Christie Throws Down Gauntlet; Urges Latinos to Challenge Democratic Leaders

By David Cruz

Chris Christie got 51 percent of the Latino vote in 2013, an unprecedented feat for a Republican in the Garden State. And while he’s followed the playbook of most politicians — supporting so-called Latino issues like in-state tuition for children of the undocumented and appointing a Latino to the Rutgers University Board — his call to Latinos was a little bit different before the annual Latino Coalition luncheon.

“So if you wanna change this, it’s not gonna be a cricket match,” he told the group yesterday. “It’s gonna be more like Rugby than cricket, and you’ve gotta be ready to fight against interests, no matter where they come from, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.”

The man who boasted that he doesn’t speak another language and doesn’t plan to learn a new one, preached a gospel of empowerment that he said transcends ethnicity, cut red tape to promote business development and give parents a choice on education. Republican Jose Arango — who chairs the state’s Republican County Chairs Association — says that’s a message (and a tone) Latinos are not getting from Democrats.

“The Latino community, like any minority community, has been pampered and abused by the Democratic machine. Don’t worry about it; we’ll give you this. Stay there and we’re gonna tell you what you’re gonna be,” he said. “Well, Chris Christie is telling the Hispanic community and the minority community to speak up, make sure that people feel and understand what your feelings are and don’t be put in a box.”

Latinos own more than 3 million businesses in the country — that’s $500 billion in economic activity. Arango says Democrats need to start understanding that there’s more to Latinos than social programs and immigration. Carlos Medina, who chairs the statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — a non-partisan business association — says this governor knows the Latino community is not monolithic.

“That’s a huge voting block that really gets ignored,” said Medina. “Gov. Christie was one of the first to come to the Hispanic business community and said we have a lot in common. I wanna eliminate red tape. I wanna work with you. Democrats have traditionally gone to more social issues, and that’s fine but Hispanic business — and business in general — powers the state and we can’t be ignored.”

But left-leaning Latinos in New Jersey say that just Christie’s move to the center on some key issues was an election year imperative in 2013, this year’s shift to the right is likewise, aimed at the voters he needs, when he needs them.

“Remember when he got 51 percent of the vote? He was at the height of his game, everything was great, everybody was 100 percent pro-Christie,” said Lizette Delgado-Polanco. “Now people see right through him and see through the game and see how they were used as pawns and I doubt — very seriously — I mean he’s got his own problems. There are so many Republicans in the race, he’s got to deal with them before he even gets to us.”

While Latino political and economic power continues to grow, genuine gains — from the board room to the political backroom — have been slow to keep pace, and the leader who addresses that issue most effectively — Republican or Democrat — is likely to attract the most Latino voters.