NCLR: GOP Declining Our Conference Invite ‘May Demonstrate A Lack Of Commitment To Our Community’

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, has been holding its annual conference over the past few days in Chicago. Speakers have included Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, Rep. Luis Guitierrez (D-IL), and others.

Republicans are conspicuously absent from the line-up. Greg Sargent spoke with NCLR spokesperson Marie Watteau, who said that it wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, the group invited RNC chairman Michael Steele, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno, but they all “declined the invitations through the RNC.” Sargent reports:

Watteau adds that GOPers like Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and both George Bushes have attended past conferences.

“You should certainly speak to the Republican Party about why they’re not here,” Watteau told me. “The Latino community is open to hearing from both sides, which is why both parties were invited. The Republican Party not being here may demonstrate a lack of commitment to our community.

ThinkProgress followed up with Watteau, who said that the four men cited “scheduling reasons.” RNC spokesperson Gail Gitcho told Sargent that Steele had to attend the RNC Summer Meeting which “begins this week,” but the party “remains fully committed to growing its Latino coalition.” It’s unclear whether Steele would have attended the conference otherwise. When we asked Watteau whether NCLR plans to work with the RNC down the road, she replied:

We don’t know what the future holds. But we hope that they will reach out and make a serious effort. That means talking about the issues that matter to Latinos and articulating a vision for improving the lives of Latino families.

Some Republicans have urged the GOP to increase party outreach to Hispanics. Former RNC chairman and Bush Cabinet secretary Jim Nicholson said that Republicans “have to better inform and motivate and align with the Hispanic voters.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) believes that part of the reason he lost the 2008 election is because he lost the vote of Latinos.

Many Republicans, however, seem to be alienating rather than reaching out. After months of making racist attacks against Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor, all Republicans (except one) on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against her. Even Steele said “God help you if you’re a white male” coming before her in court. Conservatives are already gleefully plotting how they can exploit their opposition to Sotomayor — who may become the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice — in the 2010 election season.

Meanwhile, as Sargent points out, DNC chairman Tim Kaine is set to deliver a speech at the NCLR conference today. Politico has a story out today with the headline, “Democrats have huge day with Latinos.”