POLITICS

Call it the Grand Old Tequila Party

Fed up with both the Democrats and Republicans over an impasse on immigration reform, a growing number of Hispanic activists are discussing the possibility of a breakout party of their own. The idea is still in its early stages, but they hope to emulate the success of the grass-roots Tea Party movement – which shook up last month’s mid-term elections.

And with Hispanic becoming a major force in politics – Latinos are credited with influencing several key races across the country – activists say the time is ripe for Latinos to branch out on their own.

“The empowerment that we have discovered – we don’t want it to just go away. We want to do something with it,” said Fernando Romero, president of the Las Vegas-based Hispanics in Politics, a non-partisan group. “We were impressed, like I think everyone else was, by the strength the Tea Party showed. And we thought, ‘Why not do, basically, the same thing?’”

The months-old Tea Party movement, a loosely organized Conservative group, helped usher in dozens of politicians across the country – many of them come-from-behind Republican candidates who trounced well-known and well-liked incumbents. In states that ranged from South Dakota to New York to Arizona, Tea Party candidates won 29 U.S. House races, five U.S. Senate seats and three gubernatorial seats.

And Hispanics want to have the same kind of impact. One of their main issues would likely be to rally for immigration reform, which has little chance of passing in the next Congress.

“I don’t know how much attention they are paying to us,” said Romero, a Democrat. “We don’t have immigration reform. And by the looks of it, it isn’t going to happen. We don’t have the DREAM Act. We need all of them. It’s a concern. We’re concerned.”

Hispanics have traditionally tended to vote Democratic in the past. But many longtime liberal Latinos are starting to question the responsiveness of the Democratic Party to the Hispanic community. 

Democrats are trying to pass the DREAM Act, which would give some college students and military vets a path to citizenship, during the lame duck session, but the chances of it passing appear slim. The next Congress, which will be predominantly Republican, is not expected to take up immigration reform.

And because, Hispanics say, they are credited with influencing key political races during the presidential and midterm elections, they expected more attention than they have received.

In several key races where the Latino vote was critical – like Harry Reid’s U.S. Senate bid in Nevada and Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial contest in California – Hispanics were heavily courted during the midterm election battle, and they were credited with helping tip the balance.

“In many parts of the country, the Democratic Party hasn’t taken Latinos seriously. They haven’t cultivated leadership in the Latino community,” said Angelo Falcon, president of co-founder of the New York City-based National Institute for Latino Policy. “The community keeps voting for the party but the payoff doesn’t seem to be very great.”

Disenchanted, Latino leaders began discussions this past summer to start a mobilized, national social movement – or a third party. And while still in its infancy, the movement is already gaining the attention of Latinos on both sides of the political aisle who are thinking about joining in.

“To me, it makes a lot sense,” said Robert Deposada, a Republican consultant in Washington, D.C., who recently made headlines after launching a campaign urging Hispanics not to vote. “You need an infrastructure that is basically going to tell both parties, ‘We are tired. We are tired of the status quo. We are tired of you guys playing politics with us.’ And I think that is going to be a very effective in preparations for the 2012 elections to make sure both parties stop just talking and actually get to work and do something.”

Names for the movement, or party, have already been tossed around. But the one that has received the most attention is the Tequila Party, a tongue-in-cheek reference that gained traction after it was written about this weekend in a Las Vegas newspaper. Leaders, however, have kicked around other names as well, including the Café-con-Leche Party, a reference to the potent Latin drink, and to the color of their skin, Romero said.

Whatever the name, Hispanic leaders say they are taking the matter seriously – and plan to sit down in the coming months to come up with a formal strategy and plan.

“As much as it sounds like a joke initially, there are many people who are taking it seriously. And they are very interested in following through,” said Romero, whose received numerous phone calls across the country in the past few days urging talks to start. “And we all want to talk over the matter and see where this goes.”

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