By Elaine de Valle, Voxxi
While President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney headline the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officers conference in Orlando this week, there is another star of the event: The Latino vote.
“Latinos Decide” is the theme of NALEO’s 29th annual conference, dubbed the “Latino political convention” and it was an underscored much of the summit’s first day — as it is expected to on Friday, when Obama is scheduled to address the participants.
The conference opened exactly 138 days before the critical November election and the Hispanic leaders present are all talking about ways to mobilize the Latino vote, which NALEO has projected will be around 12 million by election day.
“We have a lot to do in a little amount of time,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, fellow at Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, who spoke at a plenary session entitled, “Latinos and the Road to Impact on Election 2012.”
“With any roadmap you take, you pull out your map,” Soto said.
And that’s exactly what the NALEO conference is supposed to provide: a map and fuel for the ride to November’s final destination: “A Latin voice at every level — at the state level, at the federal level and at the policy level,” Soto said.
“We will face a number of roadblocks,” she added.
Soto; NALEO Executive Director Arturo Vargas; voting rights lawyer Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Eliseo Medina, secretary treasurer for the Service Employees International Union; and University of Washington Professor Matt Barreto, co-principal of Latino Decisions, each spoke about voter suppressionefforts – whether they are photo ID requirements, hindrances to new registrations or questionable voter roll purges.
“Our current leaders see no profit with registering people to vote,” said Perales, who is in court next week fighting the Texas voter ID law — perhaps the nation’s strictest — where student identification will not grant you a vote but a concealed weapons permit will.
And there are efforts around the country to break through these roadblocks.
“We all know we have the numbers, that we have the potential to decide who gets elected president, dog catcher and everything in between, that with our vote, we have the power to change the course of America,” Medina said, adding that only through Latino voting power can measures like the anti-immigrant Arizona SB1070 be stopped.
“We are no longer a sleeping giant. We are awake. And we are getting cranky,” Medina added.
But he told the more than 200 people gathered at the breakfast roundtable that Hispanics have to make sure they don’t squander their strength.
“The most important thing is that power not used is power lost,” Medina later told VOXXI. “We have to turn out on Nov. 6.”
Some have questioned whether that 12 million strong Latino vote will materialize in less than five months, based on a less-than-great showing in the Texas and California primaries.
“I don’t know what the forumula is,” said Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, who helped introduce Romney on Thursday.
“In our countries, and I can speak about Puerto Rico, voting is the sport of the day. People come out and vote and people are passionate about this,” Ortiz told VOXXI. “We need that same passion here, from the whole Latino community.”
But NALEO’s Vargas said that momentum is beginning to swell now and that 2012 was a very different year from 2008.
“In 2008, there were Deomocratic primaries that were really mobilizing Latino voters. Sen. [Hillary] Clinton and Sen. Obama at the time were doing all they could to reach Latino voters,” Vargas told VOXXI. “There was no such type of campaign in the Democratic primaries in 2012 and in the Republican primary, it was really the Florida electorate that got most of the attention.
“But now we are entering a new phase, when both candidates in the general, both President Obama and Gov. Romney are now turning their attention to the Latino electorate, which is one reason why they are with us here at this conference,” Vargas said.
Florida Sen. Rene Garcia, the Republican chairman of the state’s Hispanic Legislative Caucus, agreed.
This article first appeared in Voxxi.
Ealine De Valle spent 18 years as a staff writer for The Miami Herald, where she was part of two Pulitzer-Prize winning teams, one in 1993 for coverage of Hurricane Andrew’s aftermath and one in 1999 for an investigative series on voter fraud that overturned the 1997 Miami election. She has covered everything from presidential elections to local crime and business trends. She also won a South Florida regional Emmy in 2011 for a segment on absentee ballots irregularities in the Miami-Dade mayoral campaign.
[Photo by NALEO]