John W. Gonzalez, HoustonChronicle.com, Jul. 9
SAN ANTONIO—Courting the nation’s crucial Latino vote, President Bush praised the contributions of Hispanics in the United States and pledged to create an “opportunity society” with better schools and more jobs.
In remarks delivered live by satellite Thursday to the League of United Latin American Citizens national convention, Bush said his administration has helped Hispanics by improving education, fostering business growth and welcoming immigrants.
“An opportunity society must educate every single child, encourage a spirit of enterprise, treat immigrants with fairness and respect. I believe America has made progress in all these areas, and I want you to know I look forward to working with LULAC to do more,” Bush said.
Spokesmen for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, whose remarks will be beamed in Saturday, chided Bush for touting policies that “do not match LULAC goals.”
Kerry’s camp said Bush’s actions clash with LULAC’s objectives on a variety of issues such as small-business development and health care.
Bush spoke with pride about his school performance measures, and he said he helped Hispanics by stoking the economy with incentives and tax breaks.
“According to the most recent data, Hispanic-owned companies employ about 1.4 million Americans and carry a payroll of nearly $30 billion. And what I’m here to tell you today is our economy is stronger, our society is better off because Hispanic-owned businesses are thriving and creating jobs all across America,” Bush said.
Bush also hailed Hispanics’ contributions to the war effort in Iraq.
“Some 85,000 Latinos have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. More than 100 have given their lives. Over 400 have been injured in combat. Our nation will never forget their service and their sacrifice to our security and to our freedom,” he said.
The intensifying competition for Hispanic votes comes as the Gallup Poll released findings suggesting Bush may be trailing Kerry significantly among registered Hispanic voters.
In a survey conducted in June, Kerry led 52 percent to Bush’s 35 percent. The poll had a 10 percentage-point margin of error.
The luncheon crowd of about 2,000 LULAC supporters greeted Bush’s remarks without rancor, and they cheered loudly when he acknowledged the presence of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who served as his commander of U.S. troops in Iraq.
“When I think of the story of Rick Sanchez, it reminds me that America is the nation of the open door and must remain that way,” Bush said.
“You see, in the United States, our aspirations matter more than our origins. And my administration is committed to this basic principle: El sueño Americano es para todos. (The American dream is for everyone),” he said.
Sanchez, a native of Rio Grande City, drew a standing ovation after Bush’s salute.
In an interview later, Sanchez said becoming one of the nation’s best known—though controversial—Hispanic role models has been an unexpected honor.
Some members of Congress called for his ouster over the prisoner abuse scandal that occurred during his watch. But Sanchez held his ground and rotated out of Iraq on schedule July 4. He’s now based in Germany again and has no immediate plans to retire from the Army—and no interest in politics.
Reflecting on his military career, Sanchez said being a Hispanic in uniform isn’t as tough as it once was.
“In the early days, there were some incidents where I felt that being an Hispanic was a detriment. At least it made me work a lot harder,” Sanchez said.
“But our institution, our Army, has come a tremendously long way in the course of my 31 years in this business,” he said.
Sanchez, who was swarmed by LULAC members seeking autographs and snapshots, said he uses his status as the nation’s senior Hispanic military officer to encourage others “to stay in school, to strive for excellence, to be very, very committed to their country. It is something that we owe back to the community as leaders.”