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Irvine Woman Aims at High Latino Post

Times Staff Writer

Anita Del Rio from Irvine first turned heads when she became the first Latina to win state office within the national League of United Latin American Citizens.

Now, Del Rio, 44, a mother of four employed as a manager for an Orange County program to help disadvantaged residents, may become the first woman to be elected president of LULAC, the nation’s largest and oldest Latino organization.

To do that, however, she must defeat Oscar Moran, 40, a San Antonio insurance analyst, who is waging a fierce campaign that has highlighted the 56th Annual LULAC Convention being held in Anaheim. The election is Sunday.

Founded in 1929 in Texas, the 110,000-member league has been closely associated with civil-rights causes.

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“I’m not running as a woman candidate,” Del Rio said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m running on my qualifications.”

Stresses Finances

Moran said he is emphasizing in his campaign that he is the right individual to rekindle ties with corporate America and “quickly erase” the League’s budget deficit, estimated at $200,000 to $300,000. LULAC’s annual budget is $500,000.

A top priority for Moran, he said, is to ensure that the league remains at the top of Latino organizations and that it not “take a back seat” on any national issues.

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Del Rio campaign buttons, hats with catchy “Oscar in 85" slogans, posters, and intense hotel-corridor politicking have marked the campaign. Both have mobilized dozens of supporters.

Both candidates, although well-known inside the organization, do not have national recognition. Some high-ranking league members question whether either candidate is prepared to represent the League at meetings with congressional leaders, Reagan Administration officials or foreign heads of state.

In recent years, League members stirred interest when they traveled to Mexico, Spain and Cuba, and dealt with Central American policy by opening talks with foreign dignitaries on such issues as immigration and economic development.

Created Some Anger

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While Del Rio supporters are hoping to tap the League’s 52% female majority, Del Rio angered some feminists for not pushing harder for an annual Latino women’s conference and for advocating a more “traditional” women’s role.

However, Clara Nava, Santa Ana LULAC council president, said that Del Rio “posseses the assertiveness and aggressiveness that is needed for this top position.”

Del Rio said she received a bachelor’s degree in social ecology at UC Irvine, a master’s in education at Pepperdine University and a doctorate in public administration from the University of Beverly Hills.

The doctorate, which Del Rio continually emphasizes, is a sore point with some league members, who make light of the fact that Del Rio’s degree is not from a major university.

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“When I found out, I thought it was very amusing,” said Chacha Lopez, a Moran supporter from Port Lavaca, Tex.

Del Rio now scoffs at her critics and, in reference to the degree, insists that she’s “proud of it.”

Although the League race is non-partisan, Del Rio said she is a Democrat, while Moran is a Republican.

Issues Important

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Whoever wins, his or her success in office will depend significantly on the league’s ability to organize and rally supporters around issues--an ability that league officials admit has been limited in recent years.

Although league supporters often note that about 14.6 million Latinos live in the United States --about 6.4% of the total population--no Latino organization has successfully had a large-scale voter registration effort in recent years.

The fierce battle has occurred at a time when the league seems to have lost steam. “We’re at a plateau,” said Tony Bonilla, a former national president and member of a prominent Texas family involved in league activities.

Others noted a “slim” convention agenda with very few elected officials--often an indicator of an organization’s clout--scheduled to speak. Significantly absent are San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and farm-labor leader Cesar Chavez, who decided not to attend because of pickets protesting contributions to the group from the Adolph Coors Co.

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One of the principal scheduled speakers, Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), sponsor of immigration legislation that has drawn harsh criticism from the Latino community, had to cancel his appearance because of what an aide characterized as business in Washington.

Outgoing president Mario G. Obledo, former California health and welfare secretary, acknowledged that despite attempts to improve the progress of Latinos, “serious problems” still plague the Latino community.

The median income for those of Spanish origin in 1983 was $16,956, compared to $25,757 for whites. The Latino high school dropout rate is 45%, compared to 17% for Anglos.

Education Priority

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Del Rio said the league needs to place a high priority on education.

If elected, she hopes to encourage a task force of highly educated Latinos who have achieved success to serve as “super role models” to help motivate youth.

Moran, who said the league’s neglect of education has been “glaring,” said he would push for a task force for “very serious” fact-finding in various states with high dropout rates, including California.

“California is one of the states we have targeted,” he said, adding he would not rule out fighting for equalization of school funding at the school district level.

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About 100 members of the Coalition for Visas and Rights, a group that champions the causes of undocumented workers, staged a brief protest Friday in front of the Anaheim Marriott, where the convention is taking place. The twin targets of the picket were Simpson and the Adolph Coors Co., one of the corporate sponsors of the convention.

Carmen Lima of Los Angeles, the coalition’s leader, said Coors had traditionally discriminated against minorities and “especially Hispanics.”

“We support LULAC, but we disagree with Coors participation in the convention,” she said.

Lima also said the group opposed Simpson’s immigration bill as discriminatory against undocumented workers, who he said pay taxes and make a significant contribution to the American economy.

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But Ruben Bonilla, a Corpus Christi, Tex., attorney and former LULAC president, blamed Simpson’s cancellation on convention organizers, and said the speech had been scheduled at an inconvenient time.

“You can’t blame Simpson, you have to blame us,” Bonilla said. “It’s no surprise he didn’t show up. I would have been more surprised if he had appeared.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------Times staff writer Ray Perez contributed to the preparation of this story.

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