MEXICAN AMERICAN REPUBLICANS OF TEXAS
MEXICAN AMERICAN REPUBLICANS OF TEXAS. Mexican American Republicans of Texas was organized in 1972 as an official auxiliary of the state Republican party to promote Mexican-American interests. The major founder was Lorenzo G. "Brownie" Trevino of Dallas. Several factors influenced its founding. Republicanism in twentieth-century Texas gained strength beginning in the 1950s. Before 1978 only ninety-two statewide elected officials were Republicans, most of whom were white. By the mid-1960s the Republican party began to broaden its appeal to three categories of Mexican Americans across the state. One of these groups had grown weary of Democrats' taking them for granted and of being "bossed" through political machines such as that in Duval County. Another sector found the GOP appealing because of its support of defense contracts, which produce jobs. Still another group found the GOP's other conservative values appealing. Mexican American Republicans of Texas was also a response to the rise of two statewide Democratic Tejano political organizations, the Viva Kennedy-Viva Johnson clubs and the Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations.qqv In addition, John G. Tower's Republican senatorial campaigns stimulated the eventual formation of Mexican-American Republicans. Beginning in 1961 David Martinez (San Antonio) established a political relationship with John Tower. Eventually he became the senator's administrative assistant, a political relationship that lasted over twenty years. Tower maintained ties to the Mexican-American community, and his strategists planned reelection outreach programs to Mexican Americans. Celso Moreno (Corpus Christi) headed the first campaign in 1966 in San Antonio, El Paso, and Corpus Christi. In 1966 Tower received 30 percent of the Mexican-American vote.
In 1965 Mexican Americans founded the Mexican-American Advisory Committee within the Republican Party of Texas. Humberto Silex, Jr. (El Paso), served as the committee's first chairman, and O. J. Martinez (Uvalde), Ricardo Sanchez (San Antonio), and Trevino were other founding members. MAAC operated from 1965 to 1972. The group consisted of about forty-five Mexican-American leaders organized at the county level in twenty-five counties. This represented the only time Mexican-American Republicans were organized at the county level across the state. Some 300 members belonged to the committee, which was especially strong in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Dallas. The group met quarterly and published a newsletter. As of 1992, funding from the state party for this scale of operation had not been repeated. From 1966 to 1969 the party hired several Mexican Americans to help court the Tejano vote and facilitated MAAC's work. Silex was director of the party's Mexican-American Voter Division, and Jesse Rios (Corpus Christi) was his assistant. Hilary Sandoval (El Paso) served as assistant state party chairman in 1966 and Tony Rodriguez (San Antonio) followed him in 1967. In 1970 Robert A. Estrada (Brownsville) was director of Mexican-American affairs. From 1968 to 1969 Silex and Ricardo Hinojosa (Brownsville) served as editors of the Texas Politico, a monthly MAAC newsletter. Before 1970, men dominated the organization of Republicans at the state level. Nevertheless, Silex's secretary, Cathy Villapaldo (San Marcos) rose up the ranks to become United States Treasurer.
MAAC encouraged Mexican Americans to join the Republican fold in the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon in 1968. Alberto Fuentes (San Antonio) led the Tejano campaign for "Viva Nixon." In 1968 Lupe Ortiz of Victoria formed the Women's Viva Nixon Committee. Nixon's victory contributed to the demise of MAAC, however, because its leaders were offered federal positions while other leaders were lured into the state party. Appointed head of the Small Business Administration, Sandoval received the highest Mexican-American appointment in United States history. MAAC also suffered defunding from the GOP so by 1970 the committee had been reduced to some fifty members. In 1972, in an attempt to erode Democratic support in both presidential and gubernatorial races, agents of the Republican Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), met with Raza Unida party leader José Ángel Gutiérrez in an attempt to devise a mutually beneficial outcome. Republicans wanted either neutrality or rejection of Democratic candidate George McGovern. In return, Nixon staff members offered campaign funds for La Raza's underfunded gubernatorial candidate, Ramsey Muñiz. Gutiérrez apparently had been willing to negotiate with either Democrats or Republicans in an effort to achieve some measure of Hispanic empowerment. Ultimately, however, he rejected Republican financial support, which would have been difficult to conceal indefinitely, was unlikely to help much, and might have damaged the party in the long run. Ironically, it appears that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dolph Briscoe benefited more than any other candidate from the Hispanic vote. While Republican gubernatorial candidate Henry (Hank) Grover carried almost all of the state's urban centers, the Mexican-American votes from rural areas put Briscoe over the top in the race for governor.
An effort to organize a more separate Mexican American Republican organization occurred with Mexican American Republicans of Texas. Lorenzo Trevino's status as a businessman outside of federal employment and his strategic location in Dallas, the site of federal regional offices, gave him added strength. MART presidents have included Trevino (1972–74, 76–79), Edward Garza (San Antonio, 74–76), Dan Martinez (San Antonio, 80–81), Isaac Olivares (San Angelo, 81–82), and Don Navarro (Dallas, 82–83). MART has continued to draw its membership from the business sector.
The existence of MART led to a copy-cat organization at the national level, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly in 1970. As chairman of the National Republican Committee, George Bush, who had worked with MART in Texas, founded the group but placed Benjamin Fernandez, a Californian, at its head. In 1975 MART asked, unsuccessfully, for the state Republican party to recognize it rather than the Texas RNHA. As a result, MART's voice in Washington was superseded by the Texas and National Assembly, the latter of which Cuban Americans lead. In Texas, MART and RNHA rarely merged on the local level, perhaps with the exception of groups in Dallas. Nevertheless, there is an overlapping membership. In 1980 MART helped William P. Clements garner 19 percent of the Hispanic vote for the governor's race. In 1982 as governor he appointed 143 Hispanics to government boards. MART has facilitated the entrance of Hispanics into public-policy-making positions. Through John Tower, the organization has influenced the Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense to award contracts, loans, and grants to Hispanic groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American G.I. Forum of Texas, and SER-Jobs for Progress.qqv Texas SER received money to develop the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce. MART also takes credit for the rise of some fifteen Hispanic-owned banks and ten savings and loans in Texas in the 1970s. MART's influence declined in the 1980s. In 1988, 60 percent of those Hispanics who had voted for Ronald Reagan voted for Michael Dukakis, primarily because the president's policies were said to have increased poverty among Hispanics. With the death of Tower in 1991, MART suffered another blow. As of 1992 MART continued to sponsor an annual convention but mobilized mainly during election years.
John R. Knaggs, Two-Party Texas: The John Tower Era, 1961–1984 (Austin: Eakin Press, 1986).