¿Adelante con Bush o Kerry?

Election talk at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber's Austin conference

Conventional wisdom says that Hispanics vote Democrat. Other CW says that business owners prefer Republicans. Combine those two demographics, and you get a spirited competition for votes.

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce held its 25th annual convention in Austin last week. Among the many panels and workshops held Sept. 15-18, Naked City dropped in on one asking who would do more for small businesses: John Kerry or George Bush? Judging from the volume and aggressive questioning of some attendees, one might give the edge to Bush in this demographic, although most of the 100 or so who listened in on the panel were more reserved in expressing opinions. Speaking for the Bush campaign was Hector Barreto, administrator of the federal Small Business Administration and son of a USHCC founder; in the Kerry corner was Austinite Gilberto Ocañas, CEO and president of the Win Tex printing company. The panel was moderated by soon-to-be District Judge Gisela Triana, a Democrat.

"How many [of you] have to pay higher health costs for [your] companies?" asked Ocañas. "Our costs are going to be almost 80% greater this year. ... We're looking for this election to say 'What are we going to do for the next four years?' We've already seen what's happened the last four years. We came into this last four years with a government that had a surplus. That's gone. We came with a growth in jobs. It's gone. Health care costs have increased.

"What are we doing to help our businesses here?" Ocañas continued. "I'm glad they're building roads and schools in Iraq ... [but] we have kids here in Texas that have suffered tremendously because of the lack of investment in our community." Ocañas also accused the Bush administration of slashing funding to Barreto's own SBA.

Not true, countered Barreto, who charged that election time is the "silly season" when people will say anything. "A very key thing we did on health care," he said, "was we got health savings accounts approved in the Medicare legislation. ... That is an important tool that will provide small businesses with a way of lowering their premiums." Barreto also said that Bush favors creating association health plans that would allow many companies to pool resources, and accused Kerry of stalling such plans in committee.

In the question-and-answer session, USHCC board member Massey Villarreal questioned whether Democratic VP candidate John Edwards, a former trial lawyer, would do anything to lower health costs and end frivolous lawsuits. "We're all against frivolous lawsuits," Ocañas retorted, but "have health costs gone down since the passage of tort reform in Texas?"

On immigration issues, "Family values don't stop at the Rio Bravo," said Barreto, using the Mexican name for the Rio Grande, saying that dealing with illegal immigrants compassionately is a top priority for Bush. "I didn't know that the administration was that aggressive about it," Ocañas smirked. "I haven't heard much about it in the last three years. So I'm a little surprised that they're so aggressive about it now in an election year."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, John Kerry, George W. Bush, Hector Barreto, Gilbert Ocañas, Gisela Triana, Massey Villarreal

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