People still act amazed when Rosario Marin says she is a registered Republican.
“Many people ask me ‘Why are you a Republican?’” said Marin, former U.S. Treasurer in the administration of George W. Bush. “I’ve always been a Republican. The majority of Latinos are very conservative in their values."
Marin, who was born in Mexico and is a naturalized citizen, recalls growing up poor in Mexico.
“In Mexico, you never expect the government to give you anything,” she said. “It’s on you, you have to figure it out, you go to your family, to your neighbors."
Marin will be one of an expected 400 people at the “Inspiring Action” conference, organized by the Hispanic Leadership Network, or HLN, which describes itself as “a center-right advocacy action group.”
The two-day gathering, which will be held in Miami, Florida and begin Jan. 26, will tackle issues such as job creation, the workforce, immigrants and the power of the Latino population.
More than 20 speakers and panelists are on the schedule, including GOP presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Republican congressional members Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of Florida, and former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
“The reason we started [HLN],” said Jennifer S. Korn, executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, “was because there was a vacuum, a need for an organization that was center-right."
“When you look at the issues, Latinos trend on the conservative side,” she said. “Hispanics are not monolithic. They’re not all open-border. Mexicans in New Mexico think about immigration differently than Mexicans in California.”
“Jobs are the number one issue for Latinos, just like for all Americans,” Korn said. “They worry about ‘Will I be able to feed my children, put a roof over my head, keep my job.’ Immigration is fourth or fifth on the list.”
Korn says that Bush, for whom she worked as the national Hispanic outreach director, understood the Latino community and took them into account when making appointments to White House positions and when he did such things as make immigration reform a priority.
“He had been the governor of Texas, he had family members who were Hispanic, his sister in law is from Mexico, his nephews were part Mexican,” Korn said. “He surrounded himself with Hispanics who were [highly] qualified.”
Bush managed to get more than 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 – a rarity for a Republican candidate.
But the engagement between Republicans and the Latino community dramatically fizzled after Bush left office.
Democrats, Korn said, long have paid more attention to Latino voters, at least, she stressed, at election time.
Republicans, she said, need to "pay attention to the tone and rhetoric" when "they explain policies."
"Immigration is an emotional issue for Hispanics," she said, "whether they're legal or illegal. Republicans need to understand that you can still be conservative on the immigration issue and not be hateful, and explain your issues."
“Conservatives have not been out talking to the community and bringing them into the fold,” she said. “That’s why there’s a disconnect between Hispanics who are conservative and [them] actually coming to a party [Republican] identification.”
“That’s why we [HLN] are here,” she said. “We consider ourselves the home for Hispanic advocates. We give them the tools to speak with elected officials.”