When Republican Rocky Chávez was first elected to the California Assembly and took office in December 2012, he said that he inquired about joining the California Latino Legislative Caucus, a congressional group comprised of Democrats.
"When I didn't get a response,” the former colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps recently told the Los Angeles Times. “I asked what the deal was and they said that I wouldn't be allowed in. They do not allow Republicans to be part of the group."
Now, a fellow San Diego Republican in the state legislature, Senator Joel Anderson, has asked the California attorney general to look into the caucus and its membership policies.
"The name Latino caucus is intentionally misleading, because it implies equal access for all Latino legislators," Anderson said. "Using taxpayer-sourced, public funds to deny them their voice is wrong."
The caucus has an office in the Legislative Office Building, two staff members and a page on the Legislature website, according to the Times. Anderson and Chávez did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
A spokesman for the caucus, Roger Salazar, told Fox News Latino that there isn’t any big mystery to Chávez getting turned down.
“Assemblyman Chávez has been pushing this story that he was denied membership,” Salazar said. “It’s right there in the bylaws—membership in the caucus is open to all Democratic Latino legislators.”
The caucus chairman, Sen. Ricardo Lara, said that it’s not unusual to have a political caucus with offices in the seat of government. "You have a Republican Caucus and a Democratic Caucus that have staff," he told the Times.
Salazar also pointed out that the group’s political work is paid for by leadership political action committees, not taxpayer money.
“All the political work takes place outside the Capital building, all of which is reported according to the disclosure rules,” Salazar told FNL.
None of which speaks to whether or not the caucus hides its affiliation.
Founded 40 years ago by five Democrat lawmakers, the caucus’ website, doesn’t mention the words “democrat” or “democratic” except on its “Our Story” page, in referring to four of the first Latinos who were elected to the state legislature. Member pages don’t list party affiliation, nor does the “Links/Resources” page include a hyperlink to any Democratic-branded caucus or the party itself.
California Latinos vote overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2012, they voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 71-27 percent, and only once since 1980 has the Democratic margin of victory among the state’s Hispanics in a presidential election been smaller than 20 percent.
The caucus, which currently lists 24 members, has had a number of legislative successes in the last year, among them the passage of a bill to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and a highly successful push to get Latinos in the state to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
“We don’t believe [Chávez] really wants to join the caucus,” Salazar told FNL, “because he has just bashed everything the caucus has attempted to do.”
Salazar went on, “The caucus has worked with Republican legislators many times in the past, but Rocky didn’t approach anyone to work with us, he chose to do this in the media.”