Lauro Garza, 49, has been a Republican as long as he remembers, proudly casting his vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and sticking with the party ever since. But after hearing Herman Cain’s “joke” about killing illegal immigrants with an electric border fence, he’s seen enough.
Garza is the Texas state director for Somos Republicans, an activist group whose stated mission is to bring Latino voters into the GOP fold. On Tuesday, he announced on the group’s website that he’s cut up his Texas GOP membership card (he posted a picture) and will identify as an independent from now on.
“I’m serious,” he told TPM over the phone. “I have allegedly pro-life Republicans telling me that advocating for the murder of people crossing the border is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. We took Herman Cain’s remark very seriously because it was the second or third time he had said similar things.”
Garza dismissed Cain’s initial comments that the statement was a joke, noting that Cain subsequently said he would seriously consider an actual electrified fence as a solution to the border crisis. To Garza, the reaction of the GOP already gave away the game.
“People didn’t laugh, they cheered,” he said. “They didn’t think it was a joke. That remarks advocating the murder of innocent people and unconstitutional use of force by someone running for president were met with cheers by Republicans is outrageous.”
Garza’s certainly no border security dove: a 25-year law enforcement veteran, he says he spent a two-year stint as a special agent for US Customs tracking drug smugglers from Mexico. And he repeatedly couched his complaints in the Constitutional arguments of the Tea Party, saying that he was upset that the GOP was increasingly trying to tackle immigration issues at the state level when the task is clearly delegated to the federal government.
According to Garza, few Republican Latinos have stuck with the party as long as he has in the face of its rising anti-immigration fervor. He noted that Somos Republicans’ founder, Dee Dee Blase, left the GOP as well recently.
“We’re the last of the Reagan Republicans,” he said. “Our last best hope was Rick Perry, even though we knew he was a very leaky vessel. We had no choice but to hang the last of our hopes on him and he dashed them immediately.”
Garza said he was upset that Perry backtracked on his debate claim that opponents of his in-state tuition law were heartless. He also told TPM that he was at least as upset that Perry didn’t more explicitly tell Republicans that states shouldn’t be enforcing immigration laws in the first place.
Cain’s latest remarks aren’t the first to draw Somos Republicans’ ire: they previously called for him to drop out after another “joke” about a border wall in which he suggested building an alligator-filled moat.
Correction: An earlier version reported Dee Dee Blase left the GOP in 2009. It was 2011.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.