Conservative Movement Must Commit to a Long-Term Outreach Strategy

January 11, 2011 08:01

By Jeb Bush: Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country and will continue to play an important role in future elections and the future of our country. This past election was a sign that the Hispanic community is willing to listen to a center-right message.

Jeb Bush at The Americano

The 2010 election represented a historic victory for center-right principles and candidates. Voters across the country responded positively to a message of low taxes, responsible spending and individual freedom, effectively rejecting some of the major policies enacted over the past two years. As we look ahead to a new year brimming with excitement and possibility, we cannot simply rest on the success of 2010; the conservative movement must commit to a long-term outreach strategy to ensure our message is being heard.

I applaud those taking the initiative to expand the outreach efforts of the center-right. Recently, the American Action Network and the American Action Forum launched the Hispanic Leadership Network, an ongoing effort to engage members of the Hispanic community on center-right principles and to create a forum for sharing ideas and experiences. On Jan. 13 and 14, the Network will host its inaugural conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, and I am honored to serve as conference co-chair with former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. This conference will provide a unique opportunity for center-right leaders to speak with — and more importantly listen to — the Hispanic community.

The conference’s robust agenda will facilitate an informative and productive conversation on issues important to the Hispanic community and all Americans such as jobs and the economy, youth and education, and immigration and security. The impressive list of speakers and panelists, including Gov. Luis Fortuño from Puerto Rico; Alvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia; Senator John Cornyn from Texas and Gov. Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota will lend their valuable expertise to this critical national discussion.

The unprecedented success of Hispanic center-right candidates in this past election is a clear sign that now is the time to recommit to a serious outreach effort. Among these newly-elected Hispanic leaders, there were many notable records and firsts. Marco Rubio was overwhelmingly elected to the U.S. Senate despite starting his campaign as a heavy underdog to more-seasoned candidates. A record number of Hispanics were elected to the U.S House of Representatives, including Republicans Raúl Labrador of Idaho, David Rivera of Florida, Bill Flores and Francisco Canseco from Texas, and Jaime Herrera of Washington.

Labrador and Herrera became the first Hispanic members of Congress in their states’ histories, and Flores became the first Hispanic to represent his district in Texas. In New Mexico, Susana Martinez became the country’s first female Hispanic governor, and Brian Sandoval was elected Nevada’s first Hispanic governor. These new center-right leaders will be an integral part of shaping and spreading the conservative message, as well as developing the solutions to our current economic problems at the federal and state levels.

Despite this success among candidates, conservatives continue to get unacceptably low support among Hispanic voters nationally. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 38 percent of Hispanics voted Republican in the 2010 congressional elections. In fact, center-right candidates have failed to win more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally since 2004. While the reason for such low numbers is debatable, the way to turn them around is clear: a long-term commitment to outreach and better articulation of our values by conservative leaders. I don’t think 40 percent of the Hispanic vote can be our ceiling if we plan to impact our nation in the coming decades.

The good news is that in the Hispanic community, there is real opportunity. But conservatives have to commit to serious and sustained engagement. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country and will continue to play an important role in future elections and the future of our country. This past election was a sign that the Hispanic community is willing to listen to a center-right message. The question now is whether the center-right movement is willing to listen to and engage the Hispanic community.

Fortunately, the values that drive the center-right movement are shared by Americans of all backgrounds, including members of the Hispanic community. A center-right agenda means keeping taxes low and easing the regulatory burden on small businesses to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and job growth. A center-right agenda means instituting real education reforms that reward outstanding teachers and empower parents with choices if their children are trapped in a failing school. In short, a center-right agenda provides opportunity for those willing to work hard.

It is our responsibility to spread this message. The level of investment in outreach today is inextricably linked to the continued success of the center-right movement. The Hispanic Leadership Network conference is a great start to our outreach efforts in 2011.

Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999-2007

From The Americano

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