French Revolution crusading journalist Jean Paul Marat’s “I am the rage of people,” didn’t let up.

“You promised that,” he confronted the president again. “A promise is a promise. With all due respect you didn’t keep that promise.”

You have to admire Jorge, especially when you consider that some might wonder if he’ll still have a job tomorrow morning or perhaps find himself in Mexico covering the drug cartels.

His ultimate boss is Univision chairman Haim Saban, the billionaire Democratic donor whose wife Cheryl only yesterday was named the American representative to the United Nations by President Obama. How cozy can you get, some might say.

Only in American politics can you get an Egyptian born Israeli-American television and media magnate, best known in pop culture for giving us “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” children’s series, who is now head honcho of possibly the only network with an anchor with enough cojones to tell the president that he’s been an utter failure on the issue dearest to the heart of many Latinos.

That kind of chutzpah must make Jorge Ramos the Hispanic Power Ranger, huh?

It has taken until 47 days before the election for someone in the mainstream news media – and Univision with Hispanic Power Ranger Ramos and partner Maria Elena Salinas certainly belong there with any of the networks hosting the debates – to publicly but respectfully before a national audience pull back the curtain on our Gilda, our wizard, and say, “Hey, you weren’t who we thought you were,” while Obama seemed to say “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

This was the best political show since Clint Eastwood and his empty chair showed us what a movie star’s brain looks like in old age.

Of course, immigration obviously is not the only issue in the election, nor the biggest facing the country, but it is immigration that perhaps has provided the window to see how the hypnotic politics of charisma can sometimes lead an enchanting politician to make promises he likely had no intention of keeping and thinking there will be no one authoritative enough or un-cowardly lion enough go call him on it.

Unfortunately, none of this will likely change the election one way or the other. Obama may be some powerless wizard – he told Ramos and Salinas he was not “all-powerful president,” after all – but Mitt Romney has probably painted himself as the Wicked Witch of the West in the eyes of too many voters, Latinos included.

So America is stuck with whichever of the mixed metaphors it chooses: The unpowerfully powerful “I don’t know how it works” wizard or the alluring sexy pin-up Gilda.

Rita Hayworth herself may have offered the best advice of how to look at people like her alter ego.

“I never really thought of myself as a sex goddess,” she said. “I felt I was more a comedian who could dance.”

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