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Will frustration lead to a tequila uprise?

Many Latinos have grown frustrated by the failure of Democrats and Republicans to craft a comprehensive reform of national immigration policy. Those disaffected voters may have a new home: the Tequila Party, an independent, grassroots effort designed to mobilize Latinos much as the tea party movement has seized on the anger and frustration of fiscal conservatives.

The Tequila Party remains more an idea than a movement, but you can imagine the possibilities if it were to take off.

More Latinos identify themselves as Democrats than as Republicans ― by nearly a 3-to-1 margin according to polling. But Tequila Party backers are frustrated by Democrats’ unwillingness to push hard on Latino issues. Like the tea partiers, they sense antipathy from one party and lip service from the other.

Tea party activists thought they were taken for granted by the Republican establishment. When tea partiers knocked off some GOP incumbents in primaries, the establishment started to pay close attention.

The early rumblings for the Tequila movement have come from Nevada in the wake of the mid-term elections. Latino voters were key to saving Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who ran against an anti-immigrant Republican. Republican Brian Sandoval was elected the state’s first Latino governor.

Sensing new strength but feeling they were being taken for granted, Latino power brokers in Nevada floated the idea of the Tequila Party, and it has quickly created a buzz nationwide. In Chicago, Mexican-American activists who organized huge immigrant street marches in 2006 have started a Tequila Party chapter.

Their frustration grows. Immigration reform still seems to be on the back burner for many Democrats, and last month Republicans derailed the DREAM Act, a sensible bill that would let military service or college study become a path to legal status for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Five Democratic senators joined the Republican opposition.

So this will be interesting to watch. Remember, while the tea party has become a force in the GOP, it has also drawn support from a number of disaffected Democrats. If the Tequila Party becomes a force, it will be because it lit a fire under Democrats and a new wave of Latino Republicans. Latinos won two governorships and one U.S. Senate seat in November. All three candidates are Republicans. And this month, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush brought moderate Republicans to a summit intended to rebuild goodwill with Latino voters.

Latino influence will continue to grow here and around the nation. New census data show that Illinois will lose a congressional seat in 2012, but likely would have lost two seats if not for a Latino population surge in the state.

The tea party movement was once seen as quixotic, but it has created the political template for a constituency to channel its anger and impatience into a force that the major parties have to respect. Don’t count out a tequila uprise.

(The Chicago Tribune, Jan. 17)
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