August 22, 2001 - Peace Corps choice broke all three commandments

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, August 23, 2001 - 4:22 am: Edit Post

Read the story from the Dallas Morning News on Gaddi Vasquez at:

Peace Corps choice broke all three commandments

Peace Corps choice broke all three commandments


By RUBEN NAVARRETTE / The Dallas Morning News

If Latino and African-American professionals want to remain in the good graces of liberal Democrats, they need only follow three simple rules. Always stay humble by crediting accomplishments not to their own hard work but to affirmative action and those who support it. Avoid thinking for themselves. And never, ever, challenge or insult their benefactors in the Democratic Party.

From 1987 to 1995, while serving on the Board of Supervisors of California's Orange County a position that made him the state's highest-ranking elected Hispanic Republican Gaddi H. Vasquez broke all three commandments.

In preaching his conviction that the GOP was the real party of opportunity for Latinos and campaigning for Republicans at a time when few thought Latino voters to be in play, the buttoned-down Mr. Vasquez charted his own path.

And along the path, Mr. Vasquez kicked up dust. At the 1988 Republican National Convention, he disputed the assumption that Latinos would flock to Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. A month earlier, the Massachusetts governor had sprinkled some Spanish into his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention and Democrats, who had not yet begun to look down their noses at such gestures, predicted that Latino voters would swoon.

Mr. Vasquez disagreed. "He may speak Spanish," the Hispanic Republican famously said of Mr. Dukakis. "But he doesn't speak our language."

The zinger made Mr. Vasquez some permanent enemies on the other side of the aisle. Now that President Bush has selected Mr. Vasquez to head the Peace Corps, Democrats are salivating at the prospect of teaching both Republicans a lesson.

Besides the remark about Mr. Dukakis, they likely remember all those California campaigns where Mr. Vasquez, by backing the GOP, forced Democrats to actually work for Hispanic votes that they had taken for granted. Sinking Mr. Vasquez might also slow the Bush offensive to court Latino voters. Then, everything could go back to the way it used to be, when racial politics were sketched out in black-and-white, and Democrats didn't have to trouble with taking all those Spanish courses.

Mr. Vasquez may also have to contend with opposition from the usual lineup of allegedly nonpartisan but liberal-leaning Latino advocacy groups. The outfits are eager to finish the number they started on Linda Chavez, who withdrew her nomination to be Mr. Bush's secretary of labor amid the revelations that she had once offered aid and comfort to a battered woman and illegal immigrant in exchange for pitching in with household chores.

Critics call the Vasquez nomination "window dressing" and say that the Republican lacks the expertise in either volunteer work or international affairs to manage an agency with an annual budget of $275 million and a workforce that includes 7,000 volunteers in nearly 80 countries. The Peace Corps, they say, would be better off in the hands of someone promoted from within.

That Mr. Vasquez lacks experience may be true, but it was no less true of the others who have previously held the post for which he is now considered. Of the 15 directors since the Peace Corps was founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, most came from outside the agency, and many of them like Mr. Vasquez had little or no previous experience with volunteering.

Undeterred, the detractors also insist that Mr. Vasquez has not yet emerged from the financial cloud that forced him and the other Orange County supervisors from office six years ago. Bad investments approved by board members produced a $1.7 billion budget shortfall, prompting the once wealthiest county in California to declare bankruptcy. Recall petitions led to resignations, Mr. Vasquez included.

Back in the private sector, Mr. Vasquez became vice president for public affairs of a Southern California-based energy company and continued to promote and raise funds for GOP causes and candidates. Last year, he reportedly gave $100,000 to the national party, another factor that, his critics claim, inspired his selection by President Bush to head the Peace Corps.

Now that the selection has been made, President Bush should be willing to stand by his choice with more conviction than he showed during the Chavez uproar. This time, the president has an ace to play. He can remind Democrats that, after all, the original idea behind the Peace Corps was not just to dispense charity but to empower people in foreign lands to become self-sufficient and to help and, yes, think for -- themselves. And then he can ask them why it is that, 40 years later, this worthwhile objective has still somehow not managed to wash back across the seas to our own shores.

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