California Governor Candidate Tim Donnelly Defends Ad

By: Greg Palmer
By: Greg Palmer

(CNN) -- California Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly took to CNN's Spanish-language airwaves recently to deny accusations that a campaign ad he shot with Cuban-Venezuelan actress Maria Conchita Alonso is racist.

The candidate, who is also a state assemblyman, touted his Filipina wife as evidence that he's not prejudiced.

"If I am a racist, I'm not a very good one," Donnelly said Thursday on CNN en Español's "Directo USA" show. "I must have gone to the wrong school where you learn how to be a racist because I married a woman with dark skin. As a matter of fact, her skin's darker than Maria Conchita's."

Alonso agreed, saying, "Tim is married to a Filipina. His daughter-in-law is Mexican. He is not a racist and neither am I, as we are now being accused."

The three-minute video, released January 13 on YouTube, has come under fire by some Latinos and Latino groups.

In the video, Alonso cradles a small, sweater-clad lapdog she calls Tequila as she translates, and oftentimes reinterprets, Donnelly's views on a wide range of issues.

At one point, Alonso makes a somewhat crude allusion to Donnelly's boldness.

In the ad, Donnelly says, "I want a gun in every Californians gun safe. I want the government out of our business and our bedroom. I want to bring the film industry back where she belongs, Hollywood." To which Alonso responds, "Los tiene bien grandes y esta enojado" meaning, "He has really big ones, and he's angry."

The candidate said the exchanges are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but to some Latinos, who have taken to Twitter to express their outrage, the spot comes across as bizarre and ridiculous and as a stereotypical attempt to connect with Latino voters.

Alonso, in particular, has drawn sharp criticism for endorsing a Tea Party favorite and immigration hard liner who in 2011 tried to gather enough signatures to repeal California's so-called Dream Act, a law that allows undocumented college students to use state financial aid programs. Donnelly also founded a local chapter in 2005 of the armed civilian border patrol group The Minutemen.

In a series of tweets, Mexican-American cartoonist and immigration activist Lalo Alcaraz called Alonso a vulgar Spanish term for idiot or stupid. Tony Hernandez, co-founder and producer for the Immigrant Archive Project, an independent initiative dedicated to preserving the life stories of America's immigrant population, tweeted that he was shocked to see the Latina actress supporting the perceived anti-immigrant gubernatorial candidate.

Over the weekend, the 56-year-old former beauty queen turned telenovela and Hollywood star said the resulting fallout forced her to resign from a San Francisco production of "The Vagina Monologues."

"Of course she has the right to say whatever she wants," producer Eliana Lopez told local CBS affiliate KPIX. "But ... doing what she is doing is against what we believe."

Alonso, however, said on "Directo USA" that she firmly stands by her decision to support Donnelly for two reasons: Donnelly's proposed plan to create more jobs and his desire to raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour, something the candidate has said he would do by unleashing California's natural resources.

"We ought to be fracking and drilling our way to prosperity rather than sitting on an ocean of oil and importing it from our enemies," Donnelly told "Directo USA" anchor Juan Carlos Lopez, noting what occurred in North Dakota. In that state, McDonald's restaurants offered employees about $15 an hour, plus signing bonuses after the discovery of the Parshall Oil Field in 2006, which boosted the economy and led to a labor shortage.

As to Donnelly's stance on immigration, Alonso offers a few explanations.

"After 9/11, he told me that he organized a group of civilians to go protect the border from the invasion, not of Mexicans," Alonso said. "A lot of Arabs and drugs enter through the Mexican border, so what he did was protect us from the people who wanted to come attack us."

Alonso also said Donnelly "today supports the idea of helping immigrant children who came to the U.S. at the age of 3 or 5 with their college education."

However, Donnelly said in the "Directo USA" interview that the Dream Act "is an open-ended entitlement that will invite and incentive more people to come here illegally. ... I'm not upset at people for coming here. I'm mad at my government for inviting people to come the most dangerous way possible and putting their lives at risk."

A spokesman for California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed Donnelly's campaign ad.

"What this video lacks in terms of logic and sanity, they make up for it in pure entertainment value," said Dan Newman, a political strategist and adviser to Brown.

Even some fellow Republicans have taken issue with Donnelly's latest spot. In a statement, Café Con Leche Republicans, a Latino group, said the ad is so bad it's almost laughable. And, the group said, rather than appeal to Hispanics, the ad insults their intelligence.

"Maria Conchita Alonso is no doubt a great actress, but as we've seen time and time again, movie stars often lack common sense," the group said in a release.

The actress is known to be politically provocative. She is an outspoken critic of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whom she once described as a Hitler-like dictator and upon his death said she was not sad about his departure but that "ideally he would be alive with cancer, in jail."

But this endorsement surprised many people, leading some to wonder whether she was paid to support Donnelly. The actress said she was not.

The pair has found some support on social media, where some people have tweeted that Alonso should not be attacked but should be free to exercise her First Amendment right to free speech. However, the overwhelming sense among Latinos appears to be that invoking ethnic stereotypes and vehemently opposing immigration reform might not be the best strategy to win the governorship of a state where about 38% of its residents are Latino.


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