La Raza leader surprised to be drawn into Sotomayor debate

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverJune 18, 2009 

Andrea Bazan thought she could no longer be surprised. As a well-known Latina advocate, she has received death threats and had her home vandalized.

But the nomination of a Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court has brought accusations that have blind-sided even her. Some conservatives say Sonia Sotomayor's membership in the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic advocacy group — whose board Bazan has led for the past year — should disqualify Sotomayor for the high court.

Former Congressman Tom Tancredo called the group "a Latino KKK without the hoods and nooses." And conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh compared Sotomayor to David Duke, who is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

"We are stunned to hear such rhetoric," said Bazán, who has served on the group's board since 2000. "It's outrageous."

NCLR, as the Washington-based nonprofit group is known, says its mission is to reduce poverty and discrimination and improve opportunities for Hispanics. It does that by lobbying and working with hundreds of organizations around the country to run charter schools, homeownership programs, health clinics, English classes and a host of other programs.

It also supports immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and it has advocated for such causes as allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition and get driver's licenses.

NCLR officials say Sotomayor paid the group's $35 yearly dues and received its newsletters from 1998 to 2003 and has not been involved since.

The group was founded in 1968 and has since become a major player in U.S. politics. Both President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain gave speeches to the group during their presidential campaigns.

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