Like many school children, Congress is on spring break, so many House members are in their districts meeting with constituents. As is typical for him, Rep. Jeff Denham has a couple of meetings scheduled. Unlike his previous sessions, which were held in schools and public halls, these are labeled "Listening Sessions" and both will be in churches. People are being invited to share their thoughts on various topics, including immigration reform.
Denham's topic is timely Congress and the president say they want to reach a resolution in April. And Denham chose settings that might be more comfortable to Latinos than public halls.
Another way to look at this: Denham is trying to help his party survive. Thumped in the 2012 presidential election, GOP leaders have concluded they need to soften their tone and, to quote the recent Republic National Committee report, "improve how it markets its core principles and message in Hispanic communities (especially in Hispanic faith-based communities)."
The report is candid, stating, "Too often Republican elected officials spoke about issues important to the Hispanic community using a tone that undermined the GOP brand within Hispanic communities. Repairing that relationship will require both a tone that 'welcomes in' as well as substantial time spent in the community demonstrating a commitment to addressing its unique concerns."
When a GOP elected official uses that tone, Democrats jump on it. That happened this past week. Friday I received an email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, labeled "Does Congressman Denham Stand by Don Young's Racial Slurs?" Young, of Alaska, used the offensive term "wetbacks" in an interview describing migrant workers who used to work at his family's ranch in Central California. By Friday, House Speaker John Boehner had condemned the remark and called for Young to apologize, which he did.
Back to Denham, an even more cynical view of next week's session is that Denham is worried about another challenge from astronaut Jose Hernandez in 2013, so he's made a special outreach to Latinos. That may be. Shortly after his election, Denham appointed a Hispanic Advisory Council that included some of Hernandez's supporters.
I've been writing about Denham since he started as a state senator. He learned Spanish so he could converse with his wife's grandmother. He's long favored an immigration compromise. He wants to get this done and wants his party to win over more Latinos.
You might remember that Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, was downsized in the wake of an unsuccessful attempt to oust Connie Conway of Tulare as Minority leader in the Assembly. No one said Olsen was the instigator, but the punishment back to her smaller, 2012 office, suggested Olsen had a part. Earlier this month, Conway announced her leadership team for 2013-14 and guess whose name isn't on there?
MEET YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
Jeff Denham with Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee:
Tuesday, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, 1200 Maze Blvd., Modesto
Wednesday, 8 to 9:30 a.m., The Place of Refuge, 486 Button Ave., Manteca
Tom McClintock town halls:
Monday, 6 p.m., Oakhurst Elementary Multipurpose Room, 49495 Road 427, Oakhurst
Tuesday, 6 p.m., Board of Supervisors Chamber, 5100 Bullion St., Mariposa
April 30, 6 p.m., Bret Harte High School, 323 S. Main St., Angels Camp