Zaphod Beeblebrox is an Arizona Republican

Recent chatter among folks who are ostensibly smarter than you and I tells us that Republicans are making an effort to appeal to “Hispanics.” An inter-party chingazo reported in Sonoran Alliance gives us some insight into why such efforts may be doomed.

Though no one has yet declared for the 2014 Republican primary for Secretary of State, everybody already knows that the race is between Representative Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) and Senator Michelle Reagan (R-Scottsdale). Because they have both accumulated solidly partisan and conservative voting records, there is little to distinguish the two of them other than personality and style, so it seems inevitable that things would get personal and nasty early on. In this case, some in Reagan’s camp have already resorted to race-baiting.

This arises from a letter sent out by Montenegro and 3 other Republican legislators which was critical of three Reagan-sponsored bills aimed at fixing the initiative process. Within 24 hours, a consultant working on behalf of Reagan fired off a tweet:

Tolino’s comment is not only racist and stupid, but it has little basis in fact. John Loredo has not been in the legislature in nearly ten years, and anyone who has actually followed the legislature knows that Senator Gallardo (D-Phoenix) and Montenegro can hardly be called “BFFs” on this or nearly any other issue. As far as anybody can tell, the only thing that ties the three of them is their Spanish last name. This is enough for a hack like Mr. Tolino.

Say, that name “Tolino” ends in a vowel. It sounds pretty close to Spanish…hurm.

It should be noted that Senator Reagan’s close working relationship with Senator Meza (D-Phoenix) might be considered “#PanderingToHispanics” under Mr. Tolino’s standards. This is to say nothing of Reagan’s own comments in a blog post regarding a Cinco de Mayo event she attended in Peoria:

The LD 24 GOP is doing an admirable job of reaching out to and interacting with the Hispanic community and I am highly supportive of their efforts.  Registering new voters is a priority and I thank all the volunteers who came out to help citizens engage in their most sacred right – voting!

In fairness to Senator Reagan, this Tolino guy may have been a rogue operator. It should be noted, however, that she has not publicly repudiated what her consultant said on her behalf. I am not even going to attempt to explain the bizarre culture of Phoenix Republican political consultants here, as my earthy and practical Tucson brain cannot get itself around how these people, often despite questionable judgement and competence, become so powerful, but suffice it to say, this story probably tells us more about Arizona Republicans than Senator Reagan. Like Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy in Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose brief term in office was hampered by the fact that his two heads were always arguing, Republicans seem of two minds about reaching out to Hispanics.

Historically, folks with Spanish surnames have not fared well in Republican primaries in Arizona. Montenegro, who is of Salvadoran and not Mexican extraction, is a notable, and very recent, exception. In 2002, Tom Horne defeated Jaime Molera, the well-regarded incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a Republican primary after a race-baiting campaign. In 2004, a Mexican-American Republican lost a congressional primary in Southern Arizona to the late Joe Sweeney, an openly racist perennial candidate. Numerous other, less high-profile examples, show that, at the very least, a Spanish name is a disadvantage in a Republican primary, and exploiting this fact is potentially a winning strategy.

Republican efforts to reach out to Latinos may well be sincere, even if these are largely clueless and clumsy, but it certainly undermines their cause when, at the same time, they make an appeal to bigoted sentiments. I am probably not someone who should be giving advice to Republicans, but I have a suggestion in this regard. A community that represents over a quarter of the State’s population is not a special-interest group to be “pandered to.” They are a part of the fabric that makes Arizona what it is and have values, needs, and concerns that deserve to be taken seriously. This will require more than showing up at a few events, and is certainly not helped by letting your consultants say bigoted things against members of your own party. If Republicans can learn this, maybe they can hold on a little longer.

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