Forget the Tea Party – here comes the Tequila Party

Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the US – and a new group wants to get them in the voting spirit

If the political frustrations felt by many Hispanics in the United States – what is it that President Barack Obama has done for them exactly? – are enough to drive them to drink, one Republican member of Congress understands it. It's why DeeDee Garcia Blase is hoping to recruit them to the Tequila Party.

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This sounds frivolous, but it could be more. There is, after all, another political movement around in the US nowadays that also uses a beverage in its name, which, although it has no formal national structure and no single leader, has in very short order re-crafted the American political landscape. It's called the Tea Party.

The Tea Party folk, of course, have been accused by some of espousing racist doctrines particularly when it comes to the debate over immigration control. It's partly in response to that that the Tequila Party, based in Tucson, Arizona, where Ms Garcia Blase has her congressional seat, is making its stand.

Her movement is also an indication of how poorly the two traditional parties, the Republicans and Democrats, are faring with a block of voters that becomes more critical with each election cycle. Hispanics make up by the far the fastest growing minority in the US. It has grown by 43 per cent just in the last decade. Today there are 50 million Hispanics in the US accounting for 16 per cent of the population.

The purpose of the venture, according to Ms Garcia Blase, is not to create a third party in the traditional sense but rather to influence the debate on immigration in particular and to galvanise Hispanics to participate in the process and vote. Turn-out in the community has always been low, weakening its voice relative to its numbers. While the Tea Party is aligned with Republicans, the Tequila Party aims to be non-partisan.

That it has sprung out of a border city in Arizona is hardly a surprise given the state's recent attempts to enact a new law that would essentially compel the police to check on the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. Georgia has since attempted to introduce similar legislation, but in both cases the laws are being challenged by the federal government in the courts.

The Tequila Party's first major event (alcohol will not be served) is scheduled for later this month in Kansas, a state far from the border but which has generated its own share of immigration-related headlines, not least when a member of the state legislature publicly suggested that illegal immigrants be shot at the border "like pigs".

For Republicans, Hispanic support has long been elusive. While George W Bush made inroads, the party today has no prospective presidential candidate with credible ties to the community. Part of the reason that many in the party tried earlier this year to persuade the former president's brother, Jeb Bush, to put his hat in the ring was his record of connecting with Hispanics. His wife, Columba, is Hispanic.

With the exception of Cuban-Americans in Florida and New Jersey, most Hispanics would be expected to tilt towards the Democrats. But Mr Obama has flat-out disappointed many of them because of his promise in 2008 to enact comprehensive immigration reform within his first 12 months in office. Almost nothing has been done, and even a law called the DREAM Act, which sought to give citizenship to children of illegal immigrants who have grown up in the US, faltered in Congress.

It's why Mr Obama held a summit with Hispanic leaders in the White House on Tuesday and why he has agreed to speak at the annual conference of the oldest Hispanic advocacy group in the country, the National Council of La Raza, in two weeks. He will be there armed with worrying data from a Gallup poll released this week showing his support among Hispanics slumping from 73 per cent 18 months ago to 52 per cent.

"Many in our community are disillusioned about the promise they heard at our conference three years ago, where the president promised to make (immigration) reform a priority," La Raza director, Janet Murguia, told the Efe news agency. "There's a lot of frustration and bad feeling in our community, and the president has to say what it is he has done, where he has made progress, and what he still has to do to keep his promise."

Ms Garcia Blase says that she is not building the Tequila Party as an anti-Obama movement per se. "We're not going to bash politicians like the Tea Party does. This is about voting and why we're in the situation we're in," she remarked recently.

"We get kicked around by both parties, we get pandered to, it's been happening from both sides, and the reason they do it is we don't vote," adds Kevin Solis, the California state director of the Tequila Party. "We didn't vote in the primaries, we didn't vote in the nationals. We have the lowest voter participation of any ethnic group."

One Hispanic group that identifies with the Republican Party, Somos Republicans, this week tried to make its voice heard above the ruckus of the presidential nomination process by demanding that one candidate, pizza parlour entrepreneur Herman Cain, withdraw his candidacy because of his stand on immigration. Most offensive was the proposal he made last month to build a fence the entire length of the US-Mexico border that would, he said, "be part Great Wall (of China) and part electrical technology".

The immigration issue has vexed both parties in Washington for years. President Bush earned the ire of conservatives by attempting in vain to push through reform that would have both tightened border security and given a route to amnesty for the millions of illegals already in the country. Mr Obama has taken steps to seal the border and has accelerated deportation rates. Yet, he has not been able to find any formulation for addressing the status of illegal residents that would find sufficient support in Congress.

As for the name, the Tequila Party, a consultant helping to build it, Augustin Garcia, says it's an attempt at levity to make the movement accessible. "We are a culture that likes humour," he told CNN. "We're not Puritans. Humour is part of our politics as well. We could have called it the 'Café con Leche Party'. You have to laugh because there is no logic in racism."

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