A broken clock is right twice a day, it has long been said. So it seems to be with California political hustler Nativo Lopez.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempt to transform state politics has run into sustained opposition. But he’s picked up support from at least one unusual source. The centerpiece of the Governor’s program is Proposition 77, which would turn legislative redistricting over to a bipartisan panel. Among this measure’s supporters, featured in the official vote guide, is Lopez, president of the Mexican-American Political Association.
Surprisingly, Lopez is right on this issue (though he recently joined a public attack on the measure in order to target Gov. Schwarzenegger). Alas, this rare example of good judgment does not redeem him from a discreditable career gone wrong. Lopez, with the given name of Larry, is an ethnic hustler, abusing legitimate ethnic pride for political power and economic gain.
Of course, he’s not the only ethnic demagogue in American politics. Indeed, Lopez had no objection to being compared to the notorious Al Sharpton: “Sharpton has done what he does, advocating for the people.” And profiting mightily along the way.
Much of Lopez’s claim to fame arises from his 1996 election to the school board in Santa Ana, located in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. He styles himself a Latino leader, heading up MAPA and Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana (HML), as well as being involved in other groups.
Unfortunately, Lopez’s style of leadership is ethnic demagoguery. Columnist Michael Fumento observes that he’s “a leading member of both the Crusade-of-the-Month and Victim-of-the-Month Clubs.”
But Lopez no run-of-the-mill demagogue. He seems to have delusions of greatness: “The cross is getting heavy,” he once complained.
Lopez built his own political organization. Observes Orange County Register columnist Steven Greenhut, Lopez was one of the figures attempting to create a separate Hispanic world, a world in which “the bosses who run the ethnic political machines get power, money, and the ability to live by their own rules.”
Lopez ran for office promising to fight for Hispanics — citizens, immigrants, and illegals. He targeted the Immigration and Naturalization Service, once demanding that the city of Anaheim refuse to allow INS agents to screen arrestees. There are good reasons to liberalize immigration rules, but it’s bizarre to urge a major city to refuse to enforce the law.
Another Lopez priority was bilingual education, despite its poor record in preparing non-English speakers for success in American society. Some schools offered only Spanish-language instruction; Lopez even said that he intended to drive Anglo teachers out of local schools.
Many Hispanic parents complained, but they were told to go elsewhere if they weren’t satisfied. Yet, notes columnist Michael Barone, “Transfers to schools offering English-language instruction were turned down; they were outside the zone.”
Lopez doggedly opposed Proposition 227, the English for Children initiative, which made English-language instruction the default position, subject to a parental request for Spanish-language courses. Even after its overwhelming passage in 1998 he pushed families to opt out. Most Hispanics chose English anyway.
While posing as a defender of the oppressed, some odd events occurred. He pushed for political contributions from architects with construction business before the school board. He offered to help parents meet their children’s special needs if they joined his organizations and participated in demonstrations.
More than $600,000, federal grants and federal, state, and local tax payments, was misspent or unaccounted for by another of his non-profit political vehicles, Hermandad Mexicana Nacional (HMN). Lopez responded to a reporter asking about the missing funds by asking where she got the publicly-available audit.
Four years later the State Department of Education filed suit against the same group over the lack of documentation in the spending $7 million in federal grants intended for citizenship and English classes. Very little was ever recovered.