Monday, May 28, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The blue-and-green signs first appeared early in the year in store windows.
“Juntos con Heller,” (“Together with Heller”) they proclaimed, signifying the business’ support for U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
In May, Heller officially launched his “Juntos con Heller” Hispanic outreach campaign, the result of months of work.
For Hispanic Republicans, Heller’s efforts have been a welcome change from the divisive campaign tactics of fellow Republican Sharron Angle, who vilified immigrants in an infamous campaign ad in her 2010 campaign to unseat Harry Reid from his U.S. Senate seat.
Heller’s detractors, however, call his efforts to reach out to Hispanic voters hollow and his website in Spanish disingenuous.
In January, Heller addressed a Hispanic in Politics breakfast meeting — a highly anticipated event in no small part because the senator decided to bail at the last minute on a Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce meeting in 2011 after he was informed an opponent’s staffer was going to videotape the event.
In February, Heller reached out to business owners and announced new converts, like Roberto’s Taco Shop owner Reynaldo Robledo, on Twitter .
When the Heller campaign was ready to launch its Hispanic outreach effort officially, Robledo and 124 others were on a list of co-chairs for the Juntos con Heller Coalition.
“This coalition is just the start of a growing group of Hispanic supporters who will be making phone calls, knocking on doors, and talking to their friends and family to turn out votes for Dean Heller. They identify with Dean Heller’s top priority — getting the Hispanic community and all Nevadans back to work,” Heller campaign spokeswoman Chandler Smith said.
Noah Herrera, a real estate broker and one of the co-chairs, says Heller is seen in a positive light by the Las Vegas Latino community.
“I’ve seen Heller do a lot more outreach to the Hispanic community than candidates in the past, and he is the right person for the job,” Herrera said. “He is pro-business, wants to keep taxes down and is working closely with the real estate community to help bring stabilization to the community.”
Hispanics make up about 15 percent of the Nevada electorate and have swung previous elections. In 2010, Angle lost the U.S. Senate race to Reid by six points, and Reid later thanked Latino voters for the victory.
UNLV political scientist David Damore said Heller’s opponent, Democrat Shelley Berkley, has tried to “put (Heller) in a box,” painting him as anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant. Heller and the Republican Party in general have bolstered their Latino outreach efforts, according to Damore.
“Republicans were in denial of the demographic changes happening in Nevada and the Mountain West,” Damore said. “Now they’ve seen the maps, they’ve seen what happens when they don’t address that demographic, and they have to get more realistic about it. This is the first step in what will be a multiyear process to not just win, but simply cut into the advantage Democrats have with Hispanic voters.”
Alex Garza, vice president of Hispanics in Politics, was one of those frustrated with Angle’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric in 2010 and is on Heller’s list of supporters. Garza said Heller was making inroads with Hispanic voters and was engaging them more than previous Republican candidates.
“Heller is doing a much better job,” Garza, 41, said. “Dean Heller and the Republican Party have been reaching out to Latinos from the very start. They have been reaching out to Latinos about the core fundamental issues that affect us on a day-to-day basis.”
Garza said he did not agree with Heller on everything, but they are aligned on what Garza sees as the most important issues.
“This particular election more than any other election in history boils down to what candidate is best to help the economy recover, unemployment drop, get out of the foreclosure mess and enhance the education system,” Garza said.
On both sites, information can be found on Heller’s stance on immigration, including similar sections that address the convoluted immigration system.
“Our nation’s immigration process is bureaucratic, expensive and time-consuming,” the statement reads. “Immigrants who wish to become citizens should not have to spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer to receive an answer from the immigration bureaucracy. For this reason, Dean supports responsible, effective reforms that provide those who wish to remain in our country legally an opportunity to bring their talents and contributions to our great nation.”
Yet, only the English-language site addresses Heller’s stance on border security and illegal immigration.
“Businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants should be held accountable,” the English site states. “Dean also believes border patrol must also have the resources necessary to end the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States and opposes amnesty for those who enter America illegally.”
Heller, through his statements and votes in Congress, has consistently supported limiting or eliminating the ability to conduct government business in any language other than English. Heller has sponsored legislation to limit election ballots to English-only, to mandate that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid only be filled out in English and to make English the official national language. Heller also supported a bill to end birthright citizenship.
On his Spanish-language website, however, his statement indicated concern over Nevada students whose first language is not English.
“No doubt, education is the path to success. Many children in Nevada have the double challenge of getting a good education while still learning to become proficient in English,” the site says in Spanish. “Dean has worked for many years to develop quality education, which offers families and communities the resources they need to serve their children.”
Derek Washington, president of the Nevada Stonewall Democratic Caucus and a regular at Hispanics in Politics meetings, said Heller was sending mixed signals with his Spanish-language site.
“The audacity of his statement is gob smacking,” Washington said. “He and his party have been so anti-education, so anti-non-English speaking people, anti-immigrant and anti-Dream Act. You’ve got to give him marks for cajones. It’s a little hypocritical to bust out with this ‘poor Spanish-speaking community’ stuff now.”
Responding to the criticism, Smith said Heller had been consistent in his support for empowering parents to seek the best education for their children and lower the burdens of big government, and he echoed that sentiment in his comments at the January Hispanics in Politics meeting.
“Dean Heller has been open and honest about how federal taxpayers’ dollars should be spent,” Smith said. “To suggest that he doesn’t care about children learning English or to criticize efforts to reach out to Hispanics in the language they may prefer is a transparent attempt to throw water on the growing support for Dean Heller within the Hispanic community.”
Washington called the Heller-sponsored federal student aid bill “just plain mean” and suggested votes for such legislation indicated Heller’s support only goes so far.
“If he feels this way, he needs to reconcile his past when it comes to the Spanish language and Latino voters with him putting up a Spanish-language website,” Washington said. “If it’s not good enough for parents sending their kids to school, why is it good enough to pander to voters?”
Heller has vocally opposed the Dream Act. Garza is a Dream Act supporter, and he said he believes the Republican Party is “headed down the wrong track” and in jeopardy of “alienating” Hispanic voters when it comes to immigration reform. Still, Garza said Heller was the right candidate for the time.
It is Garza’s duty, as a constituent he said, to show Heller the way on issues on which they disagree.
“We agree on most issues,” Garza said. “My job is to be able to lobby elected officials on the issues we don’t agree on and show them why it’s important for them to vote in a different direction. We’ll never agree 100 percent.”