Just a few years ago, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) would have been an unlikely example of a Republican who could make inroads with the Hispanic community. Having just won a congressional seat recently held by immigration hardliner, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, Coffman looked certain to continue in his footsteps.
But now in his third term, Coffman has been literally writing the playbook on how the Republican Party can broaden its support in an increasingly young and diverse electorate.
While it’s true there has been a marked shift in Coffman’s stance since being redistricted into a more diverse congressional district, it’s clear that his change is sincere, thoughtful and, perhaps most importantly, substantive. What’s more, Coffman is certainly not the first public elected officials to adapt in order to best represent the needs of his constituents.
In other ways, Coffman really hasn’t changed much. The former Colorado state treasurer remains pro-life, economically conservative and in favor of repealing Obamacare. In fact, according to a recent article by the Denver Post, Coffman is a “far-right Republican” based on the government-data website GovTrack.us
Perhaps Coffman’s biggest change is his commitment to learning Spanish. To do this, the Colorado lawmaker is setting aside time to learn using the popular language-learning tool, Rosetta Stone. He’s also chatting in Spanish with some of his fellow Republicans. Native Spanish speaker Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) told the Wall Street Journal that Coffman’s “verb conjugation is good.” Coffman has also hired a Spanish language tutor.
Coffman has been literally writing the playbook on how the Republican Party can broaden its support in an increasingly young and diverse electorate
Coffman’s hard work has been paying off. Not only is he able to conduct interviews with Spanish language media, he actually debated his previous opponent entirely in Spanish. Quite a feat for someone that spoke virtually no Spanish just a few years back.
Coffman handily beat former Democratic state house Speaker Andrew Romanoff 52-42 in the 2014 congressional election.
However helpful Spanish has been to communicate with some of his new constituents, it’s clear that bilingualism only one part of a bigger strategy of making Coffman more accessible. He has also created a number of advisory councils that provide him with a way of not only communicating with constituents in his district, but also as a way of listening and learning.
“In the district I have now, there is a significant Hispanic population,” Coffman told Politico in 2013. “And meeting with those people really put a face on it.”
Coffman recently joined Curbelo to introduce the “Recognizing American Children Act” that would legalize a portion of the young adult immigrant population that is enrolled, serving in the military or gainfully employed.
In a recent campaign advertisement titled “One of Us,” the minute-long ad features a number of individuals expressing support for Coffman. Among the voices include Ethiopian, Korean and Latin American immigrants signing his praises.
“Mike is not like other Republicans,” says one of the voices in the ad.
The sentiment is shared by Paulo Sibaja, a former Republican National Committee staff member, now a resident of Colorado’s bell weather Arapahoe County. “Rep. Coffman is an exemplary leader committed to all of his constituents. He fights for the Hispanic vote and fights for our community.”
When asked why other Republicans should follow his lead, Coffman tells Opportunity Lives: “The Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing minority groups in the country. It is absolutely vital that all leaders — including local, state, and federal — embrace the growing diversity that is America.”
And with estimates that a large number of eligible Hispanic voters are registering as independents and many more are not excited about voting for Hillary Clinton, Republicans certainly have an opening to make their pitch to the fastest growing demographic.
Whether or not others follow, Coffman sounds like he has discovered a naturally conservative constituency: “The Hispanic community is aspirational and deeply cares about the ability to achieve the American dream and are willing to work very hard toward that goal.”
Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter:@IzzyOrtega.