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Republicans Sign Up For Spanish Class
Democrats Not Impressed
Republicans Sign Up For Spanish Class
June 4, 2003
WASHINGTON With an eye toward the nation's fast-growing Hispanic community, Capitol Hill Republicans are turning to textbooks to win their support.
Led by Illinois Rep. Jerry Weller, a group of 19 House Republicans and one Senate Republican have signed up to participate in a Spanish-language program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Graduate School.
It's the largest group of congressional lawmakers to participate in the language program that officials say initially began as a nonpartisan program in 1999 under the leadership of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and has had dozens of participants.
Starting Thursday, about 50 House Republican staff will also begin participating in the 10-week program of once-a-week, two-hour conversational lessons.
A dozen or so House Democrats are also learning Spanish from a Graduate School instructor, according to Celinda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the organizer, Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas.
For Weller's group's first class, attendance was not the best. Fifteen showed up for the 7 a.m. lesson in a room above the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill, and some had to leave before the end. But the congressman, whose north-central Illinois district is 8 percent Hispanic, said the GOP is committed for the long haul.
"Republicans in Congress are eager to work with the Hispanic community on President Bush's agenda, and the launch of 'Spanish on The Hill' shows we are serious about working with Spanish-speaking America," he said.
Weller said they would only wait until next week before they start learning such phrases as "Vote por los Republicanos" -- "Vote for Republicans."
For their first lesson, teacher Maria Luisa Carver used visual aids such as magazine covers featuring Democrats like former President Bill Clinton as she taught the Republicans to say the Spanish equivalent of "He is a Democrat."
Hispanic registered voters totaled 7.5 million in the 2000 census. And they represent a key voting bloc in electorally rich states such as California, Florida, New York and Texas. But Hispanic elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats.
Weller said Republicans such as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have shown that when they communicate effectively with Hispanics they can demonstrate they have the same values of family, work, education and opportunity and warrant their majority support.
Sign of Times for GOP: Spanish Spoken Here
June 9, 2003
Latinos have become the "it" community in U.S. politics, and both Republicans and Democrats are trying to win them over. The latest example of this trend: 20 Republican lawmakers and 50 of their aides have taken up Spanish.
Rep. Gerald C. Weller (R-Ill.) has organized the class, taught by the Department of Agriculture's graduate school. The two-hour sessions will run 10 legislative weeks, and Republicans are hoping it will help them bond with Latino voters.
This is not the first time congressional Republicans have embraced español: Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) organized a class earlier this year, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) did one as well. But this is "by far the most ambitious effort," according to Weller spokesman Ben Fallon.
In a statement, Weller said he was confident the GOP's scholastic efforts would pay political dividends. "Republicans in Congress are eager to work with the Hispanic community on President Bush's agenda, and the launch of Spanish on the Hill shows we are serious about working with Spanish-speaking America," he said.
Democrats, of course, are less than impressed.
"Actions count more than delivering a message in Spanish," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.). "Instead of learning Spanish, Republicans must understand the priorities of Hispanic families -- and those priorities do not include tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of 1.6 million Hispanic families who will not receive a child tax credit this year."