- May 23, 2005
By Rob Moritz
Hispanic voters in the state are beginning to wonder if there is any
difference between Democrats and Republicans, state Democratic Party
leaders were told Saturday.
Angela Schnuerle, who works for U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told
the Democratic Party's state committee that the party must address the
concerns of Hispanics in the state or they could lose their votes in
The state committee met Saturday at the Peabody Hotel, and new party
chairman Jason Willett discussed the party's current state and its goals
for the future. Saturday night, the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner
was held and the keynote speaker was to be U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn.
Schnuerle, while reporting on the activities of the party's Hispanic
caucus, told about 150 party leaders that actions during the recent
legislative session confused Hispanics throughout the state.
"We're faced with a challenge of addressing the confusion that has come
out of this last (legislative) session, said Schnuerle, who is Lincoln's
liaison in Washington County to the state's Hispanic community.
"Hispanics in Arkansas now no longer know who is friend and who is foe,"
she said, discussing the various immigration issues debated by the
Legislature during the session.
"While the Hispanic caucus had made some inroads, this legislative session
placed Hispanics back on the fence, wondering if there is anything
different between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party," she
Specifically, she discussed the failure during the session of a bill that
would have made children of illegal immigrants eligible for state
scholarships to colleges.
"We had a Republican governor support the student bill, then we had a
Democrat introduce the student bill that allowed undocumented kids to go
to college with in-state tuition," she said. "The Democratic Party
endorsed that bill, yet we could not get it passed through a majority of
That measure was approved in the House. It failed in the Senate after the
scholarship eligibility section was removed and it was amended to make
illegal aliens eligible for instate tuition rates.
"This was the first time that Hispanics in Arkansas have been united and
were willing to put money and time and get involved in politics," she
She also discussed Act 2210 of 2005, which adds restrictions to obtaining
a driver's license. The law, which goes into effect Jan. 31, will hamper
the new Mexican consulate office planned for Little Rock, she said.
Act 2210 will require anyone seeking an Arkansas driver's license for the
first time to show a Social Security card or have a Social Security number
verified through the Social Security Administration database.
Immigrants would have to show proof that they are lawfully in the United
States. The U.S. Senate approved similar legislation last week. It is
expected to be signed by the president.
Schnuerle also noted that state Sen. Jim Holt, R-Springdale, has said he
is planning a petition drive to get a constitutional amendment on the 2006
general election ballot that would put limits on state services for
illegal immigrants and stricter identification requirements for voter
Hispanic organizations across the nation no longer see Arkansas as a
"Hispanic-friendly state," she said. "Arkansas is being looked at
nationally as the model for anti-immigration legislation."
"If we want Hispanics in the Democratic Party of Arkansas, we must go back
to the drawing board and paint a bright line to differentiate us from the
Republican Party," she said. "We must deliver a substantive agenda that
will win Hispanics back."
Willett said after the committee meeting that he appreciated Schnuerle's
"I think Angela's point was very crystal-clear," he said. "The Hispanic
community is going to be one of the largest communities that we're going
to have that's growing, and there is just no reason the Hispanic community
should not be active with the Democratic Party when we really do represent
their values a lot more than the other side."
Willett said the party has opened an office in Fayetteville, with the
grand opening on June 9.
"Even though we know the Hispanic community is all over the state it is
going to help ... with the work we have go to do," he said.
Rep. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who sponsored the bill during the
session that would have made children of illegal immigrants eligible for
state scholarships, said she also liked Schnuerle's candor.
"I most certainly share her disappointment with that bill not passing,"
Elliott said. "I think one of the things that I appreciate about the
Democratic Party, even when I'm disappointed, is that we will listen to
harsh comments like that because you don't grow without some friction."
During his speech to the committee, Willett said he has been busy since
being elected party chairman earlier this year and promised the party will
be aggressive next year in trying to win back the governor's and
lieutenant governor's office.
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