National Association of Hispanic Journalists Slammed for Keynote by Tequila Party Founder Garcia Blase

This month the National Association of Hispanic Journalists began to promote its April 21 regional conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The event, entitled "Covering the New Southwest: Storytelling in the Heart of La Tierra," is scheduled to cover "journalism, news gathering, writing and hot topics" in the Southwest. What should have been an informative session has now turned into a controversy because of the event's keynote speaker: Dee Dee Garcia Blase, the founder of the Tequila Party and the former head of Somos Republicans.

The event's blog post described Garcia Blase as "political organizer" from Arizona who "helped recall the Ariz. State Sen. Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070." That statement is facing scrutiny for its accuracy, and considering that the NAHJ is a journalistic organization that should be espousing the basic principles of fact, NAHJ members and those in the know about the real organizers of the Pearce recall are questioning the organization's integrity and intent.

This page has dedicated several blog posts about Garcia Blase, to the point that we have been threatened by her with frivolous legal posturing, but in this case, the NAHJ is grossly misrepresenting the facts. 

The real architect behind the successful recall of Pearce is Citizens for a Better Arizona and its leader, Randy Parraz. Yesterday Parraz posted the following on his Facebook page and members of CCFBA have responded:

 

The following letter is just one example of the reaction surrounding the NAHJ's decision:

 

National Association of Hispanic Journalists

Attn: Anna Lopez Buck, Executive

Director Via email: [email protected]

Dear Ms Buck:

I was very surprised to see that your organization has invited Dee Dee Blase to be the keynote speaker at your regional conference in New Mexico April 21, and that your organization described her as having “helped recall the Ariz. State Sen. Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070.”

I worked on this campaign from the first week of February, 2011 through November 8, 2011 and beyond – almost every day in April and May (when the big push to get the signatures took place), and, again almost every day in September, October and for about 80 hours the last week of the campaign in November. I was an unpaid volunteer. Those ten months of work are attested by: 

  • the hundreds of signatures that I gathered and that are on file with the Secretary of State
  • the innumerable pictures of the recall effort, many online, which included myself. One is of me submitting some of the recall petitions on May 31, 2011 at the Secretary of State’s Office 
  • my substantial financial contributions to Citizens for a Better Arizona, which are also available from the Arizona Secretary of State’s office online. It was a very grand and exhausting effort. 

On the other hand, Dee Dee Blase’s contributions consisted of:

1. Pulling recall petitions that were incompatible with the Citizens for a Better Arizona petitions which eventually recalled Pearce. The effect of Dee Dee Blase’s petitions was to confuse people who wanted to sign for the recall of Russell Pearce. Having signed Blase’s useless petition, they were reluctant to sign the genuine article – thinking that they had already signed. The opposition of many hundreds of people to Senator Pearce was never recorded in the Citizens for a Better Arizona recall petitions, because of the interference and confusion produced by Dee Dee Blase. If the petition totals had been close, this confusion could have derailed the recall. For over two crucial months, Dee Dee Blase’s purported recall effort interfered with the genuine recall of Russell Pearce.

2. After giving up on her recall efforts, Dee Dee Blase refused to share any of the signatures that she had gathered, so that we could solicit these people for signatures that would count. She refused to solicit any of these people for help with recall petitions that counted, with voter registration, or the election; nor would she let us ask these people.

3. We received no help from Dee Dee Blase in:

  • getting people registered to vote. The genuine recall campaign registered over a thousand people, and put most of these on the permanent early voting list, which greatly increases voter participation. 
  • getting registered people on the permanent early voting list – another thousand 
  • getting the message out by telephone and door-to-door conversations of which Citizens for a Better Arizona help tens of thousands. More than 500 people volunteered in the Citizens for a Better Arizona recall campaign, many for hundreds of hours, some for thousands. 
  • getting people to mail in their early ballots by telephone, door-to-door visits, literature drops and direct mail 
  • physically collecting early ballots and delivering them to the County Recorder
  • encouraging and helping voters to the early voting polls 
  • Getting Out The Vote on election day 
  • the knock and drag operation.
  • Nor in innumerable other recall and campaign efforts of all sorts. 

No help – none.

4. In April of 2011, as the effort to get signatures on recall petitions was going full force, Dee Dee Blase announced that she had received a pledge of $15,000 for her recall effort. This money, if it existed, was never used in any way to assist with the gathering of recall signatures that counted, nor in the subsequent election.

No help – none.

That’s Dee Dee Blase’s contribution to the recall of former state Senate President Russell Pearce, the chief sponsor of the infamous SB1070.

No help – just interference, grandstanding and self promotion. Some keynote speaker.

Robert Unferth

In addition, NAHJ member Isaac Cubillos posted a letter to the organization. Here is an excerpt of that letter (the whole letter can be read here):

Dear, Ms. Buck:

I was forwarded the announcement about the NAHJ regional conference in New Mexico, set for April 21, 2012.

What a tremendous disappointment — and aggravation — it was to read DeeDee Garcia Blase was slated as the keynote speaker for the event. To even suggest she played any significant part in the recall of Arizona Sen. Russell Pierce is an affront to the people who did all the work on that campaign, and to journalism itself.

One of the tenets of journalism is to get the facts right. In this case, NAHJ failed miserably.

Ms. Blase, if anything, was a minor bit player in the recall effort. The two daily newspapers in the region as well as local television news, all credit Mr. Randy Parraz as the leader of the recall effort. If anyone deserves to be a keynote speaker it would be him. Mr. Parraz had a core group of 35 volunteers, and Ms. Blase was not one of them.

Among those who received recognition from the Latino community for their significant roles are: Chad Snow, Brenda Rascon, Stephen Lemons and Dennis Gilman who documented the recall, and Lilia Alvarez who kept everything together. All these people and other, were part of Citizens for a Better Arizona.

Cubillos concluded the letter with this paragraph:

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists already has its own spotted credibility among Latino journalists who chuckle and shake their heads at the organization’s recent history. We don’t need another joke hanging around our necks. I would ask that you rescind the invitation to Ms. Blase and consider someone more suitable for the New Mexico journalism conference.

The NAHJ sent several replies to Cubillos' letter and Cubillos published them all on his blog. You can read them all here. Here are some excerpts of the replies he received:

DeeDee Garcia Blase has been invited at speak to the NAHJ New Mexico regional conference for her role in the recall the Ariz. State Sen. Russell Pearce, for her efforts with the new Tequila Party and the Latino political scene in Arizona. It has been well-documented by various media outlets that she helped organized Latino Mormons and moderate Republicans during the recall process. While she is not the only voice, nor is she the sole person responsible for that election, she is one voice that played a role regardless of differences one might have with her political views.

My concern is with the last paragraph of your email and your characterization of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. I can’t speak about Latino journalists in general, but I can speak about our members and their regard for NAHJ.

I assure you it is quite high. Most of the complaints we’ve received and those who have been most vocal in their criticism of NAHJ are not members, nor have they been for some time. There is no doubt that NAHJ has been through some difficult times recently, mostly coming from a tight economic climate in general and severe declines in revenues among media companies specifically. That is no different than all the organizations that serve journalists of color, most of those whose membership is predominantly white and nonprofits in general. 

Media companies have been the main source of NAHJ’s revenue since the organization was formed. That is changing. This board had some very difficult decisions to make to address NAHJ’s finances, and I’m very proud to be serving with a group of directors that did not shy away from their duty.

As a result, NAHJ is in the black for the first time in three years. While we still have a way to go return to solid financial footing, I am very proud to say we’re well on our way. How do we know members are pleased with the direction the board has taken the organization? Members who drifted away years ago have rejoined.

Latino journalists who had never been involved in the organization are now among our members and are lending their time and expertise in a variety of initiatives. We also have a number of new sponsors, and long-standing sponsors have renewed their commitment or increased it. I assure you that would not be the case if we were considered “a joke.” All in all, Mr. Cubillos, the Latino journalists who understand the importance of NAHJ are among its members in good standing, and more are returning every day. They’re working hard to support NAHJ and ensure that it thrives, rather than sitting on the sidelines laughing and shaking their heads. NAHJ is hardly a joke, unless you consider having to lay off four staff members and a consultant funny.

I can assure you those who lost their jobs aren’t laughing. Neither is the board. Again, thank you for bringing your concerns about Ms. Garcia Blase to the attention of the board of directors of NAHJ. We would encourage you to become a member as we move forward in strength and solidarity.

Cubillos took the time to reply to these letters:

Thank you for your reply, I appreciate your time.

It is not my intention to create an issue about NAHJ. Believe me, I have been an ardent supporter for the group when meeting and coaching new Latino journalists. Rather, my letter to you is about the appropriateness of this specific speaker of whom I take issue.

At a time when newsrooms are downsizing and reporters find it more difficult to cover the news — let alone Latino news, I find it incredible Ms. Blase is considered, even remotely, someone journalists will think, “oh, here’s a source.”

I certainly hope you look into her credentials beyond her self-promoting press releases, and fawning by bloggers.

We Latino journalists have a responsibility to each other, our readers and our employees to raise the standards of our profession. As in all other endeavors and professions, we have to do it better than the other guy. We Latinos are so scrutinized.

And you are correct. I’m not laughing after having felt the stinging effects of a layoff as the only Latino editor and oldest one at the copy desk at an E.W. Scripps newspaper.

But you sidestepped the issue; is having a self-promoter — someone journalists are taught to avoid in our coverage — suitable to present to fellow colleagues? In this specific case, no.

Again, thank you for your valuable time at deadline.

With respect to you, and the board.

Isaac Cubillos

When I read these replies, there was really no effort to address the issue of Blase’s credibility as a keynote speaker at a journalists’ conference. They are more concerned about their image than about “checking the facts, ma’am.” But, it seems it’s always Latino journalist organizations (there are others), who are concerned more about reputation than about the values of journalism.

I remember a strong NAHJ, and would still be supportive, but when they make a bone-head decision like this, they need to be called out on it. It is the only way they can learn, and hopefully, take corrective measures.

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