A Koch brothers ini­tia­tive to re­cruit con­ser­va­tive Lati­nos runs smack into Trump’s wall

The Koch brothers are nur­tur­ing His­panic con­ser­va­tives “We want those peo­ple to get out and vote”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - NEWS - −Tim Hig­gins, with

Lisa Meklas, a 30-year-old in­sur­ance un­der­writ­ing as­sis­tant in Char­lotte, is ex­actly the kind of per­son the Li­bre Ini­tia­tive wants to get ex­cited about the con­ser­va­tive move­ment. A first­gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can whose par­ents came from Cuba, Meklas is a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can who says she’s against tax in­creases. When can­vassers knocked on her door on March 12 and asked whom she planned to sup­port in North Carolina’s March 15 pri­mary, she was can­did: “Any­body but Trump would be my ac­tual an­swer.”

The Li­bre Ini­tia­tive courts sup­port among Lati­nos such as Meklas for re­duc­ing the size of govern­ment, rolling back Oba­macare, and pro­mot­ing school voucher pro­grams. Since 2011, Li­bre—a non­profit funded in part by groups af­fil­i­ated with the con­ser­va­tive bil­lion­aires Charles and David Koch—has opened of­fices in 10 states, in­clud­ing Ari­zona, Florida, and Texas. It had a bud­get

of about $9 mil­lion in 2014, the most re­cent year for which records are avail­able, and em­ploys about 125 peo­ple who have re­cruited thou­sands of vol­un­teers. “There are 15 mil­lion Lati­nos who make over $50,000 in Amer­ica,” says Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Daniel Garza. “If they’re al­ready prone to vote for freemar­ket or free­dom-ori­ented is­sues or can­di­dates, well, that’s good in­for­ma­tion to know. We want those peo­ple to get out and vote.”

In 2012, Garza says, about 40 per­cent of Lati­nos mak­ing more than $50,000 an­nu­ally voted for Mitt Rom­ney. This year, he says, his vol­un­teers will knock on 2 mil­lion doors and make 5 mil­lion phone calls to el­i­gi­ble vot­ers. De­tails of those vis­its and calls are shared with i360, a voter data­base for con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates that’s also funded by the Koch net­work. The goal is to raise turnout among Lati­nos sym­pa­thetic to con­ser­va­tive eco­nomic ideas. (As a non­profit, Li­bre can’t ex­plic­itly ad­vo­cate for the Repub­li­can Party.) Li­bre also hosts so­cial events, in­clud­ing sem­i­nars on per­sonal fi­nance.

Li­bre’s mis­sion has been com­pli­cated by Don­ald Trump’s emer­gence as the Repub­li­can front-run­ner. The can­di­date kicked off his cam­paign with a speech char­ac­ter­iz­ing un­doc­u­mented Mex­i­can im­mi­grants as rapists, and he’s vowed to force Mex­ico to pay for a wall along the south­ern U.S. bor­der. In early March a con­sor­tium of lib­eral groups an­nounced an ef­fort to raise $15 mil­lion, in­clud­ing $5 mil­lion from bil­lion­aire Ge­orge Soros, to reg­is­ter 400,000 Latino vot­ers this year in sev­eral states, in­clud­ing Colorado, Florida, and Ne­vada. “Our in­ten­tion is to take the fear and anger in our com­mu­nity and turn it into votes,” says Cristóbal Alex, pres­i­dent of Latino Vic­tory Pro­ject, a lib­eral group founded by ac­tress Eva Lon­go­ria. Its su­per PAC is backed by hedge fund bil­lion­aire Tom Steyer.

Garza, the son of mi­grant farm­work­ers, ac­knowl­edges the frus­tra­tion among Lati­nos with Trump, whose state­ments he de­scribes as “cruel.” But he says Trump’s rise isn’t a rea­son for him to stop his work. “We know that this is go­ing to be a longterm play,” Garza says. Li­bre vol­un­teers say they also re­main com­mit­ted to spread­ing the word about freemar­ket eco­nom­ics. “The prin­ci­ples are the same” as the ones she learned as a child in Peru, says Clau­dia Faura, who helped knock on doors in Char­lotte. “We don’t want to be de­pend­ing upon the govern­ment.” Zachary Mider

The bot­tom line A Koch-backed ef­fort to court Latino vot­ers has run into com­pe­ti­tion from lib­er­als mo­bi­liz­ing op­po­si­tion to Trump.

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