Jeb Bush tries to rally Hispanics for brother
A national outreach project to aid the president's bid drew cheers as well as criticism.
By Kelly Brewington
Sentinel Staff Writer
More than 100 supporters of the president shouted "Viva Bush!" at a rally Monday when his brother announced a Hispanic outreach effort for the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign.
Accompanied by his wife, Columba, who was born in Mexico, Gov. Jeb Bush spoke in both English and Spanish as he announced a National Hispanic Steering Committee to aid the president's re-election bid.
Supporters at Universal Orlando's Latin Quarter restaurant munched on chips and salsa as a mariachi band performed before the governor made his entrance. Rep. John Quinones, R-Kissimmee, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, members of the 63-member committee, touted the president's tax cuts and support for traditional family values.
Meanwhile, Bush opponents used the kickoff as an opportunity to call the president's policies toward Hispanics an "utter failure," noting a higher unemployment rate for the group since he was elected in 2000.
Others said the event was nothing more than a "song and dance" routine by Bush to attract Hispanic voters.
"I think it's all window dressing," said Maria Cardona, vice president of the New Democrat Network and director of the organization's Hispanic outreach project, which announced that a week of Spanish-language anti-Bush television ads had begun in Orlando.
Cardona said the Bush brothers have appealed to Hispanics by appearing understanding of their culture but have not backed it up with policies.
"In the beginning it did give [George W. Bush] an opening into the community -- speaking some words in Spanish, inviting a mariachi band to the White House and celebrating Cinco de Mayo -- that kind of stuff," she said. "But since he's been in office, the promises he's made have not come to fruition for the Latino community."
Cardona said 430,000 more Hispanics are unemployed than when Bush took office, needy schools remain underfunded and a third of all Hispanics are uninsured -- twice the rate of the overall population.
But Monday's crowd also included die-hard Hispanic supporters. Shamira Vandenakker, 38, of Orlando said she liked the president's stance on fighting terrorism and the war in Iraq, despite recent weeks of growing hostilities from insurgents.
"We didn't need to ask any permission to defend ourselves," she said about the decision to invade Iraq. "I've always thought he made the right decision."
Meanwhile, members of the new steering committee lauded Bush on issues such as education and taxes.
"The economy is growing. More than 750,000 jobs have been created because of tax cuts," said Jeb Bush.
And while the Bush administration is undergoing intense scrutiny over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Jeb Bush commended his brother's actions.
"After 9-11, the country saw the real George Bush," he said. "They saw somebody who would rather fight a war in Iraq, for example, than on our own shores."
Jeb Bush acknowledged that the presidential election will be close but said that his brother can appeal to Hispanic voters through his concern for families and his commitment to appointing Hispanics to high-ranking positions in Washington.
Some of those appointees are represented on his steering committee. The bulk of the panel, which will be in Kansas City, Mo., today, are from Florida and Texas, states with large Hispanic populations. The members include congress members, business executives, attorneys and a university professor.