President's agenda lauded by Latinos

Town-hall meeting sponsored by Hispanic groups is a hit with local entrepreneurs.

January 6, 2002

The Orange County Register


Santa Ana restaurateur Otto Bade clapped his hands every time President George W. Bush emphasized that entrepreneurs should pocket more of their hard-earned cash instead of pay more taxes.

He was one of thousands of business owners and workers gathered Saturday in Ontario for a presidential town-hall meeting.

Bush discussed his economic-stimulus proposal, which includes business tax breaks. He also discussed job growth, trade, homeland security, immigration and education.

Orange County was well- represented, with more than 1,500 tickets distributed by the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Coalition, both host organizations along with the Latin Business Association and the Ontario Hispanic Chamber. Bush's audience mostly consisted of Republican guests of the four organizations.

It was the first time the Latino groups have been invited by the White House to sponsor a presidential town hall, said Mario Rodriguez of the Latino Coalition.

"This president wants to show that Hispanics in this country and in California are part of his agenda," Rodriguez said. "Any time you're in office you are looking to see what is best for you, but I feel he has it in his heart to bring Hispanics to the table and allow us to sit there and show America what we can do."

Hispanics make up 12.5 percent of the national population. They account for more than $400 billion in annual buying power. Bush won 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2000 election, but lost California by more than 1 million votes. He narrowly carried San Bernardino County.

Orange County is 30 percent Hispanic, with more than 24,000 Hispanic-owned businesses.

More than 9 percent of Bush's senior Washington appointments have gone to Latinos, including Rodriguez, who sits on the Commission to Strengthen Social Security. Bush's top counsel, Al Gonzalez, Small Business Administration Director Hector Barreto and U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin also are Hispanics.

The Latino appointments bring the community closer to the administration, said John Cruz of the Irvine law firm Daehnke & Cruz. And many in the business community finally feel their needs and issues will be addressed.

Historically, the Latino business community has been isolated from the network that make it easier to get loans, assistance and training, business leaders say. With many more Latinos in the administration and growing clout and voting power, Latino businesses and workers now have more opportunities, Cruz said.

Most small businesses face the same struggles, but in the past, Latinos haven't had as much access, he said. "The direction of the administration is to draw from the community, and those people then turn around and include the community."

Anaheim businesswoman Aracelli Gonzalez, a Republican candidate for state Senate in the 34th district, said Bush's commitment to families and small business is the key to Hispanics moving ahead. Latinas are especially crucial, she said, since they are opening businesses at a faster rate than any other group, according to recent census figures.

The stop in the Inland Empire was a way for Bush to sell his economic-stimulus package, shelved by Democrats before the winter break. Bush assured the crowd that he plans to fight for the plan once Congress returns to Washington.

Bush praised small businesses for their ability to create jobs and help fight unemployment. Last month, 124,000 jobs were lost nationwide, increasing the unemployment rate to 5.8 percent. In Orange County, the unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in November. Nationally, Latino unemployment rose to 7.9 percent from 5.8 percent last year, according to federal labor statistics.

Bush's stimulus package, which includes corporate tax breaks and tax rebates for low-wage earners, also offers 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits and assistance with health-care costs.

Business leaders like the idea of the stimulus plan and getting a tax break, especially during this economic slowdown, but are concerned about rising insurance costs for disability and unemployment benefits for workers.

"Part of giving us our money back is regulating insurance companies that overly charge businesses," said Bade, the Santa Ana restaurateur .

Local business people said they may also need assistance in dealing with state regulations that make California the 44th state in terms of business-friendliness, according to the Small Business Survival Committee, a Washington D.C.-based lobbying group. California has the highest capital-gains tax rate, a personal income-tax rate in the top four, and the seventh- highest workers' compensation insurance tax.

Bush's plan to get money back to business owners struck a chord with many Orange County business people.

John Acosta, former Santa Ana councilman and retired contractor, says he feels more comfortable knowing the concerns of small businesses are on the president's agenda.

Different viewpoints

'I think there was a very clear message: that he is for the people. He wants to bring us the benefits we are entitled to.'
- John Acosta,
former Santa Ana councilman

'We are hoping this is the impetus to get our economy in the right direction so small business can keep going and employing more people.'
- Otto Bade,
Santa Ana business owner

'He is addressing the immigration issue, where we have to have some modification. In immigration I think this is the time to find a balance. If he is allowed to implement his policies, he can make a difference. But if they are reduced to political debate, you can't blame him.'
- John Cruz,
Irvine attorney

'This is the first time all the Latino groups got together to host a president. It shows that he (Bush) felt our community is important enough to address.'
- Manuel Ramirez,
chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Orange County

'This administration has demonstrated its commitment to working families, and most of those working families are Latino families.'
- Aracelli Gonzalez,
Anaheim business owner

'We (Latinos) are sitting at the table now and it's evident here. This man has Hispanics in his heart, he gets it. There are a lot of Republicans who didn't get it, but it starts at the top.'
- Mario Rodriguez,
president of the Latino Coalition

Copyright 2001
The Orange County Register