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RNC FL Hispanic Director Now a Democrat, Cites Heritage Report as Last Straw

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UPDATE: Here’s Jamelle Bouie at the Washington Post today, writing about this story and how it relates to immigration reform:

Pantoja’s departure from the Republican Party is instructive. Not only does it illustrate the dynamic of the last four years — where Latino voters responded to negative Republican rhetoric by going further into the Democratic camp — but the potential dynamic of the next decade. As Greg noted earlier this morning, conservative Republicans in the Senate are preparing to introduce a variety of “poison pill” amendments to the immigration bill — which is happening right now as we speak — designed to make the package unpalatable to supporters. Likewise, House Republicans have yet to offer their support to a comprehensive bill.

The combination of right-wing rhetoric and figures like Jason Richwine have created the perception of racialized opposition to immigration reform, where attempts to kill the legislation stem from anti-Hispanic bigotry. If the immigration bill fails, it could damage the GOP’s relationship with Hispanic voters even further for another generation. Which means — for Republican supporters — that it has to pass. There’s no other option.

Well this isn’t good news for GOP Hispanic outreach.  The Republican National Committee’s Hispanic outreach director in Florida, Pablo Pantoja, has called it quits.  Citing the recent, widely panned Heritage Report on the economics of immigration as the last straw, he’s decided to become a Democrat.

Here’s a Tampa Bay blog on Pantoja last night:

Presumably few Republican operatives have a better handle on the national Republican party’s efforts to court Hispanic voters than Pablo Pantoja, a native of Puerto Rico, and Florida State University alum appointed by the Republican National Committee to oversee Hispanic outreach in Florida last year. He also worked as a field director in the 2010 midterm elections.

Now – amid another debate over immigration reform and a widely touted Heritage foundation study on immigrants touted by a fellow who used to argue that Hispanics have a lower IQ than non-Hispanic immigrants – Pantoja has decided he’s more comfortable joining the Democratic party.

And here’s the letter he sent around about his announcement:


Yes, I have changed my political affiliation to the Democratic Party.

It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today. I have wondered before about the seemingly harsh undertones about immigrants and others. Look no further; a well-known organization recently confirms the intolerance of that which seems different or strange to them.

Studies geared towards making – human beings – viewed as less because of their immigrant status to outright unacceptable claims, are at the center of the immigration debate. Without going too deep on everything surrounding immigration today, the more resounding example this past week was reported by several media outlets.

A researcher included as part of a past dissertation his theory that “the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ.” The researcher reinforces these views by saying “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”

Although the organization distanced themselves from those assertions, other immigration-related research is still padded with the same racist and eugenics-based innuendo. Some Republican leaders have blandly (if at all) denied and distanced themselves from this but it doesn’t take away from the culture within the ranks of intolerance. The pseudo-apologies appear to be a quick fix to deep-rooted issues in the Republican Party in hopes that it will soon pass and be forgotten.

The complete disregard of those who are in disadvantage is also palpable. We are not looking at an isolated incident of rhetoric or research. Others subscribe to motivating people to action by stating, “In California, a majority of all Hispanic births are illegitimate. That’s a lot of Democratic voters coming.” The discourse that moves the Republican Party is filled with this anti-immigrant movement and overall radicalization that is far removed from reality.  Another quick example beyond the immigration debate happened during CPAC this year when a supporter shouted ““For giving him shelter and food for all those years?” while a moderator explained how Frederick Douglass had written a letter to his slave master saying that he forgave him for “all the things you did to me.” I think you get the idea.

When the political discourse resorts to intolerance and hate, we all lose in what makes America great and the progress made in society.

Although I was born an American citizen, I feel that my experience, and that of many from Puerto Rico, is intertwined with those who are referred to as illegal. My grandfather served in an all-Puerto Rican segregated Army unit, the 65th Infantry Regiment. He then helped, along my grandmother, shatter glass ceilings for Puerto Rican women raising my aunt to become the first Puerto Rican woman astronomer with a PhD in astrophysics (an IQ of a genius as far as I’m concerned). Puerto Ricans, as many other Americans still today have to face issues of discrimination in voting and civil rights.

Regardless of what political affiliation people choose, my respect for some remains. I don’t expect all Hispanics to do the same (although I would hope so) but I’m taking a stand against this culture of intolerance.

I am also making a modest contribution (here: http://bit.ly/12uf3g8) to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the efforts in helping protect the rights of immigrants and civil liberties in general.

With warm regards,


Pantoja’s hit the nail on the head.  Jason Richwine may have departed from Heritage, but the fact still remains that the once-respected think tank put out a study (slammed by everyone) that assumes that all immigrants will be dependent on social services and that all their following generations will be dependent too.  As Pantoja and former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) both noted, that’s just not how immigration works.

But it’s hard to see who at Heritage would understand that point these days.  Robert Rector, Richwine’s co-author on the now-infamous report, believes that we should “prohibit food stamp payments to illegal immigrant families,” even if those food stamps are being used to feed US citizen children.  Richard Scaife, a Heritage trustee since 1985, chairs the Sarah Scaife Foundation, a notable funder of right-wing organizations, including the hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).  And former Senator Jim DeMint himself, the current president of the Heritage Foundation, once called the DREAM Act “more of the nightmare act” and has compared immigration to the BP oil leak.

And by the way—conservative pushback against the Heritage report has been impressive, with legislators like Jeff Flake, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and fiscal conservatives like the Americans for Tax Reform, the Cato Institute, the Kemp Foundation and the American Action Network all speaking against the study.  But some conservatives have actually defended Heritage, Richwine, and the study—horrible, bigoted warts and all.  Check out this piece, for example, from National Review’s deputy managing director Robert VerBruggen, which discusses how Richwine’s research gives “reason for concern” about “Hispanic assimilation.”