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On the Washington airwaves, Tito Muñoz fine-tunes a conservative Latino voice
Thirty-five minutes later, he remembers to stop and introduce himself.
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Tito Muñoz, 50, is the voice and the irrepressible personality of a new effort by some local conservative Latinos to claim more bandwidth in the political conversation taking place in Spanish. A core group of a half-dozen small-business owners has organized into the Conservative Hispanic Coalition; another 24 supporters are less active members.
"America Eres Tu" is the group's main project, a weekly one-hour paid program Saturdays at 9 a.m. on Radio Viva 900 AM. The group expects to pay nearly $20,000 for the first year, largely out of members' own pockets.
For now, the effort is more notable for its inspiration than its impact. Arbitron estimates that 500 people listened to Radio Viva at 9 a.m. on Saturdays in May, before "America Eres Tu" debuted. But station management claims that listenership could be 10 times higher now, because the May paid-programming was not as appealing.
Elsewhere on the dial, Spanish-language radio is dominated by music, hyper-local nonpartisan community affairs and paid call-in hours with lawyers, mortgage brokers and credit counselors.
Hispanic conservatism would seem to be a tough sell these days. Many Latinos -- including citizens and legal residents -- are smarting from the tough anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric of leading GOP conservatives. And many are dismayed by the strict new state law signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona.
These Latino conservatives condemn the most extreme of anti-immigrant views, though neither do they favor what critics call a blanket "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. Their basic premises are that conservatism is bigger than the immigration issue and that the conservative movement is losing potential followers before they even learn English and join mainstream society.
"Many Hispanics are not happy with the Republican Party," says Laura Ramirez-Drain, a founder of the coalition who runs a marketing business in Washington and is herself a Republican activist. "We just want to explain the values of conservatism."
Latinos voted for Obama over McCain by a margin of more than 2 to 1, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Ramirez-Drain, a naturalized citizen from Mexico, calculates that more Latinos will join the GOP if they recognize the conservative values they share with the party. "We need to do this to begin to prepare for 2012," she says.
Fabiola Clausen, president of a printing and graphics company in Washington and a native of Colombia, says she was offended when she became a citizen in the early 1990s and Democratic recruiters assumed she would register with them because -- didn't she know? -- the Dems are supposedly the party of "la gente," the people.