The National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy organization, is holding its four-day annual conference starting today in Las Vegas, Nevada. High-level administration officials, such as Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, are scheduled to address the conference.
On the Republican side, Carlos Gutierrez, former Commerce Secretary under George W. Bush and one of co-chairs of Mitt Romney’s Hispanic steering committee, will be attending. Gutierrez will also be there to participate in the Republicans’ Team Nevada outreach effort, according to RNC spokesperson Alexandra Franceschi.
However, no other high-level Republican officials are attending. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will address the nation’s African Americans Wednesday at the NAACP conference. While Romney did address Latinos at the recent NALEO conference, political scientist Matt Barreto says more high-level Republicans should be participating the NCLR conference.
“I think it is a serious mistake for Republicans not to be fully participating at the NCLR conference,” says Barreto, who does extensive polling on Latino issues.
“The NCLR is a non-partisan Latino organization,” says Barreto. “For Republicans, it is important they attend these forums and discuss their policies as they try to increase their share of Latino votes.”
The NCLR has come out in favor of the health care legislation as well as against Arizona’s immigration law. Barreto says, however, it is important for both parties to participate in the Latino national discussion, but especially for Republicans.
“Republicans are currently in crisis mode when it comes to Latino voter interest,” he says. “They should not be ‘conceding’ to Democrats and assuming they cannot engage Latinos on issues because they are all Democrats,” he adds.
NCLR said in a statement they had reached out to both parties, as well as both presidential candidates. ”We have invited both candidates and the window remains open for them to attend,” said the NCLR, adding it would be best for both parties “to take this opportunity to engage the Latino community on the prominent issues of the day.”
The conference will tackle some of the most pressing issues affecting the Latino community. Among the discussions are From Vote to Voz: Harnessing the Power of the Latino Electorate, as well as A Defining Moment: The Supreme Court’s Arizona Decision and Beyond.
Though the issue of Latino voter participation is front and center in an election year, Hispanic leaders will also discuss the role of government in shaping policies important to the growing Latino population. One of the panel discussions is Legislative Update: Is Washington Delivering on Latino Priorities this Election Year?
Other issues to be discussed include homeownership and foreclosures in the Latino community as well as health care policy and the need to reduce health disparities in the Latino community.