By Eileen Smith, Texas Observer
The national Hispanic unemployment rate is at 11 percent and according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for Hispanics is over 26 percent. A recent study conducted by the Texas Politics Project found that 25 percent of the Hispanic population in Texas is considered poor. But these depressing numbers don’t seem to faze the pull-yourself-up-by-your-Cuban-American-bootstraps Ted Cruz. Last week the former state solicitor general and Republican Senate nominee denounced the president’s welfare policies as keeping poor people “trapped in dependency” while attempting to gut the bipartisan welfare reform bill and welfare-to-work initiative passed under the Clinton administration.
“We are not doing anybody a favor by giving them welfare in perpetuity and making them dependent on government,” Cruz said. Apparently the clandestine radical socialist agenda being pushed by the Obama administration is slowly destroying the Latino community that Cruz purports to represent. Appearing on Fox News, Cruz stated with confidence that Hispanics share his conservative values and strong work ethic because he has never seen a Hispanic panhandler. This random non-fact serves to validate Cruz’s central argument that Hispanics may be unemployed, they may be struggling to put food on the table, they may have lost their homes but at least their cultural pride and sense of honor keep them from begging on street corners or, God forbid, accepting temporary government assistance. Throwing out unfounded quips about the ethnicity of panhandlers is just so much easier than addressing the real issues and challenges facing the Latino community. Especially when you’re a highly paid partner in a law firm with cushy benefits and health insurance.
The Texas Food Bank Network reported that 44 percent of its food applicants in 2010 were Hispanic. An estimated 38 percent of Hispanics in Texas lack health insurance. Naturally Cruz and his fellow Republicans have pledged to overhaul the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion even though 22 percent of Texas Hispanics are currently covered by the program. Does seeking assistance make Hispanics who were disproportionately hit hard by the economy any less honorable?
“[Cruz] is a pretty impressive gentleman with credibility and a great personal story,” said Brent Wilkes, the national executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “But we certainly have disagreements with him about the role of [government] programs and the role of government in our society. He seems very focused on eliminating programs that help people contribute to the economy and are very much worth the expense.”
Cruz’s controversial positions on a range of issues from immigration to voter ID could also make outreach to the Latino community a significant challenge. During his campaign he said he opposes so-called “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and came out against the DREAM Act, a cause which our own governor championed. Cruz also intends to introduce a bill that would triple the size of the U.S. Border Patrol. (See? The federal government isn’t always bad.) As an adamant supporter of photo ID legislation Cruz points to voter fraud as the main threat to our democratic process. As opposed to, you know, encouraging more Latinos to participate in that democratic process.
Democrat-turned-Republican Aaron Peña, who did not seek reelection this year, views Cruz’s victory as a positive thing for the Latino community. “The election of Cruz and other Hispanic conservatives forces the Democratic party to come into the 21st century,” Peña said. “We win when they compete for our vote. Now we have a real competition and Cruz is part of that. This debate will transform both parties.” And in Peña’s opinion Cruz’s win is yet another example of Republicans breaking down institutional barriers.
But LULAC’s Wilkes believes that more Latinos would support Latino candidates like Cruz if they weren’t so divisive. “On the issue of immigration, there certainly can be some argument on what the right level should be but you get the distinct impression that [Republicans] don’t like Latinos,” he said. “The way they talk about some issues like English-only legislation, they’re really talking about the [Latino] culture being inferior. They come across as a party pushing Latinos away.”
This article was first pub;ished in The Texas Observer.
Eileen is the editor of the award-winning satirical political blog In the Pink Texas. She was the first-ever editor of texasmonthly.com, which won two awards for General Excellence under her leadership. She likes Twitter over Facebook because “followers” sound more loyal than “friends.” In her spare time, she enjoys telling people she’s working on a book.[Photo by Gage Skidmore]