At one point last year, Pablo Pantoja was the Republican Party’s point man for wooing Hispanics.
Named the Hispanic outreach director for Florida, a crucial state, last year, Pantoja told The New York Times in the months leading up to the presidential election: “Hispanics in the area are going to realize the Republican Party is where they belong.”
Pantoja left the post after only two months for unclear reasons, though apparently he remained in the Republican Party. But now, Pantoja has decided that the Republican Party is not where he, or other Hispanics, belong at all.
He has become a Democrat.
In a letter to friends and supporters, Pantoja said: “I have changed my political affiliation to the Democratic Party. It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today. I have wondered before about the seemingly harsh undertones about immigrants and others.”
Pantoja specifically cited the recent scandal involving a Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst who resigned amid the disclosure that, for his doctoral dissertation at Harvard, he wrote that immigrants – and Latinos in particular – had lower IQs than non-Latino whites. The analyst, Jason Richwine, went on to argue that Latinos’ descendants were destined also to have lower intellectual abilities than whites.
In his letter, Pantoja said that such views permeate conservative discussions about immigration. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, had just released a report by Richwine and Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the organization, that put the price tag of comprehensive immigration reform at $6.3 trillion.
“Studies geared towards making – human beings – viewed as less because of their immigrant status to outright unacceptable claims, are at the center of the immigration debate,” Pantoja said.
The RNC declined to comment. Pantoja could not be reached.
Pantoja is regional manager for The Libre Initiative, a non-partisan organization that promotes free enterprise.
"He made his sentiments known about how he feels about the party leadership with respect to immigration," said Daniel Garza, A Republican who is executive director of The Libre Initiative."That's his personal decision, but he remains committed to free enterprise, free markets and capitalism."
The party switch comes two months after the Republican National Committee announced plans to spend $10 million this year to send hundreds of party workers into Hispanic, black and Asian communities to promote its brand among voters who overwhelmingly supported Democrats in 2012.
The GOP has experienced from back-to-back presidential losses and is struggling to cope with the country's changing racial and ethnic makeup.
Latinos made up 10 percent of voters who turned out at the polls in November, with 71 percent of them choosing to re-elect President Obama. Many said that they had felt alienated by GOP challenger Mitt Romney and the Republican Party because of the harsh tone they had used when discussing immigration during the campaign.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente