• February 29th, 2024
  • Thursday, 09:48:27 PM

Joe O’Dea Thinks He Understands Latinos, But He Doesn’t

Photo: Bri Buentello Bri Buentello


Bri Buentello


As every politico knows, Latinos are one of the most crucial voting blocs needed to win a Colorado election. It’s why Democrats and Republicans spend millions on direct voter contact to Latinos and even Spanish language advertising every cycle.


Unfortunately, however, there is a right (and indeed, a wrong) way to do it — and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea is choosing the worst possible way.


At first glance, O’Dea recognizes the importance of Colorado’s Hispanic and Latino communities. Still, after scratching the surface, it’s wise to be cautious. I was sitting in the audience as I watched O’Dea shamelessly tokenize his own wife in a stump speech right here in Pueblo. I was repulsed as he tried to use her credibility as the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants to justify his support for racist Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — to put it mildly, this talking point raises substantial concerns about O’Dea’s intentions.


Does O’Dea understand, or even just care, about Latino communities and our values, or is he just saying whatever he can to get elected?


It would be an understatement to say he seemed overconfident when he proclaimed that he “didn’t need a Hispanic outreach program.” Then O’Dea tried to soften the blow by saying his wife’s heritage and employees would suffice as his outreach.


However, O’Dea may be shocked to discover that there are over 1.2 million Latinos in Colorado — and if he’s serious about winning, he should try spending time with Colorado Latinos and focus on having a robust outreach program instead of trying to prove that he’s something he’s not.


The crowd began to murmur at this embarrassing answer. Then a visibly flustered O’Dea stumbled and referenced “Chiquitos” as he tried to talk about “Chicanos,” which riled up the crowd.


“Latinos in Denver, Chicanos down here. I understand it,” he blurted as he tried to recover.


If O’Dea truly “understands it,” he would be able to pronounce “Chicanos” without staff coming to his rescue; he would also know that many Chicanos, Hispanics, and Latinos live in Denver, Pueblo, Greeley and all across the state.


It seemed like he was blatantly trying to have it both ways by paying lip service to the Latino community and our values while praising DeSantis for ostensibly kidnapping and trafficking Venezuelan asylum seekers for a political stunt and backing Trump’s border wall. O’Dea first stated his support for DeSantis’ cruel stunt during an interview on “Meet the Press.”


Once voters look beyond who O’Dea is married to and his staged acts to appear likable, they will see that he is just another anti-immigrant Republican who supports harmful policies that will hurt Colorado’s Latinos.


Since then, a criminal investigation has been launched in Texas because of reports of asylum seekers being lured onto the plane with false promises of jobs and housing. O’Dea hasn’t spoken to the investigation, but his campaign doubled down by praising DeSantis by hosting an event where volunteers mailed a Colorado Newsline story on O’Dea’s support for DeSantis while sipping on margaritas. His campaign even used a dishonest tactic by redacting the part of the story that mentions that the asylum seekers were duped before mailing it.


O’Dea even tripled down on wanting to construct Trump’s medieval border wall and knowingly makes false claims about fentanyl crossing the border when a study found that more than 90% of fentanyl seizures at the border happen at legal crossing points, not illegal migration routes.


His staunch support for a reckless and costly Trump policy makes him untrustworthy.


I thought of all this as O’Dea struggled to regain control of the crowd. To his credit, as he stumbled, he hastily blurted out something to the effect of Latinos “not being monolithic.” He’s right; we’re not.


However, the overwhelming majority of our people came to this country for the promise of the American Dream. I know my family came to the United States primarily because of the promise that you can be anybody if you work hard and play by the rules. And that dream is dying because of the systemic degradation of civil rights and privileges pushed by a dangerous, extremist agenda while they pass economic policies that harm everything from our public schools to roads to middle-class jobs and even our tax bill as they slash taxes for the ultra-wealthy.


O’Dea hopes that by using his wife’s Mexican heritage, Latino and Hispanic voters will trust him.


But it takes much more than just being married to the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants to win over the trust of Latino and Hispanic communities across Colorado. Once voters look beyond who O’Dea is married to and his staged acts to appear likable, they will see that he is just another anti-immigrant Republican who supports harmful policies that will hurt Colorado’s Latinos.


Bri Buentello is a Latina, mom, and former Colorado state representative for Pueblo, Fremont and Otero counties. This article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.


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