Friday, October 10, 2008

Hispanics angered by ad

Local GOP points to sender

Cincinnati.Com » Elections

Last Updated: 6:03 pm | Friday, October 10, 2008

National and local Hispanic groups are demanding Republican leaders apologize for and denounce a "racist" ad mailed to voters in a suburban Cincinnati state House race - an ad using a Chihuahua wearing a sombrero with the tagline, "Can you speak Spanish?"

The flier, paid for by the Virginia-based group Republican State Leadership Committee, is aimed at Democrat Connie Pillich in the 28th District, and wrongly suggests Pillich wants to abandon English as the language used on official documents.

The national League of United Latin American Citizens and the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber are upset about how the mailer depicts Hispanics - which came during Hispanic heritage month.

"They are distorting the facts and ridiculing the Hispanic community," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "It's a shameful piece. It really is gutter politics."

Carrie Cantrell, a spokeswoman for The Republican State Leadership Committee, an Alexandria, Va.-based political organization that works to elect down-ticket Republicans in state races, said she appreciates the groups' opinion, but that the ad was simply a parody of a well-known popular culture reference, a Chihuahua once used in Taco Bell advertising.

She did not apologize.

"We do feel this is an important issue in the state right now," Cantrell said.

Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber President Alfonso Cornejo, who got the flier at his Montgomery home Monday, wrote to Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou, demanding an apology and a denunciation.

"Insulting a foreign nation and its people is not something to laugh about," Cornejo wrote. "It has become very difficult for Hispanics to embrace your party because of your constant attacks."

In an exchange with Cantrell, LULAC's Wilkes wrote, "The bottom line is that we have given you an opportunity to apologize for your actions and to retract your fliers and you have chosen not to. Now you will have to accept the consequences of your actions."

Triantafilou said the Hamilton County and state Republicans had nothing to do with the ad and apologizing would suggest they take responsibility for it. He did denounce it.

"It's offensive and wrong and repugnant," said Triantafilou, a first-generation Greek-American. "(The Hispanic chamber) is owed an apology from the group that sent it."

Sharonville Mayor Virgil Lovitt, the Republican candidate in the 28th District whom the ad was designed to benefit, knew nothing of it and is not affiliated with the Republican State Leadership Committee, said his campaign manager Tony Brigano.

"We find it a distasteful ad," he said. "What happens oftentimes in high-profile races is that they attract the unwanted attention of third-party groups.

"Unfortunately they think they are helping us and in reality they are not," he added.

This is not the only race where immigration is an issue. In the 1st Congressional District, the Ohio Republican Party mailed campaign literature attacking the Democratic candidate, state Rep. Steve Driehaus, saying, "While Ohioans struggle to find jobs Steve Driehaus supported giving work visas to illegal immigrants."

"They don't want to talk about the issues impacting us, or the economy, instead they want to try and bring in everything possible to discredit those running for office," Driehaus said.

Most American voters say they are most concerned about the failing economy, the high cost of energy, the war in Iraq and health insurance. But immigration is a hot-button issue that can get voters energized about down-ticket candidates, said Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University.

"In down-ticket races like the House, you have to do something to get voters to stay in the voting booth and go farther down the ballot and vote for that person," Beaupre said. "I think they are targeting a certain group this issue will resonate with."

Democrats and Republicans need all the ammunition they can get in the closely contested race for the vacant seat.

The seat was held by Jim Raussen, a Republican, who left to take a job in Gov. Ted Strickland's administration. Pillich, a Democrat from Montgomery, is an attorney who lost to Raussen by 4 percentage points in 2006, and had already announced she would run. Republicans put Lovitt up for the seat.

A voter brought the ad to Pillich's attention Monday.

"It's offensive to me, pandering to racial prejudices," she said. "We should not have race-based stuff like this. The racial innuendo is not appropriate. I understand everyone is not here legally, and that's an issue. But this is not how you deal with it. Immigration is a federal issue."

The mailer refers to House Bill 477, sponsored by Rep. Bob Mecklenborg, R-Green Township, and passed by the House, which requires that government business such as meetings and documents be in English.

Pillich came out against it when it passed this spring, saying it wasn't needed because there is no threat to Ohio business being done in another language.

The Hamilton County Democratic Party joined the Hispanic groups in demanding the Republican Party denounce the ad, with Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke calling it, "racist fear-mongering at its worst."

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