LULAC in limbo: Judge halts national election amid controversy over Puerto Rican statehood
Aug 3, 2022
AUSTIN — A Texas judge has blocked the nation's oldest Latino civil rights organization from holding its board election amid allegations that a scheme had been hatched to hand control to one of the major political parties in Puerto Rico.
Associate Judge Tahira Khan Merritt of the 162nd District Court in Dallas County ordered a halt to the election that was to have taken place last weekend at the League of United Latin American Citizens annual convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in response to a lawsuit brought by members of the organization arguing that the voting was being used as a platform to promote Puerto Rican statehood.
Merritt said in her order that she found sufficient evidence to support the lawsuit's claim that the election was an effort "to engage in a fraudulent and illicit scheme to place LULAC under the irreversible control of a foreign political party" in violation of the organization's bylaws.
At the heart of the lawsuit is the claim that Puerto Rico's New Progressive Party, known as PNP, had funded efforts to form numerous "illegitimate" local councils, or chapters, to dominate the voting at the convention while many delegates from the United States mainland had opted not to attend for fear of contracting COVID-19 or to avoid expensive travel.
"No one wants to have an election where you think someone else has unfairly stacked the deck," said Dallas lawyer Jeffrey Tillotson, who represents four members of LULAC who brought the lawsuit.
The election was to have pitted LULAC president Domingo Garcia, a former state representative from Dallas who has held his post in the 132,000-member organization since 2018, against Juan Carlos Lizardi of New York. Lizardi is the son of LULAC board member Elsie Valdes, an activist for Puerto Rican statehood.
Garcia is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but Tillotson said that is a formality because, as president, he has "a ministerial role" in running LULAC elections. In a statement, Garcia made clear he opposed the effort to formally tie LULAC to the statehood movement.
"As president, I must protect and defend LULAC from external or internal corrupt threats," Garcia said. "PNP staunchly advocates statehood for Puerto Rico. That is their right, and we have no issue with any position the people of Puerto Rico take through a fair and open election. However, LULAC has always been non-partisan."
In a statement of his own, Lizardi said the lawsuit brought by the LULAC members amounted to a voter-suppression effort.
"A strategy was used to influence not having an election by discouraging or preventing members from voting," Lizardi said. "The work continues. One does not need a little title to serve the community. One just needs to serve. I look forward to working with all of you on the issues we need to fight, especially to guarantee that voter suppression does not continue. Inside or outside of our beloved organization."
LULAC was founded in 1929 when members from three separate organizations advocating for Mexican American citizens met in Corpus Christi and merged into an organization that quickly grew to 8,000 members. It is now a national organization based in Washington.
Tillotson said the order halting the election leaves LULAC's present leadership structure in place pending further court action. In her order, Merritt forbids LULAC's officers from engaging in any election activity at least until Aug. 12, when she has scheduled a hearing to address the lawsuit's claims.