Meet Nativo Lopez, the Latino Al Sharpton. He's changing California politics--for the worse.
12:00 AM, Sep 2, 2005 • By BILL WHALEN
CALIFORNIA'S POLITICAL WINDS blow south these days. That's the direction of approval ratings (34 percent for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 27 percent for the state legislature, per the latest survey by the San Francisco-based Public Policy Research Institute). It's also where state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez headed last week--south of the border, for a quick meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox.
What would prompt the speaker, who normally stays within the cozy confines of Sacramento, to try his hand at shuttle diplomacy? Nunez, who lived in Mexico for eight years as a child, said he felt the need to apologize to his second homeland for the Governator's praise of the Minutemen Project and the offhand remark that the U.S.-Mexican border should be "closed." But it's hard to ignore the timing of his trip: California's special election is two months away and Democrats are banking on a strong Hispanic turnout to kill Schwarzenegger's reform agenda.
So how did Nunez fare? His apology was a quick one; Fox granted him all of 20 minutes' face time. The Mexican media assailed Nunez for saying that Schwarzenegger meant no harm. Back home, California reporters ripped the visit as yet another stunt designed to embarrass the governor (before flying to Mexico, Nunez called on Schwarzenegger to declare a border state of emergency, as have Arizona and New Mexico's Democratic governors; Arnold has so far refused to do so).
Here's a suggestion for the speaker: In order to bridge California's illegal-immigration divide, he should start on the northern side of the border, with the more militant elements of California's Hispanic community, who shamelessly interject race into the public discourse--and whom Democratic leaders dare not offend.
And that means standing up to the likes of Nativo Lopez.
LOPEZ IS PRESIDENT of the Mexican American Political Association and a leading force behind Hermandad Mexicana Nacional (Mexican National Brotherhood), a tax-exempt non-profit formed to aid undocumented workers which nevertheless dabbles in partisan affairs--so much so that it's been the subject of an election-fraud investigation.
Until last year, "Nativo" (his real first name is Larry) was a Democrat. Then he switched to the Green party to join the Nader-Camejo presidential juggernaut. Lopez's own brush with elected office was even more calamitous. Elected a decade ago to a seat on the Santa Ana school board of trustees, Lopez was recalled by residents of Orange County (just months before Gray Davis met the same fate) for his refusal to comply with California's Proposition 227, which ended bilingual education in public schools. The recall vote wasn't close: Lopez lost by a 40-point margin. He said he wanted to make Spanish California's primary language; he was rejected in every precinct of the most Spanish-speaking city in America.
Normally, that would be the end of the story--gadfly gets swatted. However, Lopez continues to write new chapters in the art of race-baiting. For two years, Democrats have tried to convince Schwarzenegger to approve drivers' licenses for illegal aliens (Gray Davis signed such a law weeks before he was recalled; the legislature repealed it). In California, the topic divides Republicans and Democrats as it mixes messy concerns over national security with legal and social standing.
Lopez's approach to the sensitive topic is to liken it to the Holocaust. When asked by La Opinion newspaper about an alternative that would place a special mark on California drivers' licenses to distinguish between legal residents and illegal aliens, Lopez declared that the latter "do not want to be the Jews of Nazi Germany in California" and "will not be the new black slaves of the sureños states of the United States in this state." He added, "We will not be the Palestinians either that in their own earth undergoes an oppression. We are pioneering in California, a creative town of values, peace and fighters."
LOPEZ'S ANIMUS isn't limited to Republican lawmakers. He's just as willing to go to war with corporations. Earlier this month, Lopez began a PR campaign against Ameriquest, claiming that the California-based mortgage concern "targeted poor people and minorities." What Lopez didn't mention is that, for the past two years, he and a new tax-exempt spin-off, Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, have teamed up with American National Mortgage to offer mortgage services to Hermandad's pre-citizenship members. (If the goal is to make Hermandad a fully-licensed mortgage broker, then Lopez should check the law: according to federal Fair Housing Act, it's illegal to "advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap.")