Powered by Max Banner Ads
Twenty eight Latinos were sworn into the 113th Congress today. That’s enough to put a new notch on the Latino political wall – there have never been that many Latinos in congress before. Neither has there been a more polarized congress, at least not since the civil war. So while there’s reason to celebrate for Latinos, there’s also more than enough reason to do it with a sober look at the political moment in time.
All eyes will be trained on the Latino legislators when it comes to immigration reform, and that’ll be a important political battle. But there’s also a danger in it. There’s a danger in Latino’s being relegated to a perceived issue, then shoved to a sideline after the issue is resolved. And that’s because in the last few years immigration has risen as a Latino-centric topic. It’s not, and Latinos know this. Immigration is an American issue, and immigration reform is important to all American’s. But, (and here’s where the issue holds a hint of opportunity) if Latino’s are seen as leading the conversation, then the political moment is a unique opportunity for the new record number of Latinos in congress to show leadership.
And what will that look like?
First, Latino members of congress should work together. That’s easily said. But given the recent record of congressional behavior, not easily expected. So just by doing that, just by joining in one concerted effort, whatever they may agree it should be, would send a signal of leadership that has been missing in the halls of Capitol Hill for years.
Second, it should be reasonable, and by that I mean appeal logically to the interests of all segments of the American public. This is also easily done because immigration reform has the potential to unlock a huge amount of economic and workforce energy. The key is in the manner in which it’s sold, the messaging and the compromising.
Third, once that is accomplished, reform passed, the economy churning, Latino leadership will be poised to play an important role in all future skirmishes in Washington.
Granted, there are many things that can go wrong, many political trumps that can be played to trip the pace, and more than likely the road will not be as smooth as I’ve drawn it to be. But the opportunity still exists. And what’s occupied my thinking as Latinos have surged in political power, in the voting booth and in elected office, is the tenor of Latino leadership moving forward.
It would be a shame if Latinos move into greater political power and all we get is more of the same.
[Photo screenshot courtesy houselive.gov]
¿Sabes que? “I Told You So!” I told you all that the Latino vote would play a decisive role in this presidential election.
I first noticed this possibility when I was working with census data in preparation for the 2001 congressional redistricting in Texas. What I noticed was that the Latino electorate, Latino registered voters, resided in just a few states. In 2001, 89.9% of Latino registered voters, resided in just 15 states.
So, you say, this doesn’t look like enough of a situation to swing a presidential election! Yeah but given the way the Electoral College is structured it turns out that Latino registered voters resided in 15 states that accounted for 295 Electoral College votes and it only takes 270 to elect the president. Of the 295, President Obama won 251 electoral votes or 13 of the 15 states where Latinos are important voters.
Since 2001 much changed including an exploding Latino population that saw us officially becoming the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the nation and expanding beyond the 15 states we predominated. As of the 2012 election 90% of all Latinos who are eligible to vote reside in 17 states, with Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia among that group. These Latino voters reside in states that account for 313 Electoral College votes. Of these Obama won 14 states accounting for 233 electoral votes.
Besides the demographic changes that occurred between 2001 and 2012, the decade also found increasing animosity on the part of the extreme right wing toward Latinos nationwide. Driving the animosity were several occurrences and issues but fundamentally it revealed the racism deeply embedded in the nativism that historically has been at the heart of right wing jingoism throughout the history of the United States.
Jingoism, chauvinism include racism, homophobia, misogyny are based in a fear of the unknown and of losing one’s place of privilege in society. The rapid growth of Latinos in the United States over the past thirty years which has become more and more obvious across the country has spawned increasing acts of racism both overt and hidden. Overt racism is easy to detect while hidden racism is more difficult because it becomes institutionalized in the manner in which we argue and pass laws and various types of public policies are implemented.
The fear of losing political place and space has driven the right wing to push legislation at all levels of government instituting more stringent voter registration methods, voter identification card issuances, changing early voting dates, use of language in public spaces, barring use of financial aid and education to the children of undocumented persons and so forth in efforts at limiting the growth of the Latino electorate.
That’s correct. ¡Si señor! That’s what I am saying. The right wing has been busy pursuing nationwide efforts at passing any kind of law, doing anything within their power to suppress the votes of Latinos. I’ll write about this in a forthcoming column.
Many Republicans were perplexed at the degree of support President Obama received from Latinos in the 2012 election. Some Republican apologists pointed out that Latinos were/are natural Republicans because we are conservative about most family and religious issues. We’re also very patriotic and proud of the many veterans who have served this country in every war going all the way to the Revolutionary War. So what’s the problem? Why can’t the Republicans attract us? The answer comes in two parts and makes perfect sense.
The first reason is that the right wing jingoism that Republican and conservative operatives spewed toward immigrants and non-English speakers throughout these last several years reflects how unwelcoming these folks really are. They simply do not like Latinos and don’t want them in their homes regardless of how conservative we are. They just don’t like us because we are who we are.
The second reason is very simple. The Republican Party’s position on the economy and social issues such as health care or education does not resonate with Latino voters. Immigration policy is “icing on the cake” for us it’s the other issues that don’t work for Latinos combined with the perceived hatred of the right wing Republicans who dominate the media rhetoric.
The Republican Party is on the threshold of becoming irrelevant nationally. If the GOP does not change its tune and rid itself of their right wing wackos they run the risk of being washed away by demography. Keep insulting Latinos and they will vote more and more for Democrats. Keep insulting Latinos and you will find winning the Presidency and United States Senate almost impossible. Keep insulting Latinos and you will wither away and become a third party headed for extinction.
[Photo By nathangibbs]
It’s known as the reddest of the red states. And a recent article in the Ogden Standard-Examiner reiterated the fact:
In a state considered among the reddest in the United States, the increasing number of Hispanic voters in Utah could eventually begin to soften some of that red influence.
According to the U.S., Census 9% of the population in Utah is Latino, or about 200,000 people. In places like Ogden, where Latinos are concentrated, the number jumps to 30%. Most of the voters in that slice of the population tend to favor the Democratic Party, and Utah politicos are starting to pay attention. It’s something Utah Democrats aren’t taking for granted, according to the Standard-Examiner story:
(State Democratic Chairman Jim) Dabakis claims Hispanics in Utah may be increasingly Democratic in inclination, but they aren’t comfortable with the assumption. He said state Democrats will hire a full time Hispanic community organizer in the near future to get Hispanics increasingly involved in local issues.
The statistic that everyone is looking at is this, mirrored in Utah as it is across the country:
50,000 Hispanic teens turn 18 every month in the U.S. … the largest percentage of Hispanics in the Beehive State is younger than 18, so the trend toward more voters of Latin descent in Utah will continue to rise.
Already, in the reddest of red states, there is a trend.
…there are historical highlights for Hispanics in Utah from the last election. Robles was re-elected as assistant Democratic Whip in the Senate, and in the House, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, was elected as assistant Democratic Whip — the first Latina to ever serve in a leadership position in the House.
[Photo by CountyLemonade]
However, in order to expand these kinds of skilled foreign worker visas, the House members votedto eliminate the diversity visa program, which grants visas to immigrants from different countries through a lottery system.
The newly voted STEM Jobs Act would provide more visas to foreign graduates of American universities who hold advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. It would also ensure that the spouses and children of these graduates can get green cards after one year.
“We are glad to see that both parties recognize the importance of immigrants and immigration to our country, but we need a more comprehensive approach that also addresses the 11 million undocumented residents currently here,” says Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. “Our economy needs the skilled immigrant farmworker as well as the skilled engineer. Both parties must recognize following the election that they need to appeal to a more diverse electorate — and this bill would eliminate a legal-immigration program that promotes diversity.”
The decision to pass the STEM Jobs Act has divided many immigration reform groups around the country, and many Latino Democrats strongly oppose the bill.
“It is so disappointing [that] the majority decided to undermine an area of bipartisan agreement on STEM visas by loading up the measure with provisions that are a slap in the face to the core values of the United States,” says Rep. Luis Gutierrez. “If you support this bill, you are saying that one group of immigrants is better than another and one type of educated, degree-holding person and their work is more important than another’s.”
Don Lyster, Director of the National Immigration Law Center, also disagrees with passage of the STEM Jobs Act.
“Diversity is one of the few mechanisms from which people from low-immigration countries can come here legally,” says Lyster. “This is just a handout for businesses, and that’s not what voters mandated on Election Day; voters want real reform.”
This article was first published in Latinovations.
[Photo by vierdrie]
By Raisa Camargo, Voxxi
The role comes as news surfaced of his growing appeal and his escalation up the ranks on the Hill. The Representative who serves the district of Los Angeles is known as the fifth most powerful among the Democrats in the House.
Becerra has represented the 31st Congressional district since 1992. He is a member of the powerful Committee on Ways and Means and is Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.
“I am honored by the trust that my colleagues have placed in me to serve as their Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Working with a re-elected President Barack Obama, I know that our growing, diverse and united Caucus will be a driving force in the 113th Congress to protect and strengthen the middle class, create good paying jobs, and keep moving our country forward!” Becerra stated in a press release after the announcement was made earlier Thursday.
In a similar fashion, other Democrats in the Caucus retained their leadership roles. That includes the re-election of Nancy Pelosi to continue as minority leader. Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer Maryland and Assistant Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina were also re-elected to their posts. Joseph Crowley was elected as vice chairman.
The caucus is considered the primary forum for development of party policy and legislative priorities and is composed of all Democratic representatives in the House.
Xavier Becerra was nominated by Congressman Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, seconded by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Congresswoman-elect Julia Brownley of California.
His climb might have seemed gradual to supporters. He was already part of the “supercommittee”—Congress’s 12-member joint deficit-reduction panel and was elected as vice chairman to the House Democratic Caucus in 2009.
Pelosi also considers him a “close ally.” The minority leader appointed Becerra as assistant to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2006. The lawmaker graduated from Stanford University and grew up with three sisters in a one-room house in California.
This article was first published in Voxxi.
Raisa Camargo is a staff writer at Voxxi.
[Photo By Facebook]
By Griselda Nevarez, Voxxi
One of the most well-known and respected members of Congress, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio, is weeks away from stepping down and ending half a century of representation in Congress by the Gonzalez family.
“It’s the end of an era, but I think it’s a proud one,” Gonzalez told VOXXI. “I think there is a lot to be said about what it produced and how it opened doors for a lot of people.”
Last year, the 67-year-old Democratic congressman announced he would not seek re-election and would step down after serving in Texas’ 20th Congressional District for 14 years. His decision not to run for an eighth term this year meant that for the first time in 50 years, the San Antonio ballots did not include a member of the Gonzalez family running for Congress.
The congressional tenure by the Gonzalez family began in 1961 when Charlie’s father, Henry, took office. He went on to serve for 37 years before stepping down in 1999 due to health issues. He passed away in 2000 at age 84.
Charlie Gonzalez stepped into his father’s shoes in 1999 and has served in Congress ever since. Before being elected as a congressman, he served as an elected county and state district judge in San Antonio for more than a decade.
Now, he wants to pursue another endeavor, one that does not involve running for office again.
“I would like to be based in San Antonio doing something that I truly believe serves a good public purpose,” he told VOXXI. “If I can do that, that would be wonderful. If I can’t, then I would look for something that would be more private in nature but still doing the same kind of work that I think makes a big impact in people’s lives.”
Charlie Gonzalez reflects on his time in Congress
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez said the most rewarding part of serving in Congress was the satisfaction he felt after helping his constituents.
He recalled ensuring veterans were given the medals and ribbons they deserved, witnessing how immigration laws reunited families and sponsoring a workshop to help undocumented youth fill out their applications for deferred action.
“To think that you are helping people better themselves is just empowering and so satisfying,” he told VOXXI. “I will miss that, because I cannot think of another job that gives you that opportunity.”
Gonzalez said voting against giving former President George W. Bush authority to invade Iraq was his best “no” vote because he believes the United States should have never invaded Iraq. Voting to approve the Affordable Care Act was his best “yes” vote because he said the healthcare law makes health insurance coverage available to millions of families that would never have had it.
Gonzalez said the biggest lesson he learned as a congressman is one that his father taught him by example. He learned that all elected officials are public servants to every citizen and resident living in their district and that they can’t always please everyone.
“When you start trying to please everyone, you no longer can be an effective representative, because you have to make decisions and you can’t make everyone happy,” he told VOXXI. “But as long as you’re honest with people and explain the reasons why you voted a certain way, they will respect you.”
“That is the lesson my father taught me, and I’m hoping that I’ve been able to meet that particular challenge,” he added.
Charlie Gonzalez strived to protect the family name
Charlie Gonzalez said that when he was first elected to take over his father’s seat, he felt “tremendous” pressure to protect the reputation of the Gonzalez family name that his father had built over the years.
“My father left me the greatest legacy that any child can get from a parent and that’s the parent’s good name,” he told VOXXI. “I always felt like that was a very precious thing that you can lose at any moment if you don’t protect it.”
Henry Flores, a political science professor and dean of the Graduate School at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, said Gonzalez has done more than just guard the reputation of the Gonzalez family name.
“He picked up the mantle his father left behind and has been expanding the Gonzalez reputation ever since,” Flores said of Gonzalez.
He said the transition from father to son was “very smooth” because Gonzalez shared a lot of the same values as his father, who Flores describes as “a great leader with a great reputation and a lot of courage.”
Flores added that much like his father, Gonzalez has been “very accessible” to his constituents, is “very reasonable” and has “a lot of integrity.”
Mickey Ibarra, chairman of the Latino Leaders Network, said that in Washington, D.C., Gonzalez is seen as an “iconic figure” who represents the needs of Latinos. Ibarra’s group awarded Gonzalez the Eagle Leadership Award this month for his contributions to the Latino community during a luncheon in the nation’s capital.
Ibarra described Gonzalez as someone who is “a workhorse, not a showhorse” and as someone who is courteous and has great listening skills. He added that as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for the last two years, Gonzalez was “a unifying force that brought the caucus to a new level of unity.”
“There aren’t a lot of people like him in Washington,” said Ibarra, who has lived in the nation’s capital since 1984. “He’s surely going to be missed.”
Charlie Gonzalez passes the baton to a new leader
Gonzalez’s decision to step down marks the end of an era as a new face rises to take the congressional seat that the Gonzalez family has held on to for more than 50 years.
Joaquín Castro, the twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, was elected this year to succeed Gonzalez. Before running for the congressional seat, Castro served in the state legislature for 10 years.
Flores said that while Gonzalez will be fondly missed, the people of San Antonio are confident Castro will represent the people of San Antonio well.
“A couple years ago, people would’ve said he was too young,” Flores said of 38-year-old Castro. “But he proved himself at the state legislature and showed that he can work with both parties to get things done.”
Gonzalez told VOXXI that come January, he will leave Washington knowing his seat is in good hands.
This article was first published in Voxxi.
Griselda Nevárez is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington D.C.
[Photo courtesy U.S. House of Representatives]
By Janell Ross, Huffington Post Latino Voices
Officials split some of the state’s growing Latino population between districts already represented by Democrats and those where they hoped to see Republicans lose. An incumbent Democrat like former Chicago-area Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was supposed to have little problem holding a seat that for three decades has been held by an African-American. But in 2011, no one knew then that Jackson would spend a portion his term in seclusion trying to manage a mental illness. And no one knew that, after winning reelection earlier this month, Jackson would resign amid allegations of misappropriated campaign funds.
Now, with Jackson out and Illinois set to stage a special election in February, Jackson’s former district could end up being represented by a white Democrat from Chicago’s suburbs. And for the crowded field of mostly black candidates that have expressed interest in Jackson’s old job, winning support of Latino voters and at least a smattering of white voters may be the key to victory.
“Ironically, because of redistricting, what has long been a seat held by a black politician is going to require a black candidate that can bring together a kind of Barack Obama pan-ethnic coalition just to maintain the status quo,” said Laura Washington, a political consultant and former political science professor at De Paul University.
The situation in Chicago isn’t unique, political analysts say. In states such as California, Texas and Florida, black politicians who have long represented majority black districts have had to adapt their political messages and policy priorities to appeal to growing shares of Latino voters and push to have college towns and their legions of young, often liberal white voters drawn into their districts.
In the 1970s and 80s, political power struggles flared in cities around the country as whites decamped to the suburbs, said David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Minority voters were frequently divided among crowded fields of black candidates, leaving room for well-financed white candidates often backed by conservative business interests to win by narrow majorities, Bositis said.
That’s a pattern that dominated elections in cities like St. Louis for decades, according to Bositis. In the 1980s and 1990s, the number of black elected officials peaked in cities like Los Angeles. Then, in the 1990s and 2000s, cities like Baltimore and Gary, Ind. — a city which was then about 90 percent…
This article was first published in Huffington Post Latino Voices.
Janell Ross is a reporter who covers political and economic issues at the Huffington Post, based in New York. Previously she worked as a business reporter at The Huffington Post and covered business, immigration, race and social issues at The Tennessean in Nashville. Janell also covered covered local politics, labor and higher education at The News & Observer in Raleigh and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Janell earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
[Photo by chicagopublicmedia]
By Jesse Treviño, HispanicLatino
The attention that the HispanicLatino vote received during the presidential campaign and future demographic projections of its growth have caused the media and obsessive politico-types to speculate about when the first President of HispanicLatino descent will be sworn into office. The strategic placement of the HispanicLatino population in critical states has made a deep impression on political strategists that appears lasting and could accelerate the election to the Presidency a member of a group that only this year surpassed 10 percent of the national voting electorate. It seems absurd that people on television are fantasizing about future administrations, but the emergence of the telegenic Castro twins of San Antonio on the national scene had fueled the chatter.
Increasing the possibility by a few degrees is the notion already taking hold in some quarters that the very existence of national nominating conventions will force both parties to choose a HispanicLatino for Vice President in 2016 – a now-traditional route to the Oval Office. It seems plausible for an odd reason: That the party convening first would not risk not nominating a HispanicLatino for fear the other party would at its own convention a week later. Not everything makes sense in politics. The selection of a vice presidential running mate, of course, takes in a number of geographic and other political considerations, but seldom has the timing of the conventions driven the choice for the second spot on the ticket. Choosing a HispanicLatino running mate in 2016 in anticipation of the other party doing probably would not seem extraordinary to some observers driven on television already to revisit repeatedly the contours of the new electoral lay of the land. I wonder how long before Nate Silver gives us the statistical betting line.
Conflating the conjecturing is that both parties now have HispanicLatinos of significant standing and visibility from which to choose. On the Democratic side, a plethora of candidates are available from California to New York. More strategic thinkers would desire a vice presidential nominee from the swing states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada or Florida. A HispanicLatino from Ohio would be a lock but no such animal exists. If Democrats put themselves to work to make Texas competitive for 2016, the temptation of wrenching away 38 electoral votes from the Republican electoral base would be too great to not put a HispanicLatino from Texas on the ticket. But it remains to be seen how much tactical progress can be made in a state whose demographic composition seems ripe for a Democratic takeover. The state Democratic party in Texas is only now stirring from the leaderless shambles into which it cratered with the death of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the defeat of Gov. Ann Richards and the indictment and conviction of former Attorney General Dan Morales on federal corruption charges.
On the Republican side, the pickings are not slim. It is a given that Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas would be viable candidates as could be New Mexico Gov. Susana Martínez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Another candidate could be former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez who served in the last Bush Administration. But Rubio and he would have problems if Republicans nominated Jeb Bush of Florida for President. A party cannot nominate a candidate for President and Vice President from the same state, so the probable top-tier candidates are the two governors elected in 2010 in two of the four western states now critical to reaching 270 electoral votes. Six years’ experience was all George W, Bush needed to run forPresident.
A complicating factor other than life or unforeseen events that could wreck a HispanicLatino on either ticket in 2016 could be if a third party emerges – a feasible possibility if the two current parties do not handle well the nation’s affairs, particularly its fiscal challenges. Failure to set right the nation’s financial and economic course could alter how the parties view the composition of their tickets to approach the election tactically.
A viable HispanicLatino nominee for Vice President if successful in the 2016 general election would set up a shot at the top spot in 2024. So as it happens, the veep talk that has already started is not totally out of the question – except that nothing ever goes according to plan. Life happens, as do temptations of the flesh and the purse, and at times health intrudes. But any HispanicLatino in any office of statewide or federal consequence should be alert to history’s call and remain on the right side of the law and the voters, and do his or her daily stretches at the gym and watch the waistline.
This article was first published in HispanicLatino.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.
[Image by DonkeyHotey]
By Hector Luis Alamo Jr., Being Latino
From Fox News Latino:
Gallegos, a Democrat, was the first Hispanic to represent District 6, a now-70-percent Latino area in Harris County.
The senator died on Oct. 14 of liver problems. Texas law says that if a candidate dies within 74 days of the election, his name remains on the ballot.
In this case, the deceased Gallegos beat Republican rival R.W. Bray, meaning that a special election will now be necessary.”
Governor Rick Perry, the now-mythic former Republican presidential candidate, is charged with scheduling the special election anytime between December 15 and February 5. But the two Latinas, Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia, are hoping one of them will have filled the seat by the time the new legislative session begins in January.
No matter happens, the people of Texas’s 6th District will have a Latina representing them in the state legislature in just a few short months — a proud moment for the people of the district, Latinos of the state, and Latinos everywhere.
This article was first published in Being Latino.
Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is an associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper’s Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He’s also a cultural critic for ‘LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.
[Photo by alanbentrup]
What a difference an election makes. Take, for instance, immigration. Wasn’t it a mere handful of weeks ago that Republicans were staunchly stalwart in their opposition to any and all immigration reform? Now there’s talk of a GOP led immigration bill to be considered by the lame duck Congress.
The Associated Press reports:
Republican leaders made it clear after the election that the party was ready to get serious about overhauling the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system, a top priority for Hispanic communities. Taking up what is called the STEM Jobs Act during the lame-duck session could be seen as a first step in that direction.
Not to sound like an “as seen on TV” hawker…but wait, there’s more: what the GOP legislators are looking to do is revive a STEM bill defeated in September, and tweak it by making it more generous than when they scuttled it two months ago. They want to add a provision that
allows the spouses and minor children of people with permanent residence, or green card, to wait in the United States for their own green cards to be granted.
And here’s the kicker: according to a Reuter’s analysis, the immigration reform in the sort term is a long shot, given the President’s divided attention:
However sympathetic Obama might be, he will be preoccupied with fiscal battles well into next year and less likely to engage in the kind of salesmanship analysts believe is essential to sell broad immigration policy changes to the public.
It get’s better. This past Sunday, according to Politico, Sen. John McCain told Fox News that immigration reform is important.
“We have to have a bigger tent. No doubt about it. And obviously we have to do immigration reform,” McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There is no doubt whatsoever that the demographics are not on our side.”
So what’s the bottom line?
I’m looking for Congress to do more in the next two months than they have in the past ten.
There is growing doubt today whether our political system is able to deal with the realities that confront us and significantly impact our futures. U.S. voters were uneasy with the two presidential candidates they had before them. The turnout, lower than in 2008, reflects this disconnect.
In the country where newscasts and networks speak daily about democracy and its greatness and candidates are compelled to wear a U.S. flag pin on their lapels, 93 million eligible citizens did not vote: 57.5 percent of all eligible voters turned out this month, compared with 62.3 percent in 2008 and 60.4 percent in 2004.
I have been involved in Latino politics and public policy since 1975. I have participated in, and observed, national elections since 1976. I have been through the “sleeping giant” claims about Latino political power, the so- called “Decade of the Hispanic” in the 1980s, the steady ascendance to elected office by Latinos in the 1990s, and the recognition that both political parties are committed to the attainment and maintenance of power at the expense of Latinos.
Throughout this time, the liberal and conservative media controlled and set the narrative for Latino political growth. We were talked about and analyzed but seldom were we part of that discussion on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, CSPAN or MSNBC.
Now, for the very first time, I believe Latino voters have arrived at a point where we can claim political power. The role we played in the election outcomes in key swing states of Nevada, Colorado and Florida are proof that we have arrived. The facts allow me to reach that conclusion. We went out and voted probably for the lesser of two damaged products.
While our turnout efficiency was less in 2012 (78 percent) than in 2008 (84 percent), we now comprise 10 percent of the national electorate. This is consistent with the constant increase since 2004 at 8 percent and 2008 at 9 percent. Nationally, as demonstrated in these three key states, Latinos made up a growing share of voters.
We have spent better than four decades working to get to this position. Many of our political mentors have been in the Democratic and Republican parties. We have run for office on the platform that to be fair and democratic, politics needs more Latinos. Seldom have we pressed political visions of specific policies we would introduce to remedy the problems we have talked about for the last 40 years. I believe we have not prepared to get to this point. We spent entirely too much time talking about our desire to get here.
Now that we have arrived, what will we do?
Think about it. We have three Latinos in the U.S. Senate, all of Cuban heritage. One each from Florida and New Jersey and now one born in Canada representing Texas. We have 28 in the House of Representatives, a net gain of four in an institution that has little support or respect from the public. It has been phenomenally dysfunctional during times when it needed to be at its best.
Few of the newly elected Latino members have spoken yet about how they would help change these serious structural problems in Congress. Their campaigns were standard fare as campaigns go. In other words, they were not campaigns of new ideas, vision and specifics. With the exception of the Texas U.S. Senate race, most of these campaigns hit Republican incumbents hard or criticized the Republican position and philosophy. The campaigns were not about competing ideas, solutions or philosophies. The Texas race hardly addressed any of the main issues of concern to Latinos or the fact that the Republican and Democratic strategies had excluded the reality of Latinos that “one size does not fit all.”
Before the ink was dry on President Obama’s victory speech, the liberal left in D.C. was orchestrating Latino immigrant groups to call out the president to move on immigration now that Latinos had “elected him.” This is so very disconcerting. Once again rather than initiate, we demand, we complain, we request – we react. Rather than propose our version of what should be done on the issues of the day, we demand payment.
This history-making contingency of Latino members of Congress should begin a serious and inclusive dialogue within our own large and complex Latino community on the economic issues that have historically hamstrung our future. Since we argue that the political establishment does not take such interest, our Latino politicos should demonstrate how to do it. While we are at it, we should include the issues of education, health and crime in our communities.
We should not allow Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsay Graham to lead the way on immigration reform legislation. They are not solution-driven, they are elements of appeasement! Both members are very far removed from the realities that are necessary to reach reasonable and practical solutions. We cannot afford to approach this challenge from an ideological or political angle.
It is imperative that Latinos lead this debate with ideas that solve the human suffering, dilemmas and conflicts, unintended consequences that undocumented flows from various countries to the United States cause in this nation as well as in the countries of origin. Since we have bitterly pointed out the poor leadership this issue has received from both parties, since we have long been troubled by the separation of families, abuse of workers and discriminatory treatment of immigrants, we must set the standard for approaching this complex issue and not forget that it impacts all of society in one form or another. We cannot be myopic!
We should be proud of what everyday Latinos and Latinas did this month. We all participated in a process that can lead to change. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is simply the first step followed by the responsibility to govern. The hard part is making things happen, bringing about the policies that benefit a nation, not one group. Remember the saying, “Be careful what you wish for!”
Our wish has come true and we better perform a lot better than those we have been criticizing for decades.
This article was first published in New America Media/Hispanic Link News Service.
Sacramento-based public policy consultant Arnoldo Torres served as the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in D.C. from 1979 to 1985. He testified more than 100 times on immigration legislation and wrote several provisions of the 1986 reform bill signed by President Ronald Reagan. He has served as an expert on Latino issues for Univisión network over the last 12 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Photo by creactions ]