More than 200 Colorado Latinos and their backers, including some 40 elected officials, helped launch the American Dream Political Action Committee this morning with a fundraising breakfast at the Denver Athletic Club in support of Colorado's ASSET legislation.
The PAC, founded by seven of the state's most powerful Latinas, is focused - for now - on rallying resources to get the Colorado ASSET bill passed in the state Legislature this year.
A student "Dreamer" from Aurora and syndicated radio personality Mario Solis Marich, whose national Clear Channel show was recently canceled, also spoke in support of the bill, which would create a third tier of tuition - an amount higher than residents pay but below out-of-state rates - for undocumented students at state colleges and universities. This is the sixth time in recent years that the Legislature has considered such a bill.
Photos: American Dream Political Action Committee breakfast
"Politics isn't just about passion, it's really about power," said Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, who along with Veronica Barela, Patricia Barela Rivera, Nita Gonzales, Joelle Martinez, the Hon. Ramona Martinez and Cindy Peña founded the American Dream PAC. "We need to be able to build political power to get issues like Colorado ASSET to be passed. Being able to financially support candidates who are champions of these issues is one of the things we really need to focus us on as a community. That's really where the idea came from."
The inaugural fundraiser was a sellout, with about $10,000 raised that will go directly to candidates who support this effort.
"We have to pass the access bill, we have to pass the Dream Act, and we have to pass comprehensive immigration reform," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, in addressing the crowd. "Consider me your ally in this fight."
Rep. Ed Perlmutter also expressed his support for the students the ASSET legislation would assist.
"We need their talent. We need it maximized," he said.
Former Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña, president/CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Denver Guillermo "Bill" Vidal and former Sen. Polly Baca were also at the breakfast.
Laura Serrano, a senior at Aurora Central High School, was invited to represent the kind of student who would benefit from the tuition bill.
Serrano arrived in this country at the age of 7 when her family received asylum because of the destruction caused by an earthquake in El Salvador. She is in the top 10 percent of her class and has been accepted at the University of Colorado and at Fort Hays State University in Kansas but is ineligible to receive most aid and scholarships because of her Work Permit status. She admitted that the out-of-state cost of CU forced her to rule out that option.
"What stops me from going to school in Kansas is I work to help my mother support my family," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. "If I leave, my mother would have a really hard time. If ASSET passes, I'd be able to stay in Colorado and help my mother support my family."
Solis, who was named the best talk show host in 2011 by the Colorado Broadcasters Association, said of the students who would benefit from the passing of ASSET: "We cannot waste potential."
"No longer is our community in a mood to reward people for not attacking us. We are in the mood to reward people for fighting for us," he added.
But this is just a first step, said Duran. "We'll focus on this until we're able to successfully pass ASSET. In the future, there are other issues we're going to focus on."