Politics & Government

Brownback honors Latino veterans at lawmakers’ urging (+video)

Gov. Sam Brownback signed two proclamations honoring military veterans Friday – one for Latino veterans and another for all veterans.

The three Latino lawmakers who joined Brownback in honoring the veterans said the governor’s office initially denied their request to sign a proclamation specifically honoring Latino servicemen.

“The initial statement made was, well, everybody’s included,” said Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, who is of Mexican American heritage. “And I said, no, because after World War II, when our veterans came back from the war, they couldn’t join the American Legion or the VFW, so that’s why the GI Forum was started.”

The American GI Forum was formed in 1948 to advocate on behalf of Latino veterans, who were segregated from other veterans’ organizations at the time, according to the group’s website. Ruiz said this history is why they wanted to honor Latino veterans uniquely.

Members of the GI Forum met with the governor in his ceremonial office Friday, shortly after an event honoring all veterans in advance of Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

Ruiz said that after he and two Latino colleagues pressed the issue, the governor’s office agreed to the additional ceremony.

“I think it’s long overdue. We should have this every year,” said Tony Montez, a 70-year-old Kansas City, Kan., resident who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War.

Arthur Balandran, a 72-year-old Topeka resident who served in the Army for 30 years, including a tour in the first Gulf War, said the event was a way to honor the culture and service of Latino veterans.

“Good to have you guys here. Thanks for serving,” Brownback told the veterans before predicting that United States would be in armed conflict in the Middle East for another 10 years.

The governor’s office disagreed with the notion that it had initially denied the request, blaming the situation on a scheduling conflict, which was resolved by having both proclamations signed on the same day.

“The Governor honors the service of every military man and woman who has sacrificed to protect this great nation,” said Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, in a statement. “The Governor extends his personal thank you to each and every veteran who has served with incredible courage and commitment.”

Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, said the perceived reluctance to honor Latino veterans struck her by surprise.

“Two years ago I did a proclamation for the Native American veterans and it was fine. I recognized them on the House floor,” said Victors, who is of American Indian and Mexican heritage. “So I thought this would be a no-brainer, would go through smooth, but I had more trouble getting this than anything.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.