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Fish Don't Vote

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The Republican Party has long been fishing for an issue that will reach out to Hispanic and other minority voters. Now, a three-inch fish may be the key to establishing common ground between that voting bloc and the GOP.

Moderate Republicans chide party leadership for refusing to eject from the platform “divisive” social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage, ignoring the fact that those issues provide the greatest common ground for Republicans and minority voters.

But there’s one issue that could unite Republicans (conservative and moderate) and minorities: stopping extreme environmentalism. Many immigrants from other countries—and their descendants—work hard and love the vast opportunities America provides. However, the very government that purports to aid minorities and the poor is instead oppressing them by taking away those opportunities through red tape and bureaucratic environmental policies. The freedom that attracted so many immigrants to this country is vanishing as environmentalists tie up the resources necessary to drive small businesses and family farms.

Actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez is the perfect example of how the threat of extreme environmentalism can bring together Democrat Hispanics and Republicans. Rodriguez owns a small family farm in California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley. This is the same area that has been radically affected by a judge’s ruling shutting off Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water pumps that send water south. Why would a judge cut off the most essential nutrient for farming? Environmentalists claim the pumps could threaten the tiny smelt fish in the delta water. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, if an animal is “threatened,” the well-being of unfortunate humans in the area takes a back seat.

Rodriguez witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of placing a greater priority on the safety of a fish than the livelihood of his family and neighbors and decided to speak out. At a speech delivered last week to the conservative California Republican Assembly annual convention, Rodriguez described the travesty of the government’s decision: “It is tragic that in the most fertile soil that God has ever placed on this blue marble that we should have a desert where there should be a garden. We are truly blessed to live in a land that’s just like Canaan: everything that you drop on there will grow. We have everything we need except resolve.”

Standing before a room of dedicated conservative activists, Rodriguez acknowledged he always considered himself a Democrat: “Three years ago if you had asked what my political affiliation is, I wouldn’t have given it too much thought; I would have readily told you I’m a Democrat. It’s kind of like an unwritten law if you’re Mexican-American—as an inheritance. For the most part, we’re Catholic and we’re Democrats.”

Not just a registered Democrat, Rodriguez used his celebrity to raise money for the Democratic Party. But when his family farm was impacted by the water dispute, he suddenly found his political friends wouldn’t answer his phone calls for help. He was shocked to discover the hypocrisy of the people and causes he had supported financially. “I always saw myself as an environmentalist,” he explained. “I have funded many of these things by performing for them. Not knowing what you’re backing, not knowing that those dollars are going to turn around and hurt me and those I love most.”

Rodriguez was even more stunned when he uncovered the dark truth about the United Farm Workers union. Founded by labor leader César Chávez, the union claims to advance the rights of farm works—specifically Latino farm workers. “Where was the UFW?” puzzled Rodriguez. “I knew César Chávez. We broke bread together; it wasn’t a casual acquaintance. But when I heard comments that the UFW was not going to support any water towards farmers because they didn’t want to advance or help the white farmer in any way, I figured it was they who had been miseducated and they didn’t know what they were talking about. Because if you can’t have a farmer, you can’t have a farm worker. I have been both.”

Like so many other immigrants, Rodriguez’s parents instilled in him a strong work ethic and a belief that America is the land of boundless opportunity. “When my dad brought us to this country, he didn’t come here with no demands,” explained Rodriguez. “He had a deep love for this country; he was grateful. He told me that he wasn’t going to leave an inheritance for his children. He was going to leave something more important than that. He was going to leave them in a place with ideals; in a place where you can become someone if you really wanted to; you had a shot at it.”

With his family’s farm in jeopardy, Rodriguez helped found the California Latino Water Coalition to fight the government bureaucracy crippling California’s agricultural industry. The organization has two specific goals: opening the water pumps, and developing a long-term solution and comprehensive plan to ensure there is always water for farmers. At mass rallies held by the coalition, thousands of farmers, farm workers, businessmen and others affected by the loss of farming have demonstrated against the ridiculous environmental regulations.

During his recent speech, Rodriguez warned Republicans, “You need to attract more of me or else you’ll be an endangered species.” Although water rights and environmental issues may not garner as much attention as controversial social issues, this is an area where Republicans can demonstrate their commitment to the principles of a limited government. These are the shared American values Republicans can focus on to appeal to all voters who believe in commonsense government policies.

Rodriguez and his coalition have tapped into the growing public sentiment that government is out of control and, rather than solving, is creating more problems and hardships. Politicians are unaccountable to citizens and beholden to special interests such as the environmental lobby. “Why are the politicians so afraid [of environmentalists]?” asked Rodriguez. “We should have so many people out there that they’ll know fish don’t vote—we do.”

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