Cover Story

Latin persuasion

"Latin persuasion" Continued...

Issue: "The GOP and Hispanics," May 19, 2012

Cruz grew up in a Houston-area Baptist church, making a profession of faith in Christ when he was eight years old. Today his father pastors a Spanish language church near Dallas. His father has translated dozens of Christian books into Spanish, including the Bible. During long drives Cruz likes to listen to the voice of his father reading the New Testament on CD.

There is another written document that has captured Cruz's passion: the U.S. Constitution. At a recent luncheon for the Greater Houston Pachyderm Club about 40 people prayed and recited two pledges: one to the U.S. flag and the other, of course, to the Texas state flag. They met candidates vying for education boards and district courts while enjoying a meal of salad, chicken, and cheesecake. That's all typical fare for a Texas political gathering during election season.

But then Ted Cruz stood up, grabbed the microphone, stepped in front of the lectern, and started talking about the Greek origins of the word politics. The Pachyderm members may not have realized it yet, but they were about to get a lesson on politics delivered without notes.

Cruz, 41, fell in love with the Constitution as a teenager with a devotion rarely found among adults. As a 13-year-old high school freshman, he joined a program sponsored by the Free Enterprise Institute that focused on the principles of liberty and the Constitution. He learned about the "pillars of economic wisdom" by reading Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek among others. Then he would write 20-minute speeches. For each of his four years in high school, Cruz was a citywide speech contest winner. He delivered roughly 80 speeches to civic clubs around the state.

Spending his teenage years speaking about economics and government to business and community leaders didn't satisfy Cruz's political fixation. He joined a group that spent hundreds of hours debating and memorizing the Constitution. The group toured the state, writing out the entire Constitution from memory on easels as a form of entertainment and inspiration during business luncheons.

"I don't really ever remember a time I wasn't interested in politics," Cruz said. "There is a passion that comes from having seen liberty stripped away, and I was raised with that passion from infancy. Having principled men and women in office is how you protect yourself from tyranny."

Cruz carried his constitutional fervor to Princeton where he won a national debate championship award his senior year and wrote his thesis on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Cruz next earned a Harvard law degree, where he was a founding editor of the Latino Law Review. In 1996, he began clerking for then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (a Rehnquist bobblehead doll sits in Cruz's current office at a Houston law firm).

Today he tells Texas audiences that he wants to return to Washington as a U.S. senator because the Constitution is under assault by a president Cruz calls the most radical the county has ever seen.

Cruz admits that Obama's 2008 agenda of hope and change appealed to young people and Hispanics. But Cruz, like other Republicans, sees an opening in the 2012 fight over Hispanic voters. After Obama the candidate promised immigration reform, Obama the president ignored the issue. "The president delivered a fat goose egg," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Now in campaign mode, Obama is promising to tackle immigration reform in the first year of a second term.

Obama's administration angered many Hispanics by deporting about 1.06 million illegal immigrants as of last September. That is about 30 percent more than the deportations under the Bush administration. Obama announced last fall an effort to ease deportation rules, but not before his approval rating among Hispanic voters dropped more than 10 percentage points to under 50 percent in 2011.

Nelson Reyes, 47, came to Florida from Puerto Rico when he was two months old. He now lives outside of Houston where he is trying to start a small business. Most of his relatives in Florida are Democrats, but he says "they don't know which way to go" for this presidential election. "A lot of people are saying, 'Obama promised so much but delivered so little,'" said Reyes, who came to hear Cruz speak and is frustrated with all the regulatory hurdles he faces in his new business. "The left can't seem to figure out that low taxes and low regulation work."

An unemployment rate stuck at 11 percent among Hispanics also threatens Obama's reelection. That's three percentage points above the national average. The Republican Party in April unveiled a Hispanic outreach effort in six battleground states that will focus on the economy, government spending, and the national debt. "We are going to engage Hispanics and Latinos like we never have before," pledged RNC Chairman Priebus. The GOP will dispatch field operatives aiming to capture 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia.

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