Associated Press file

Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. walks in a UFW march with Cesar Chavez as hundreds of farm workers follow on Aug. 11, 1979.

Editorial: Spat over Cesar Chavez resolution shows why GOP continues to repel Latinos

Published: Saturday, Apr. 5, 2014 - 12:00 am

Among the 427 resolutions that Congress has passed so far this session is one congratulating Sporting Kansas City, a soccer club, for winning the Major League Soccer Cup in 2013.

Others honor the life and legacy of Czech President Vaclav Havel, South African President Nelson Mandela and the Mayo Clinic, and designate Feb. 28 as “Rare Disease Day” and March 11 as “World Plumbing Day.”

One might reasonably conclude that the senators will support a feel-good resolution honoring just about anyone or anything.

Perhaps that is what Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., thought the first time he tried to get the Senate to support a commemorative resolution honoring legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez on the anniversary of his birth, March 31. Or even the second time.

But by this year – the eighth time Menendez has failed to get support from Republican senators for his resolution – it must have been crystal clear that some people and topics are just too touchy for today’s hyper-partisan political landscape.

On Monday, Menendez decided not to let another year pass without a fight, according to his staff – especially given the release of a Chavez biopic a few days earlier. He called out the opponents of this resolution publicly on the Senate floor. The result was a few minutes of absurdist political theater in which Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama tried to insert politically charged language into the otherwise innocuous symbolic document and Menendez protested.

“This is not about Cesar Chavez,” Menendez said of the amended language in an impromptu floor debate Monday, which is available for viewing at “This is about immigration.”

Indeed, it was. Sessions, on behalf of Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, asked for an amendment of the largely biographical text stating that Chavez “strongly believed in enforcing immigration law” and that he supported a secure southern border with Mexico and encouraged members of the United Farm Workers to report instances of undocumented laborers.

These things are not untrue, but certainly taken out of the historical context in which they occurred. More importantly, it’s not at all relevant to today’s debate over immigration reform.

But it seems that Sessions and Vitter weren’t concerned about historical accuracy so much as scoring points in the early days of what is expected to be a nasty midterm election that could put Republicans in control of the Senate. Sessions is running for re-election, and Vitter is running for governor in his home state.

A similar bill in the House, sponsored by Los Angeles-area Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas, was sent to committee and stalled.

The treatment of a legitimate American hero perfectly illustrates why the GOP continues to repel Latino voters, especially in states like California and Colorado. Why pick a fight over an essentially meaningless commemoration for a beloved and revered Mexican American? If they had just let this resolution go, like the one for Nelson Mandela or National Plumbing Day, no one would have paid much attention.

As it is, this spat has not gone unnoticed. The story was carried by Los Angeles-based La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the country, as well as Fox News Latino and Politico.

Vitter and Session’s petty politics might have played well with their base, but the incident has only deepened the mistrust of the Republican Party among the country’s growing Latino population.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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