Republicans are vying for the votes of Suffolk’s Latinos.
The county GOP committee announced in a press release last week that for the first time in its history, it would create a Hispanic alliance tasked with registering Latino voters and recruiting potential candidates to run for office.
“For far too long, the political left has taken the Hispanic community for granted and recent polls indicate a growing frustration with the [Democratic] Party’s lack of family values and understanding of small business,” GOP chairman John Jay LaValle said in the statement.
Republicans are seeking to tap into a growing Latino electorate in Suffolk County, the statement said.
According to Nick LaLota, the Republican commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Latinos comprise about 7.8 percent of Suffolk County’s 907,000 total registered voters this year. That’s up from 5.82 percent in 2006, he said.
When drawing up the figures, BOE officials analyzed the last names of voters to determine which individuals have “Hispanic-oriented” names, LaLota said. And while it’s not an “exact science,” it gives officials an idea of the growth of the population.
Two Hispanic Republicans — Brookhaven’s Jose Nunez and Victoria Serpa of Islip — will co-chair the Suffolk County Republican Hispanic Alliance, LaValle said. When reached this week, Nunez said there was a great opportunity for the Republicans to attract Hispanic voters, who traditionally lean Democratic.
“We believe that they have the same core values — family, business,” he said. “They’re very conservative. There’s a lot of religion.”
But as far as Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer is concerned, the Republicans are late to the party. He noted the Democrats have backed several Hispanic individuals who were elected.
“It’s about time,” Schaffer said. “We welcome them to finally recognizing that the Hispanic population is an important part of our county.”
Nunez said the GOP’s new alliance would also serve an educational purpose — engaging Latino voters in a political dialogue and perhaps dispelling fears of the political process that some may have learned in their native countries.
It’s “smart” for Republicans to be reaching out to Hispanic voters, according to Xavier Palacios, a Huntington resident, school board member and co-founder of the Friends of Huntington Station Latin Quarter — a group established to revitalize Huntington Station through business development, mentorship, vocational training and other programs. The No. 1 issue on the minds of Hispanics, Palacios said, is immigration reform, and Republicans need to address the issue head-on if they’re going to attract Latino voters.
“I think it can no longer be the hot potato,” he said. “A solution to real immigration reform needs to be had.”
Not everyone thinks that Latinos care most about the immigration issue. Nunez said there are many Latinos out there who feel people should arrive and settle in the country through legal channels. He also said immigration was a federal issue, not a local one.
Other issues on the local level are of importance to Latinos too. Palacios said Republicans and Democrats would be smart to focus on economic issues, as many Latinos are staggered in professions or can’t afford college. Immigrants come here to fulfill the American Dream, something that appears to be becoming more challenging.
“Folks nowadays, in my view, are losing that dream,” he said.