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Garza: GOP must look to bring new voters into the party

Dec. 23, 2016 at 11:08 p.m.


In a rare sweep, Republican leaders now have assumed control of both the U.S. presidency and Congress. In the coming months, they'll have their hands full. But as soon as they get the fundamentals in place, the party would be wise to look beyond the current strategizing and celebrations. As every elected official knows, victory and defeat are only temporary. To continue racking up electoral victories for years to come, Republican leaders not only need to govern well but also continue to look forward and bring new voters into the party.

This is a lesson I've seen repeatedly throughout my own career as an elected official. It first became clear when I was a 27-year-old Republican candidate for county judge in Cameron County, a Democratic stronghold. It was so heavily Democrat-leaning that there hadn't been a Republican elected official in that South Texas area since Reconstruction. It was clear we wouldn't win with a conventional strategy so we positioned ourselves at the forefront of the region's demographic shifts, building a winning coalition of young voters and Latinos alongside a small but committed group of longtime Republican voters.

Young voters and Latinos are no longer just the future for Cameron County but also for the entire nation. And the Republican party hasn't made the inroads we need to survive over the coming decades. The traditional Republican voting coalition may have held strong in this election, but relying on what has worked in the past — to varying degrees of success — won't always be a winning strategy.

The irony is that the Republican Party shouldn't be as hard a sell to younger voters and Latinos as you might imagine. In fact, the Republican Party's core values could actually align well with these groups' beliefs. Yes, I know that this may sound ridiculous to many readers in the wake of such a divisive election, but let me explain.

As a lifelong conservative, the Texas Republican Party has always been a natural fit for my way of thinking. I believe in the orderly movement of capital and people, and know market forces, not government, lead to their most efficient allocation. I also believe in the kind of individual liberty that gives people more control over their lives, and an America that recognizes it has a special role in the world. Looking back at the nearly 30 years since my first campaign, these core conservative principles still ring true. Our party may sometimes tack one way or another in the shifting political winds, but these values have always served as our north star.

Admittedly, many of President-elect Donald Trump's campaign promises veered from these conservative tenets. As the president-elect's team moves from campaigning to governing, I hope they will give themselves some flexibility at their own negotiating table. If they do, they will see we can have free trade and be concerned for American workers displaced by globalization and technology. They will see that we can both secure the border and design an immigration system that complements our economy and strengthens our communities. And they should see that America's role in world is far too critical to embrace isolationism.

These types of policies are not just in line with my Texas conservatism, they are supported by the majority of Americans, including many younger and Latino voters. If the Republican Party ignores these American voters, it does so at its own peril. And in Texas, if we ignore our own special brand of conservatism, we need only look to California to get a sense of what happens when emerging groups disagree with Republican policies and find their political voice.

As Texas Republicans, our focus should be about making sure our conservative values are part of our great state's future. Republicans may have ridden the 2016 wave of discontent into the White House and Capitol Hill, but there are and always will be new movements on the horizon.

— Antonio Garza, a Brownsville native, was U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2002 to 2009. He was the first Republican elected to countywide office in South Texas and, in 1998, the first Latino elected to statewide Texas office as a Republican.

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