Fighting tea with tequila, a new Hispanic political movement is coming to Kansas.
Organizing around the slogan "your shot for change," the "tequila party" will to try to counter the influence on immigration policy of the tea party movement.
The tequila party's goal is to register and mobilize as many Hispanic voters as possible during the 2012 election season.
Dates and details have not been set yet, but the basic premise is a national tour of Latino entertainers, aimed a drawing crowds to encourage Hispanic participation in the political process.
"We're starting to look at legislators who are anti-immigrant-anything and cater to the tea party," said Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, who will be leading the effort at the state level.
While it was mainly organized around fighting taxes and national health care, the predominantly white tea party movement lent strong support to efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.
The tequila party is planning to hold events in Wichita, Topeka and the Kansas City area, said DeeDee Garcia Blase, its national president.
The group launched its national campaign Saturday in Tucson, and Blase — a former Wichita business owner who now lives in Arizona — is stepping down as president of the Latino GOP group Somos Republicans, to devote full time to the new movement.
Ruiz said the tequila party will be racing the calendar to register as many voters as possible before the state's new voter-ID law renders mass registration drives impractical.
After Dec. 31, 2012, new registrants will have to prove citizenship with documents such as a birth certificate or passport, which opponents point out that few people carry on a day-to-day basis.
The tequila party movement was born in frustration with an Arizona immigration law requiring police to check citizenship of people they suspect are in the country illegally. Activists have expressed concern that the law — currently on hold while facing court challenges — could lead to the splitting of families and to citizens and legal immigrants of Hispanic descent being unfairly detained and questioned.
The Kansas Legislature passed on an opportunity to enact a similar law during the recently concluded legislative session.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped write the Arizona law and was the leading proponent of Kansas' voter ID act, said he supports the tequila party's efforts to register new voters.
"I'm 100 percent behind any effort to get people registered to vote, provided they're U.S. citizens," Kobach said. "Insofar as the Kansas tequila party is attempting to get people to register and get people involved in Kansas politics, I'm all for it."
But Kobach also said he thinks the tequila party's concern over the proof of citizenship requirement in his voter ID law is misplaced.
He said groups will still be able to have people fill out registration cards at mass events and the prospective voters will be able to send a copy of their proof-of-citizenship documents to their county election office later.
Ruiz said he was contacted by the tequila party after criticizing fellow Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, over a remark Peck made in a legislative hearing on a bill to authorize sharpshooters to kill feral pigs from helicopters.
Peck's comment —"if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem" — drew national attention to Kansas. Democrats' demand to censure Peck went largely ignored.
The tequila party is purposely nonpartisan. Blase has announced she is changing her registration from Republican to independent to drive that point home.
In Kansas, Ruiz, a Democrat, will be leading the effort statewide; Bob Hernandez, a Republican, Iraq War veteran and leader of the American GI Forum, will lead the Wichita effort.
Hernandez said it's inexcusable that Hispanics make up 15 percent of the population but only 9 percent of the voting population.
"We're the largest ethnic minority and what do we have to show for it?" he said, citing longstanding problems for Hispanic communities such as teen pregnancy, gangs and high dropout rates.
"Obviously, we need to get more involved to make things happen," he said.
Hernandez said organizing Hispanic participation nationwide will be a daunting task, trying to bridge cultural and political divides between groups such as Cuban-Americans in Florida, Puerto Ricans in New York and Mexican-Americans in the southwest.
"The tequila party, if it's around for a while, maybe it can make some good changes," Hernandez said.