Radio talk show host Fernando Espuelas

The Univision radio show host and internet media pioneer examines the battle for the Latino vote in the presidential election.

A pioneer in English-language media for Latinos, Fernando Espuelas has been called "the Bill Gates of Latin America." The Uruguayan-born entrepreneur came to the U.S. at age 9. By age 33, he had created a pioneering company that introduced the Internet to Latin America. He's been at the forefront of online communities and the social networks that they've fostered and included on several power lists, including Time magazine's "Leaders of the Millennium." He's currently host and managing editor of The Fernando Espuelas Show, a national, bilingual radio talk show that focuses on politics and current events.


Tavis: Fernando Espuelas is the host and managing editor of the show that bears his name on the Univision America network. He has also been named this year’s one of the nation’s 100 most influential Hispanics. Fernando, good to have you on this program.

Fernando Espuelas: Thank you, Tavis, great to be here.

Tavis: Let me start with the tracking poll that I saw just today, as a matter of fact, that predicts record Latino turnout this time around.

Espuelas: Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm across the nation. I think the Arizona anti-immigration law has really galvanized a lot of people, so the president has as well.

Tavis: I assume that the president, to your point now, is going to get the lion’s share of that vote.

Espuelas: Well, the polls are pretty impressive, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 to 75% support among Latinos nationally. Mr. Romney has the lowest level of support since Gerald Ford.

Tavis: I’m not naive in asking this. Why do you think that is?

Espuelas: Well, I think Mr. Romney made a strategic decision to go for the Tea Party vote versus the Hispanic vote and he was quite rough in his language and his policies and the Republican platform reflects that. Latinos are awake and therefore are supporting the president.

Tavis: How would you situate the issue of immigration reform in terms of how they feel? I mean, obviously Hispanics have issues that are beyond immigration reform.

Espuelas: Right.

Tavis: It’s a key issue, but it’s not the only issue. How would you rank that?

Espuelas: I think it’s more of a proxy for how people feel they’re being respected or disrespected by the rest of the country and certainly some of the very venomous language that came especially out of Arizona and then was repeated across the country brought immigration reform to the fore not so much in terms of it’s the issue, but it does feel like it’s being used as a cudgel and, therefore, people are reacting to that.

Tavis: There is clearly – trying to find the right word here – there is a bifurcation in the attitudes of Hispanics as I read polls about President Obama. By bifurcation, I mean there are certainly Hispanics who, you know, think he’s better than Mr. Romney. We were discussing the polls bear that out, the president likely to get the lion’s share of the vote this time around.

But there are a lot of Hispanics legitimately who are disappointed with him for not having done more in this first term, famously for Jorge Ramos in that – I can’t call it a debate – in the forum that Mr. Romney showed up separately, Mr. Obama showed up separately. I think to Jorge’s credit, he really pressed the president and who will ever forget his saying to the president, “But you promised, but you promised, but you promised, a promise is a promise.”

I suspect that Jorge will never get an interview with Barack Obama again, given the way he pushed him on that issue. But what do you make of that sentiment? There are people who feel that he promised and, you know, he just didn’t push aggressively or progressively enough on immigration reform.

Espuelas: Well, my point of view is that we have to be realists and we have to understand that the country comes first. 2009 was a full-fledged economic collapse. To introduce immigration reform in the midst of what seemed like a depression would have been nonsensical from a political standpoint and certainly a nonstarter.

I do know that there was an attempt on the part of the administration to push some of it forward, but it got zero response from Congressional Republicans. So I understand the promise issue, but I also think that there is a reality which is the economy and that the economy had to come first because it really deals with 300 million people, not just 11 million people.

Tavis: So for those Hispanics who would disagree with you and say there’s never a good time, I mean, Black folk would still be waiting. I mean, we’d say, “You know, now’s not a good time to push for freeing the slaves, now is not a good time for voting right, now is not a good time for civil rights.”

If the president wins again, the economy isn’t gonna turn around overnight. So are you really suggesting to me that he should wait another four years, the Hispanics for another four years, to press him on immigration reform?

Espuelas: Absolutely not. I think the dynamic is different. I think that objectively the economy has improved and we are not in an emergency situation. The reality, though, remains that right now the Congressional Republican Party is very much against everything from the Dream Act to immigration reform.

So there is a practical aspect to this, but if the president is reelected, I think he will have a tremendous amount of support from the Latino community and also I think an obligation at that point to fulfill on some of these promises. He has in fact said that would be one of his priorities going forward.

Tavis: What happens if when reelected this does not become a major priority for him?

Espuelas: I think that would be a big problem. I think he would lose a lot of support very quickly and people will feel betrayed. But I think immigration reform has to be understood in the context of the economic recovery.

There are a tremendous number of studies, nonpartisan studies including studies from the Cato Institute and other places as well, that show that immigration reform is a mechanism to drive economic growth, to increase salaries of native-born workers. It just makes sense for America.

So it has been dealt from an emotional aspect, you know, the immigrant experience and people feeling really hurt and ostigated and pushed away perhaps. But at the end of the day, it’s an economic issue and I think that’s the way it has to be framed in order to get Republicans to support it.

Tavis: To your point now about getting Republicans to support it, tell me why you believe that they will take a different tact if Mr. Obama wins? Because here’s the setup. The president wins, he wins with a significant slice – forget slice. The overwhelming majority of the Latinos in this country will have voted for him if he wins, so there are two ways to read that.

One way to read that is, if we ever think we’re gonna get any of this Hispanic vote back, we’d better come to the table on meaningful immigration reform, listen to Marco Rubio or somebody and come to the table. The other tact is, they didn’t vote for us, why respond to them? Which theory is gonna win the day?

Espuelas: I think the first theory. There’s just a demographic reality. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said “we’re not creating enough angry white guys to have a future as a party.” That’s, I think, a direct quote.

So the reality is that at some point the Republican Party will have to be much more inclusive and, if in fact the president wins and in fact he wins by a margin that can be attributed partially to Latinos in key states, I would think that the party and certainly the thinking people within the party such as Star McCain and Marco Rubio will push the party forward. Jeb Bush has said this over and over again.

They are rational people in the Republican Party, but right now I think it’s been captured by a rather radical extremist group which is the Tea Party, and that’s the problem today.

Tavis: And yet at the state level and at the local level, Republicans or Hispanics as Republicans have had some success in New Mexico with the governorship there. We talked about Marco Rubio, United States Senator out of Florida. I could run a number of others. They’ve put these persons, of course, on display at their convention this past summer.

So even though Hispanics largely, if the polls hold up, will vote for President Obama, a Democrat this time around, why are Hispanics registered as Republicans having success at the state and local level around the country?

Espuelas: Well, obviously Hispanics are not monolithic and certainly when you look at Florida in particular, what you have is a Cuban American community that has historically been very Republican. When you look at Texas, it’s a much more mixed bag. I think people are interested and want to support Hispanic candidates if they’re good, but at the end of the day it’s going to be their positions.

If Marco Rubio had had a pro immigration reform position, he’s be the vice presidential candidate. But because he doesn’t, and I’m sure the polling showed that to the Romney campaign, he was not chosen. So eventually I think the more sober voices within the Republican Party will actually have more weight and perhaps there will be an evolution around it.

Tavis: What do you think the future is of Marco Rubio? Because it’s clearly so tied to these issues. He won statewide in Florida, so he didn’t win with just the Hispanic vote. But what’s your read, given this last couple of years, on his future?

Espuelas: Well, clearly he’s a very intelligent man. He’s quite articulate and he plays very well in Florida. Does he play in California? I’m not sure. Does he play in Texas or outside of the Florida community? I’m not really sure.

Right now, Marco Rubio’s problem is the Republican brand and the Republican brand right now is highly damaged with many groups, but specifically with Hispanics. So he is seen in some way as being the Latino face of a party that is very, very, I would say, harsh to Latino interests.

Tavis: Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, different coin, Democrat, mayor of San Antonio, acquitted himself quite nicely at the Democratic Convention. What’s his future?

Espuelas: I think he is probably – obviously relative to the Democrats – he’s probably the biggest star they have right now. He is a very smart guy, he’s highly educated, he’s very inclusive and I think also very different from a lot of other candidates or a lot of other Latino politicians. He’s completely American in his point of view, so I think he will cross over much, much better than other candidates like the mayor of L.A., for example.

Tavis: Give me your sense of how important beyond this election, that is to say, into the future, this voting block will become.

Espuelas: Well, just the demography itself means that the percentage of the overall vote that will be Hispanic will just continue to grow over the next 20 or 30 years, so numerically just important. Now how will it break? I don’t think it’s a Democratic block necessarily.

I think it’s an independent block more than anything else with wings that are quite attached to the parties. I think it’s winnable for both parties. I don’t think immigration – we’ll be talking about it in 5 years or 10 years. It’ll be much more fundamental issues about economics and so forth and education in particular.

But I think the party that ignores some of these basic issues like immigration reform today, but public education reform, is really the major civil rights issue, I think, of our era right now. 80% of the students, for example, in Los Angeles public schools are Hispanics. So when that system fails, Los Angeles fails, California fails, but Latinos feel it very closely as well.

Tavis: Finally, how important is it to have voices in mainstream media that get a chance to express these points of view?

Espuelas: Well, one would be nice [laugh], you know, just every once in a while. You and I have spoken about this in the past. When you look at the Sunday morning shows, you know, they’re fairly monolithic and there are very bright people there. Every once in a while, you will have someone, yourself and maybe Donna Brazile or whatever. But I think that’s an issue.

Right now, we have not had the Cosby moment in the Hispanic community. We’re still seen as a little bit strange and outside of the mainstream and unable to even speak English. People are amazed that I actually speak English [laugh]. I’m totally serious.

Therefore, I think it’s quite a challenge to have people see Latinos as we are in a very diverse kind of way, but ultimately it’s about ratings, right? So if no one tunes in to watch those shows or fewer people do anyway, I think that will eventually move the needle.

Tavis: I think you will be around. I think more and more Americans will be hearing your voice, Fernando.

Espuelas: Thank you.

Tavis: Fernando, good to have you on, Fernando Espuelas.

Espuelas: Great, Tavis, thank you.

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Last modified: November 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm