POLITICS

'Hispandering' Or Sincere? Gov. O'Malley Appeals To Latinos As He Prepares White House Run

Feb. 10, 2012: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley testifies in support of a same-sex marriage bill during a committee hearing in Annapolis, Md.

Feb. 10, 2012: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley testifies in support of a same-sex marriage bill during a committee hearing in Annapolis, Md.  (AP)

While the most buzzed-about potential Democratic candidate for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton, remains coy about whether she’ll run, another Democrat is not wasting time.

And that includes courting Latino voters, a constituency that has showed how it can influence who sits in the Oval Office, and that makes up some 10 percent of Maryland’s population.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill extending in-state college tuition rates for undocumented immigrants, and another allowing people in the state illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

In the spring, O’Malley met with a group of the nation’s leading Latino civil and voting rights organizations to discuss how to improve the chances of Congress passing an immigration reform bill. The coalition included the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), NCLR Action Fund, League for United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota, and CASA de Maryland.

The coalition put out a press release after the meeting with O’Malley, praising him for being the first of the many governors and other political leaders they’d reached out to for a meeting on immigration “to respond to our call.”

"Governor O'Malley has been a vocal supporter and advocate for immigration reform for some time,” said Matthew McClellan, Executive Director of NCLR Action Fund, in the coalition’s statement. “We met with him - asking him to escalate his involvement in urging Congress to finally take action on the issue and for the White House to follow through on its evaluation of the current deportation process."

We need the increased leadership of people like Governor O'Malley - the current system is broken and it is destroying Latino families nationwide.”

In recent days, O’Malley spent two days in Iowa, speaking at a Democratic convention in Des Moines. Earlier this year, he told the Washington Post that he would not wait for Clinton, considered a front-runner for 2016, to announce her plans to start laying down his own groundwork.

“I have a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton,” O’Malley said, according to the Post. “But for my own part, I have a responsibility to prepare and to address the things that I feel a responsibility to address. . . . To squander this important period of preparation because of horse-race concerns and handicapping concerns is just not a very productive use of energy. . . . Right now, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing — the thought work and the preparation work.”

For her part, Clinton has polled well among Latinos in surveys on how they view potential 2016 presidential candidates. She enjoyed strong Latino support in 2008, when she ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidential election against Barack Obama.

O’Malley’s formidable position has not gone unnoticed by Republicans, who recently expressed some controversial views about him.

Buzzfeed quoted Izzy Santa, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, saying that O’Malley was doing nothing more than “Hispandering.”

Pili Tobar, the director of Hispanic media for the Democratic National Committee, lashed out at Santa for offending Hispanics.

“Democrats have a strong record of continuing to fight for the Latino community,” said Tobar, according to The Baltimore Sun, “whether it’s Governor O’Malley overseeing the lowest Hispanic unemployment rate in the nation or passing a Maryland DREAM Act or President Obama and Democrats in Congress leading the charge for comprehensive immigration reform.”

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