Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2014
Shortly after he was elected, state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez took what he said was a natural step and asked to join the California Latino Legislative Caucus. The Oceanside Republican said his request last year was at first met with silence.
“When I didn’t get a response, I asked what the deal was and they said that I wouldn’t be allowed in,” Chavez said. “They do not allow Republicans to be part of the group.”
That rejection has sparked debate in and out of the Legislature about the diversity of opinion in Latino politics and whether taxpayers should be supporting legislative caucuses that have a partisan agenda.
The discussion comes at a time when the 24-member Latino Legislative Caucus has become a major force in the Capitol, racking up a series of victories, including approval of new laws providing driver’s licenses and college scholarships for immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Chavez said his primary concern involves the restrictions on membership when the group is using taxpayer resources, including an office in the Legislative Office Building, two staff members and a spot on the official state Legislature website. “I think it should be inclusive in that case,” he said.
Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the caucus chairman, said there is nothing improper about the caucus’ membership policies, which have been in place since the caucus was founded 40 years ago by five Democratic lawmakers.
The official state website says the caucus exists “to identify key issues affecting Latinos and develop avenues to empower the Latino community throughout California.”
The caucus has been in the news lately not only for its legislative victories but also because of controversy.
Sen. Ronald Calderon (D-Montebello), vice chairman of the Latino caucus in 2011-12, has been indicted on charges of accepting nearly $100,000 in bribes for official favors.
An FBI affidavit includes an allegation by Calderon, disputed by caucus members, that he agreed not to challenge Lara for the caucus chairmanship in exchange for a $25,000 contribution that was provided to a nonprofit run by Calderon’s brother.
About 55% of Latino voters in California are Democrats and 17% are Republicans, according to Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc.