Mention George W. Bush to California businessman Hector Barreto and he's likely to recount a 2004 conversation with a group of supporters in which the former president explained his optimism that Republicans could attract significant support among Hispanics.
“One of the things Bush often said to us was, ‘Look, I have so much faith and confidence in the Hispanic community because Hispanics are very motivated to own, they want to own their house, they want to own their business, they want to own what happens with the education and health care of their families,’ ” explained Barreto, who is chairman of the Latino Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit formed in 1995 to represent Hispanic entrepreneurs and businesses.
Bush went on to say, according to Barreto, that “as long as Hispanics have that kind of equity mentality, I am confident that they are going to do very, very well and be successful.’ ”
And be more likely to vote for Republicans, contends Barreto, who was deeply involved both Bush presidential campaigns in California.
Encouraging and protecting that equity perspective among his fellow Hispanics to make independence choices about where they work, live and raise their families has been Barreto’s passion since very early in his professional career.
During his five-year tenure under Bush as Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Barreto expanded the agency’s small business loan portfolio to record levels and pushed financial and business development programs for minority and women entrepreneurs valued at more than $60 billion.
His father, Hector Barreto, Sr., founded the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 1979. Today, the USHCC has 200 local chambers and business associations and works with more than 220 major corporations.
The estimated 3.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. generate nearly $500 billion in economic activity annually, according to the USHCC.
The younger Barreto was formerly a USHCC vice-chairman and he has founded multiple successful companies in his own right, including Barreto Associates, a Southern California-based international consulting firm that cultivates profitable relationships for small businesses with big corporations and government procurement agencies.
But it is in the political arena where Barreto has most directly sought to enlarge Republican support among Hispanics.
“Look, I tell this to Republicans all the time. They'll never win a presidential election ever again unless they fix their Hispanic problem,' ” he said. “As it is today, Republicans basically have to thread a needle to get elected because the big states, New York, California are off the table from the get-go, so Democrats always start with a huge advantage.”
He warns that if Republicans “continue to write off this growing Hispanic electorate, then you write off the Southwest. That's Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and eventually even Texas. If you write that off, you are done.”
He also worries that too many Republicans, including the party’s national leadership, “don’t get this. Their attitude is ‘no, we don’t need them’ or ‘we’re not going to get them anyway, so let’s figure out another way to win.’ ”
Barreto points to the GOP share of Hispanic votes since the 1996 presidential contest in which Sen. Bob Dole won 20 percent. Bush won 35 percent in 2000, then upped the total dramatically in his 2004 re-election by gaining 44 percent.
Growing the economy is a key factor in attracting Hispanic entrepreneurs, and it should be a bipartisan concern, according to Barreto.
That’s why his group is co-hosting with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the 10th Annual America’s Small Business Summit June 11 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington.
“Small businesses have always helped grow our nation’s economy, while creating essential jobs in a number of key industries, and keep us globally competitive,” he said.
Among the speakers on the three-day summit schedule are SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Tex., Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Lance de la Rosa, senior vice-president of operations for Sam's Club, and Matt Koch, vice president of the U.S. Chamber's Energy Institute.
MARK TAPSCOTT is Executive Editor of the Washington Examiner.