POLITICS

Ted Cruz to address Latino issues in Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Q&A event

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)  (2013 Getty Images)

Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who is running for president, plans to meet with the head of a national Latino organization who accused the lawmaker of distancing himself from his ethnic community.

Cruz is scheduled to meet on April 29 with Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and hold a question-and-answer session in Washington D.C. before an audience of business leaders and journalists.

“The Hispanic Chamber is an important constituency,” said Rick Tyler, the national spokesman for the Cruz campaign. “We’re going to have a conversation, the host and the senator. They will talk about jobs, economic growth, national security,” and other “top issues on their agenda, and the interests of the [chamber’s] members.”

Palomarez, whose organization boasts relationships with lawmakers from both major political parties, said that the Cruz camp reached out to the chamber after news of his pointed criticism of the senator.

“Several entities within Ted Cruz’s [camp] reached out to us, they said they wanted to work with us,” said Palomarez. “We proposed a public platform.”

“It was not combative,” he noted. “They were pleasant and easy to work with.”

Palomarez said Cruz was being smart in talking to Hispanics early on in his campaign.

“Never before has the Hispanic electorate played such an important role, and never again will a president be elected without Hispanic votes,” Palomarez said.

In a discussion with reporters at the chamber’s annual legislative summit in March, Palomarez assailed Cruz for skipping the two-day event and questioned whether the Cuban-American lawmaker was attempting to avoid Latinos as he runs for president.

“Ted Cruz chose not to come,” said a visibly displeased Palomarez to reporters at a press conference at the summit. “I hope it is not indicative that he’s backing away from the Hispanic community in order to get through the [GOP] primary.”

“If you’re trying to get to the White House without openly trying to engage the Hispanic community,” Palomarez said, “you’re not going to get there.”

Chamber representatives told Fox News Latino that earlier this year they approached aides and allies of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, about speaking at the March summit.

“They said no serious GOP candidate would want to engage the Hispanic community too early before the primary [in 2016],” said Ammar Campa-Najjar, the communications director for the Hispanic Chamber.

That is a reason that the chamber took exception, Campa-Najjar said,  to what it perceived to be a reluctance to appear before a Latino group out of fear of alienating the GOP’s conservative base, which plays a significant role in the primary elections, where they vote for their nominee.
“The Hispanic community deserves to have its voice heard,” he said.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared her candidacy on Sunday, has reached out to the chamber about doing events with their local member business owners around the country. 

To be sure, other presidential hopefuls such as Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also did not speak at the March summit. But Palomarez said they had scheduling conflicts and that they had good relationships with the chamber, joining them at events other times of the year and that both men have attended past Hispanic Chamber summits.

Cruz never had engaged with the chamber, the organization’s official said.

For his part, Palomarez said he is looking forward to listening to Cruz's views on education, the economy, national security, government spending and immigration, among other things.

"I hope the candidates recognize that immigration is important to the Hispanic community, but it isn't the only thing that we worry about," Palomarez said. "And frankly, it's not even the most important issue."

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.