Interview with Rep. Aaron Peña of the Hispanic Republican Conference (VIDEO)
by Adryana Aldeen on April 25, 2011 at 12:27 PM
The following interview with Texas State Representative Aaron Peña is one of a series of interviews conducted by VOCES Action and TexasGOPVote with members of the Hispanic Republican Conference in the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature. The Hispanic Republican Conference was originally created by State Rep. Aaron Peña, a member of the Texas House of Representatives from House District 40, located in Hidalgo. Peña served four terms as a Democrat before switching to the GOP on December 14, 2010. The topics we discussed included Rep. Peña's conservative values, why he left the Democrat party, the Obama administration's failure to take action on border security and immigration issues and the reasons he formed the Hispanic Republican Conference. Video and a transcript of the interview are included.
The membership of the Hispanic Republican Conference has been growing. Originally it was formed by the House’s five Hispanic Republicans but has since been joined by other State Representatives whose districts have at least 30% Hispanic constituents. The Hispanic Republican Conference will be addressing some issues that have been controversial in parts of the state with large Hispanic populations.
Hispanics make up 36% of the Texas population and this percentage is growing. Hispanics share Republican conservative values fiscal responsibility, faith, hard work, family values and pro-life. VOCES Action has been educating and empowering Americans with Hispanic backgrounds and who have these values to make more responsible and informed voting decisions.
During my visit to the Texas capitol, I also had the opportunity to see Rep. Barbara Nash of District 93 and Rep. Lyle Larson of District 122 who each have at least 30% Hispanic population in their districts. I asked them if they were planning to join the Hispanic Republican Conference and you will see in the video what happened!
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW:
Adryana Boyne: Most democrats believe that hispanics should vote democrat. We certainly have seen something very special with you because you were a democrat... you were a democrat state representative, and you decided not long ago to switch parties. Can you tell us why you did that and what do you think about democrats saying that hispanics should vote democrat.
Rep. Aaron Peña: Well you know Ronald Reagan said a long time ago that he thought that most hispanics were republicans and that they just didn't know it. I have a brother who is a republican who told me a long time ago, "you're a republican and you just don't know it." Well it took me eight years to figure it out. I watched the process, I watched the votes, I watched the way democrats operated and I watched the way republicans operated... I got a sense of the values of their party and of our party, and it's not even close. The way I was raised as someone from South Texas, the values of a conservative, catholic, family oriented, rural communities is very much in complement with the republican party. Very little in the democrat party, except for some history going back, is in common with the modern hispanic population. And by that I mean there was a time when catholics were not seen as being part of the mainstream. It may be hard for some people to remember that time, but catholics, remember with John F. Kennedy, ran, they thought, well, John F. Kennedy is a catholic, maybe he'll be beholden to the pope; well, as a catholic and as someone who comes from a traditional minority community, we identified with what John F. Kennedy said. John F. Kennedy, for most people who may not have been alive, was very pro-military, which hispanics are, and he was more conservative than the modern democratic party. So, my ancestors may have identified with him because of struggles we were going through in this country, but after that, it was downhill. The democratic party has gone to the left, and further to the left, and further to the left... and he party of today, John F. Kennedy would probably be considered too conservative to be a part of the party.
And so, it was very easy when I started receiving criticism from people because of my pro-life votes, because of my support for the second ammendment, because of my, of the the economic conservatism that's necessary to run a balanced budget, it was really easy after being pushed out by the democrats. Actually they ran a series of candidates against me because I took what was to them a very independent stance on issues... but quite frankly they're issues and stances that my community agrees with. And so I made a decision, I got tired of being the constant target by the far left that controls the democratic party and I was actually overwhelmingly embraced by the republican leadership and by the republican grass roots, and I'm very happy and comfortable, I've never second guessed my decision.
Adryana Boyne: Well actually I want to tell you that was a courageous step and we are very grateful and very proud to have you now in our ranks. Now, as a hispanic myself and through my work with Voces Action, which is "Voices Offering Conservative Empowering Solutions," I spend my time educating and empowering the latino community with conservative moral and fiscal values, and because of that, I know that hispanics are conservative and you have observed that among other hispanics. Can you tell me if you have seen response, after your step of switching parties, of other hispanics who have come to you and said "what can I do" or if they say "oh you got converted, should I be too" or what is the result of that...?
Rep. Aaron Peña: It's actually, I started noticing it when I would go back home and would stop at the HEB to pick up a bottle of milk or some bread for the family... now people would stop me who I didn't know and say [whispering] "hey, I'm really a republican" and I would respond "why are we whispering?" And you see it, it's a stigma, the idea that all hispanics... it's actually a very discriminatory idea... all hispanics have to think the same: the way the leadership of the far left decides you have to think. It's not true! The values that we have from our parents and our grandparents are very conservative values: respect your elders, respect authority, support your government, support your military, defend your family, the right to bear arms... in South Texas, everyone hunts... everyone grows up in a culture respecting guns and your right to have that. The belief in life... You know I went to a church when we had nuns that wore habits. Even the idea that I would even think about anything other than respecting the value of life is COMPLETELY contrary to the hispanic experience. No, the republican party is the place to be, I'm just sad that it took me eight years to figure that out.
Adryana Boyne: Well and I think it also shows humility on your part and it shows the community that people can be part of the wrong party for a long time and that they can take the courageous step and you did, certainly you did...
Rep. Aaron Peña: It's actually very exciting... because down where I live we've been dominated by one party, we never elected a republican ... in the history of my county. The [democrat] party has gotten old, is intolerant of change, and is very hostile to anybody who tries to think differently, who doesn't just follow... and there have been many... the political system which relies on bending the rules and getting people out to vote, abusing the elderly and manipulating their vote, is offensive, and it elects corrupt officials. Many of the officials, not all (because there are some very good ones), many of the officials in my area have been indicted and have gone to jail. That's because a system has grown that encourages that sort of leader. We have an opportunity to change our communities. I was very unhappy with the Obama Administration's response to what's happening in Mexico. You know, we have a few people harmed in other countries, far across the globe, and we will immediately jump in and try to save them. Yet we have, literally within seven miles of my home, beheadings, killings, the killings of families, the killings of migrants, and it occurs right there, and we will beg... the left and the right in my community begs the Obama administration, the federal government, to come down and save us, protect us from ourselves, or at least, let us protect, let Texans protect Texans... and we, we get very little support from the federal government.
Adryana Boyne: Well, actually that leads me to my next question. I know that you are actually an author of the House Concurrent Resolution 88 or H.C.R. 88. Can you briefly explain this resolution and what you would like to accomplish with it.
Rep. Aaron Peña: You know, we all love the democratic system that we have in this country. We have a state system and we have a federal system. Unfortunately it's dysfunctional right now because the state is trying to do everything it can to make up for the lack of action from the federal government. So the resolution that you have identified asks the federal government to get involved to... you know, we pay taxes to you, and unfortunately we're going to have to spend money in Texas, to do your job! Get off your backsides and work to protect our citizens. We have people dying, not just on that side, on the Mexican side, but on our side. But we have other problems too, and the federal government is pulling away and we are having to pick up the slack. We are not, we don't have the ability just to tax our citizens to death or to print money the way Washington has, so we want the federal government to do their job, and that's what the resolution calls for... for Washington to wake up and do their job. The whole debate over immigration should have been resolved by now. Democrats have had control. They have the presidency, they had the congress, why didn't they do something? These are things that have to be addressed. These are tough issues, I know because we're dealing with them here, because they're not doing it. But they were elected to do their job. They need to do it, and so as a Texan, you know, I want our federal government to do what we citizens here in Texas want them to do.
Adryana Boyne: And actually I am also aware that you took the leadership as soon as you became a republican and you started what is called the hispanic republican conference back in January, and can you tell me exactly what motivated you to form this conference?
Rep. Aaron Peña: Well, conservative hispanics have not had a voice, an organized voice. When I was a conservative democrat I tried to join with other conservative democrats, but we were quickly shut down... and the liberal point of view, the furthest to the left point of view, was always the way that you heard things. So when you think of hispanic, many politicians think, oh it's the furthest to the left "bomb thrower." It's not true!
Many of us are conservative, and we have been, but our voices have never been heard. And many times there are issues that occur where all they do is accuse the republicans of racism. It's a very cheap and easy charge to make! But, we will come up and we'll say NO, in this area, this response is a good response. We're hispanic people who love this state, we love our culture, and yet... it's not ALL about racism. It's not all about that they're devils with horns. They're actually trying to address the issue as their constituents want them to. They're a perspective that is respected, as a liberal perspective wants to be respected, but we don't have to rise to the level of name calling. And so, we stand in the gap, and we respond to issues that we think are unfair from the left... but also from the right, there are occasions when some republicans will speak out in a tone that is disrespectful or not productive towards the world as we see it, those of us who have been raised hispanic, and we speak up. So, if there are bills that we find offensive or statements that are made that are offensive from the left, we speak up. But if there are things that happen from the far right that we think are not productive we do our best to speak to them and to educate them on the issue, but if it comes down to it and we have to assert our muscle, because we have muscle, together, we stop it. And you will note, that I think we've done a good job.
Adryana Boyne: I think you have and I think the negative rhetoric must stop, and people need to see that the republican party is the party for hispanics. One of the things that we found out yesterday through your wonderful staff is the facts (a little bit more) about the hispanic republican conference, that for the state representatives to be members, to be voting members, they have to have at least 40% of the population hispanic and if they want to be non-voting members, like associate members, they have to have above 30% of the population. And certainly yesterday, when I was coming to prepare for the interview of several of your members, I saw, just walking in the halls, two representatives, one of them is representative Barbara Nash and the other is Representative Lyle Larson. And I told them what I was doing and about the hispanic republican conference and to my joy, both of them say that they want to join you and actually they do qualify to be your associate members, so we got two new people...
Rep. Aaron Peña: And right before you walked in I signed the letter accepting them into the conference.
Adryana Boyne: Oh, how wonderful! I didn't think this would happen to me just by coming here, so I am glad that I participated in that way even if I cannot be a member (since I am not a state representative)...
Rep. Aaron Peña: Simply educate people on our perspective. It's different. We are conservatives but we have a slightly different life experience, and we want to share that with people, and we think that the more people learn about each other, the more healthy the process is. We've been doing a good job and we're very proud of the work we've done.
Adryana Boyne: Well, I am also proud of you and I want to thank you not only for serving your district but for serving the people of Texas. Thank you very much, muchas gracias Mr. Peña.