Monday May 30th, 2016 8:34AM

Koch brothers reach out to Hispanics

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Looking to make inroads with the rising number of Hispanic voters, conservative activists are offering English classes, health checkups and courses to help Spanish-speakers earn high school diplomas. Picking up part of the tab: Charles and David Koch.<br /> <br /> The billionaire industrialists are working to patch a gaping hole in the GOP coalition that could spell a generation of irrelevance if Republicans cannot build some credibility with Hispanic voters, who typically shun the GOP. The fast-growing group could have tremendous sway in American politics for years to come. Party elders have acknowledged their struggles to win over Hispanic voters, who as recently as 2004 were roughly split in party preference.<br /> <br /> Enter the Libre Initiative, an organization that has collected millions from the Kochs' political network. Libre, which is pronounced LEE'-bray and means "free," pushes a message of limited government and economic freedom between lessons on how to build family-run businesses and prayer breakfasts with Hispanic pastors.<br /> <br /> Its organizers pitch conservative ideals while offering tutorials on U.S. immigration law, support for overhauling the broken immigration system that stops short of campaigning for the Senate's bipartisan bill and collecting donations for the unaccompanied children crossing the United States-Mexico border illegally.<br /> <br /> In effect, it is a shadow GOP - one with a gentle emphasis on social services and assimilation over a central party often seen as hostile to immigrants and minorities.<br /> <br /> "We've gone to areas that other conservative organizations don't typically go," said Libre's Texas director Rafael Bejar, who helped distribute candy-packed Easter baskets at a San Antonio elementary school. Tucked in with the sweets: a pamphlet in English and Spanish noting that the national debt is approaching $17 trillion.<br /> <br /> It's a subtle approach, for sure, when compared to other groups' sometimes angry rhetoric. While some conservatives are staging protests over the waves of immigrant children pouring into the United States, Libre is working with a Tucson, Arizona, church to collect donations for the children being held at federal sites. A similar effort in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the epicenter for the immigration surge, is on deck.<br /> <br /> It's merely the latest effort of the Koch-backed pitch to Hispanic voters and the effort to shape the future of the Republican Party and American politics. In June the United Negro College Fund, which provides scholarships to students attending historically black colleges, announced a $25 million donation from Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation.<br /> <br /> Libre now has operations in eight states in the hope Hispanics will repay conservatives with their votes. Organizers already have 3,000 Texas volunteers, and similar undertakings in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia.<br /> <br /> Libre is but one piece of the Koch brothers' sprawling and effective network of conservative groups. Alongside the grassroots-focused Americans for Prosperity and the youth-oriented Generation Opportunity, Libre began courting Hispanic voters in 2011.<br /> <br /> On a recent, sweltering Thursday, Pastor Marcus Burgos wore a blue T-shirt stenciled with #BeLibre as he helped distribute food in a rough corner of northwest San Antonio. Needy families picked up cartloads of tortillas, watermelons and frozen pizzas - along with bilingual Libre pamphlets.<br /> <br /> "My belief is that their prosperity, when it comes, will benefit the entire community," said Burgos, whose Abundant Life Church of God offers services in English and Spanish and occupies a former supermarket inside a strip mall.<br /> <br /> One of those taking home food was 45-year-old Elda Guevara, a mother of three and a loyal Democrat. She said she wasn't ready to switch parties - but some of what she saw made sense.<br /> <br /> "If they support immigration changes so that more people can get their papers in order, then I'm with them," said Guevara, on medical leave from her job as a cook.<br /> <br /> In 2004, Hispanic voters were 8 percent of the electorate. By 2012, they represented 10 percent of all voters. At the same time, they became friendlier to Democrats. Republican President George W. Bush's re-election bid captured 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, while Democrat Barack Obama won 71 percent eight years later.<br /> <br /> An internal Republican National Committee report after the 2012 elections urged the party to consider more inclusive language about immigrants and Hispanics. The RNC paid for Hispanic operatives in California, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.<br /> <br /> In Texas, that means $50,000 per month to the state party, allowing it to hire seven organizers focused on finding and recruiting Hispanics, especially those registered to vote. But progress is slow and frustration is growing, especially with the influx of unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, crossing the border.<br /> <br /> "People, they tell me that, 'I see Republicans as rich old men handling everything,'" said 23-year-old Crystal Rodriguez, who represents the Texas GOP in heavily Democratic El Paso. "But then they meet me, and they learn that's not true."<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Libre is trying to turn the conversation to Democrats' health care law. Hispanics historically lack health insurance but haven't enrolled under new programs.<br /> <br /> Looking to capitalize on the skepticism toward what critics call "Obamacare," Libre has run ads against Rep. Pete Gallego, a Texas Democrat who represents the San Antonio and El Paso suburbs and whose district is 71 percent Hispanic. In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is being criticized for voting in favor of the health care law, and Libre has similarly blasted Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida with Spanish-language television ads.<br /> <br /> Not everyone is convinced.<br /> <br /> Abundant Life Church of God volunteer Dora Cantu was wearing a Libre T-shirt as she handed out food and clothing - but said she had no use for its conservative ideology.<br /> <br /> "If you put God first," Cantu said, "there's little room for politics."
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 1 year ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 1 year ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 1 year ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Amid shouts of 'shame,' House GOP defeats gay rights measure
Democrats shouted "shame," but House Republicans switched their votes and defeated a measure to protect gay rights
8:03PM ( 1 week ago )
CDC director Freiden warns GOP Zika bill is inadequate
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Wednesday that a House GOP measure to combat the Zika virus is inadequate to deal with the swelling threat to public health
7:36PM ( 1 week ago )
Trump unveils list of his top picks for Supreme Court
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, released Wednesday a list of 11 potential Supreme Court justices he plans to vet to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia if he's elected to the White House.
3:31PM ( 1 week ago )
1st US penis transplant could bring hope to maimed soldiers
A 64-year-old cancer patient has received the nation's first penis transplant, a groundbreaking operation that may also help U.S. veterans maimed by roadside bombs
8:04PM ( 1 week ago )
States dig in against directive on transgender bathroom use
Politicians in Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere are vowing defiance over the Obama administration's new directive on transgender bathroom use
9:19PM ( 2 weeks ago )