By Michael Coleman | Albuquerque Journal Washington Bureau
Former President George H.W. Bush joined former Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. here Tuesday to launch a new conservative nonprofit group that will aim to improve economic conditions for Hispanics across the United States.
The Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute will focus primarily on economic opportunity, education, health care, financial independence and “supporting an agenda of traditional family values,” said Lujan, who was a longtime New Mexico congressman before serving as the first President Bush’s Interior secretary.
The 501(c)4 nonprofit will be funded entirely by private and corporate donations and will work to inform Hispanics about opportunities available to them. The group also will push for innovative policies and form public-private partnerships designed to help Hispanics lead better lives.
Lujan said it would not be overtly political, but will lean toward conservative policies and work to counteract other, more liberal Hispanic non-profit groups.
During his brief remarks, former President Bush touted the record of his son, President George W. Bush, in helping minorities. Bush said the new advocacy group would provide an even sharper focus on helping Hispanics.
He said President Bush has appointed more than 600 Hispanics to positions in his administration.
“We should all be encouraged that progress is being made, but if we are to be candid, we would also have to acknowledge that the U.S. Hispanic community, while large, remains woefully underserved in too many areas,” Bush said, generating loud applause from the roughly 250 guests at the event.
Moses Mercado, director of the Kerry-Edwards Democratic presidential campaign in New Mexico, said the new nonprofit group should not distract voters from what he said is Bush’s dismal record of helping Hispanics.
“Another advocacy group does not gloss over this administration’s failed policies with Hispanics and all Americans,” Mercado said. “There are 388,000 New Mexicans who do not have health insurance and this administration has done absolutely nothing to help them.”
Lujan said one of the group’s key missions will be to inform Hispanic voters about the records of the elected officials who serve them. The alliance has already compiled a database of eight million Hispanic registered voters in the United States, he said.
The new organization will model its grass-roots communications along the lines of those of the American Association of Retired Persons, a massive and influential organization that lobbies Congress on behalf of retirees.
“That’s kind of the model we will use for grass-roots organization because we have the numbers and we’re going to utilize them,” Lujan said, adding that the group will make sure to make use of its influential contacts in Republican circles.
Hispanicsó the fastest-growing ethnic group in the nationó continue to be a key target for both presidential campaigns.
In 2000, the New Mexico delegation to the Republican National Convention was criticized by Democrats for having only two Hispanics in its roster of delegates. This year, at least seven out of 24 New Mexico delegates have Spanish surnames.
GOP officials have said the delegate list to the national convention this year is the most diverse in the party’s history.