By Alan Bean
With every new election cycle, the Latino share of the vote in Texas rises by about 2 percent. If this trend continues, as it almost certainly will, Latinos will eventually dictate the shape of politics in the Lone Star State.
George W. Bush took the Latino vote seriously, both as governor and president. When Republicans reach out to Latino voters they can snare as much as 40% of the vote, enough to win easily in deep-red Texas. This is because the white middle class is overwhelmingly Republican; only 26% of white Texans voted for Barack Obama in 2008, (his fifth worst showing with this demographic behind Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana).
I attended the event described in this Star-Telegram article with my sociologist daughter, Lydia Bean. The day’s most telling quote didn’t make it into the paper. Gilberto Hinojosa, the first Latino Chair of the Texas Democratic Party, told the gathering that after Ann Richards lost the governor’s race to George W. Bush in 1994, Texas Democrats pinned the blame on the defection of conservative to moderate white voters. In consequence, it was decided that winning these people back was the key to electoral success.
In other words, Texas Republicans haven’t had to worry about the Latino vote because Democrats have historically ignored minority communities. In fact, (although Hinojosa was too polite to say so), Democrats have been afraid that being viewed as “the minority party” would make it all but impossible to woo back the coveted white conservative vote.
This partially explains why the growing Latino presence in Texas hasn’t been reflected at the ballot box. According to Hinojosa, only 43% of Latinos are registered to vote as opposed to 77% of Anglos. White Texans comprise only 43% of the Texas population but over 70% of state legislators. Hinojosa wants that to change.
Texas has a penchant for single party politics. The shift from Dixiecrat blue to Republican red took less than a generation. If Texas is a two-party state in 2012, the fight is between Tea Party Republicans and Old School Republicans. If Democrats pin their electoral hopes on the white conservatives who were once their chief constituency they will keep losing.
Ironically, reaching out to Latinos may be the best Democratic strategy for salvaging a respectable percentage of the Anglo vote. Forced to choose between lily white Republicans and a party that wants to look like Texas, moderate Anglos may think twice.
As things stand, however, only a quarter of white Texans vote Democrat. Some are octogenarian Dixiecrats too old to change their ways. Some are union members. There is a smattering of school teachers and university people. But, as a group, white Democrats in Texas are a pretty scruffy lot. You won’t find many of the button-down and big hair business types that control the electoral process in Texas.
The only upside for Democrats is that the Republican line is a lot longer during the primary election season.
Is Texas doomed to a racially segregated politics? Let’s hope not.
BY SARAH BAHARI
FORT WORTH — Calling Latino voters an untapped resource, Democratic Party leaders urged their members Saturday to launch a door-to-door offensive to engage Hispanics on issues such as job creation and immigration.
“Hispanics in Texas are a game-changer,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “This is how Texas becomes blue.”
Texas Democratic voters gathered Saturday in downtown Fort Worth for a symposium aimed at engaging Hispanics, who account for roughly 38 percent of the state’s 25.6 million residents.
Hispanic voters tend to vote Democratic, and boosting the numbers who head to the polls could radically alter the national political landscape, Democratic leaders say. But doing so will require time and work.
“There is no magical key, no message that will get us to the polls,” said Mary Gonzalez, who was recently elected to represent El Paso in the Texas House of Representatives. “What works is voter contact.”
Chuck Rocha, a native Texan and Democratic strategist, pointed to polls showing Latino voters care about the economy, jobs and immigration.
“We all need a job. We all need healthcare,” said Rocha, a contributor to MSNBC. “We all love our kids and this country.”
Issues such as the Dream Act, which allows young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, and the Affordable Care Act, which will provide insurance to millions, could help the party capture more Hispanic votes, said Texas state Rep. Armando Walle of Houston.
Republican lawmakers upset some Latino voters this year with a new state law that requires voters to show a photo ID.
Many Hispanics argue that the requirement discriminates against minorities, who are less likely to have a driver’s license and can have a harder time getting one.
They were also angered by a new Arizona law that allows police to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws.
To draw voters, Democrats touted the Promesa Project, a grassroots effort to reach out to young Latinos using social media and face-to-face meetings. The project will select 10 fellows across the state and train them to organize their respective communities and college campuses.
Among the party’s major priorities will be educating Latino voters about Republican Ted Cruz, a Tea Party-backed candidate who beat out Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for the U.S. Senate race, leaders said. Cruz, a Cuban-American, will face Democrat Paul Sadler in November.
“We will remind them why Ted Cruz is disconnected from the Texas Latino experience,” Walle said.
Injecting a bit of humor into Saturday’s meeting, Rocha said pundits and policymakers increasingly discuss the Latino vote.
“The Latino vote has become the chupacabra,” he said, referring to the legendary creature. “Everyone’s talking about it, but no one has seen it.”