Latinos at the Ballot Box

Part 2: Latino Factor: Changing the Face of Politics

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

When Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, Latinos were propelled into the forefront of political rhetoric that sought to marginalize their importance and value to the country or on the flip side motivated multiple campaigns to get the Latinos to the ballot box.

Click here to read Part 1 of Latino Factor: Changing the Face of Politics

The power of the Latino vote in recent years has been touted as a possible game changer in national elections, with both Democrats and Republicans citing the importance of their vote in Barack Obama’s winning of the presidency 8 years ago.

Efforts to get Latino permanent residents to become citizens so they can vote in November were significantly ramped up, as were the campaigns to get eligible, but unregistered voters signed up.

On Monday, a handful of registered voters showed up to a Voting Basics workshop in Commerce to become more informed before heading to vote Nov. 8. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

On Monday, a handful of registered voters showed up to a Voting Basics workshop in Commerce to become more informed before heading to vote Nov. 8. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Of the 27 million Latinos eligible to vote, more than 13 million are expected to head to the polls this November, according to the Pew Research Center.

For this two-part series, EGP spoke to a number of Latino elected officials from California about the history, power and influence of Latinos in the political arena. They described the struggles and discrimination faced by Latinos both in the past and the present. While they acknowledge there has been progress – such as the number of “political firsts” that includes Latinos leading both of California’s legislative bodies, more Latinos now serving on powerful congressional committees, in the president’s cabinet and in other leadership roles – all agreed there is still a long way to go to solidify Latino political strength.

They also discussed the evolution of what it means to be a Latino candidate, or worthy of Latino support.

In California, the U.S. Senate race between U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez and State Attorney General Kamala Harris in many ways highlights those changes.

The election has potential for its own “first.” If elected, Sanchez would be the first Latina to ever serve as a U.S. Senator: Harris would be California’s first African-American woman and first Asian-American woman in the U.S. Senate.

Part two of this series takes a closer look at what’s at stake for Latinos on Election Day and what it means for a Latinos to run for office.

 

The Latino Voice

The polarizing Presidential Election that polls still show is to close to call, has driven dozens of nonprofit and civil rights groups to launch outreach campaigns to register eligible Latino voters and encourage them to head to the polls next month.

According to a Pew Research Center report, Latinos are about 15 percent or more of the electorate in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, all key battleground states. In November, Latinos are projected to make up a record 27 million or 11.9 percent of all eligible U.S. voters, according to the report.

While the numbers are growing, the voter turnout among Latinos has not been as impressive. Despite a record 11.2 million Latinos casting their vote in 2012, it represented less than half of all the Latinos eligible to vote.

“Yes, Latinos can determine the election, we have the numbers,” acknowledged U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. “My fear is [they] don’t show up to the ballot box.”

In contrast, African-Americans and White voters are more likely to turnout. In 2012, 64 percent of White and 66.6 percent of African-Americans eligible voters cast votes.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is partnering with colleges and universities and other organizations across the state to encourage voter registration. He says the importance of voting is often instilled when parents take their children to the polls, an experience unfamiliar to many Latino immigrants.

“My parents never took me to vote, it wasn’t our experience,” he told EGP. “Far too many families don’t have that tradition.”

Because nearly half of eligible Latino voters are between the ages of 18 and 35, a group already on its own less likely to vote, special attention has been focused on targeting Latino millennials. The nonprofit Voto Latino aims to empower Latino millennials through civic engagement and reports it has registered over 101,000 Latinos. The next battle will be to get them out on election day.

“This election is very important” to Latinos, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis told EGP. Especially “when you hear Donald Trump say these things,” says the daughter of immigrants, referring to his comments disparaging women, immigrants, specifically Mexicans.

The former labor secretary has been campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling her a “good alternative for our community.”

“I believe she has a good record representing our community and I believe she will appoint Latinos to her cabinet,” Solis said.

Roybal-Allard tells EGP she often hears Latinos say “para que” (what’s the point) when it comes to voting, but hopes this election they consider the consequences.

“If they stay at home that’s like voting for Trump,” she said.

According to the Pew Research Center, a major factor in who voters support is their dislike for a candidate’s opponent.

Sanchez told EGP no matter whom they vote for, Latinos need to care about being represented at the polls.

“When our community doesn’t vote we give away our vote to the people who are voting,” she said.

 

Being Latino Is Important, But Not Everything

As EGP reported in part one of this series, in years past when there were few Latinos in elected office, being Latino was often the most important qualification for getting the Latino vote. The belief was that a Latino candidate would have a more comprehensive grasp and sensitivity to the issues and positions important to Latinos.

It was once unheard of for a Latino politician to endorse a non-Latino over a Latino in the same party, but the race between Sanchez and Harris is an example of how things have changed as more Latinos are elected to office.

For most, the fact that Sanchez is Latina is a factor, but by no means the biggest reason behind their endorsement.

“She’s a hard worker, dedicated and knowledgeable,” says Roybal-Allard, who has worked with Sanchez for nearly two decades. “I have seen first hand her commitment not just to Latinos but to our country.”

Roybal-Allard tells EGP she also endorsed Sanchez to ensure someone on the Senate would be sensitive to the needs of Southern California.

“The fact that she’s Latina is the cherry on top.”

Sanchez herself admits sometimes you don’t always want the Latino.

“Look at the presidential race, I was not going to vote for Ted Cruz.”

Instead, Sanchez asks that voters look at her resume, noting that during her 20 years in Congress she has served on the Committee on Armed Services and Committee on Homeland Security. She voted against the War in Iraq and supports immigration reform, and has been a supporter of small business.

“I know the issues, my opponent doesn’t have the experience” to get to work right away, says Sanchez, who has earned the endorsement of many of her colleagues in the House. “If we have a qualified Latina candidate and don’t choose the Latina then when the heck are we going to get one?”

The growing number of Latinos in office is what has perhaps made the shift in perspective possible.

“You want to have quality, good leadership,” points out Solis, who endorses Harris. She said Harris is on the right side of issues important to California Latinos. “I know some non-Latinos who fight for our rights.”

“We’ve evolved beyond looking at the color of our skin and instead focus on what a person brings,” she adds.

Other prominent Latino leaders including Sen. Pro Tem Kevin De Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon joined Solis in endorsing Harris, despite many expecting them to back the Latina with congressional experience.

Roybal-Allard told EGP this came as a surprise to her.

“It could be a lack of understanding to what it takes to be a member of congress,” she said. “There are different set of rules and Loretta [Sanchez] is someone that would hit the ground running,” the congresswoman said, noting the importance placed on seniority and established replacements.

Sanchez told EGP she thinks those who didn’t endorse her despite her qualifications were likely influenced by Northern politics in Sacramento.

It’s not about being Latina per se,” says Sanchez. “In this case I’m the qualified one with the experience.”

Endorsements in the race also show immigration is not the only issue important to Latinos.

Hector Barreto, president of the Hispanic Business Roundtable Institute, told EGP the group endorsed Sanchez because they have worked with the congresswoman for decades.

“Loretta [Sanchez] has always been passionate about helping small businesses,” he said. “It was a very easy decision,” he added.

The group tends to lean center right endorsing conservative candidates like Sen. John McCain and Sen. Marco Rubio this election.

Barreto said the group is concerned Harris will double down on efforts that hurt already struggling Latino-owned businesses by supporting more taxes and raising health care costs. There are 4 million Latino-owned businesses across the country, generating $700 billion in revenue each year, according to the Hispanic Business Roundtable Institute.

Sanchez on the other hand has been a champion in congress by fighting to get more federal contracts for small businesses and helping them have access to capital, said Barreto.

“If we can support a Hispanic candidate we will, but we don’t support a candidate [just because] they’re Hispanic.”

For those unsure of whom to vote for, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia hopes they ultimately mark the box next to Sanchez’ name.

“We did our research, our part to get this member on the ballot, she’s the qualified one,” Garcia said.

Congressman Xavier Becerra told EGP he chose not to endorse in the race and is instead concentrating on supporting Latinos running for seats in the House of Representatives. He told EGP he is happy to see there isn’t an absence of Latino candidates, and points out that in some races there is more than one Latino on the ballot.

“No doubt, when I hear a Latino is running I take an interest,” he said.

Solis predicts Latinos will have another bite at the apple when U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein retires.

Some political observers have speculated that deals were made early that a Latino would get Democrats support when Feinstein leaves office.

Meanwhile, Padilla told EGP he’s not endorsing in the race but says the U.S. Senate race is a reflection of the diversity of the state.

“Whether it’s the U.S. Senate this year or California Governor next year, I’m pretty sure there won’t be any state election without a strong viable Latino running for office.”

 

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October 6, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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