By Alex Gonzalez
Texas will stay Republican this mid-term election year, which is the general consensus among those conservative and liberal “pundits” who are meticulously following all top statewide races. But there still some important elements in these races that Latino voters, and those who are paying attention to the increase of the Latino vote in Texas, need to take note of. Some those key factors are: total voter turnout among Latinos, percentages of Latino voting Republican and Democrat, can Republicans keep the three Latino GOP legislators in the House, what issues Latinos prioritized when they voted, what will happen to those 26 counties in South Texas that voted against Wendy Davis, can Leticia Van De Putte energize the Latino vote, and what will happen in Congressional district 23–a predominately Hispanic district. All these are important elements because they can be strong indicators that will generate future predictions about voting trends and issues important to voters.
Turnout v. Apathy
The complaint among Latino Democrat organizations and political activists is the GOP has conspired to suppress the “minority” vote through a Voter ID and redistricting schemes. But Latinos have to take responsibility for their self-inflected cultural wounds, because as it stands, apathy is the greatest enemy of Latinos in Texas and the U.S.; and voting apathy is a greater foe than any tea party group or Voter ID law. Sure Democrats love to blame the tea party, but Latinos need to be held accountable for their apathy as well since Texas ranks 49th in voter turnout and only about 40 percent of those Latinos illegible to vote cast their vote in Texas.
In the race for Lt. Governor Race, Dan Patrick is espousing ill-advised messages on immigration, and if Latinos stay dormant and Patrick gets elected, they too are to blame since they could have stop it by voting in bigger numbers. And while it is a valid argument that Dan Patrick is steering the party to the far-right on immigration–away from Party of Rick Perry and George W. Bush–it is also valid critique that Latino are not doing their civic duty, not voting in bigger numbers to change that. Latinos have the power and the numbers to make significant changes if they are not happy with the current power structure.
There are about ten million of Latinos in Texas, and 44 percent of those ten million are eligible to vote. There are 4.6 million Latinos eligible to vote, but only 1.8 million voted in 2012 which was a presidential year; and in a mid-term election usually voter turnout drops by about 30 percent. Thus, apathy is the real enemy of Latinos in Texas, and this election, where immigration has become a “hot” issue, will tell whether the “sleeping giant” in Texas wakes up or will continue slumbering.
Three Latino GOPers in the Legislature
In Texas, in 2010, Republican voters elected the largest bloc of Latino Republicans to the Legislature in History. For the first time, the Texas legislature had five Latino Republican legislators, and one who changed from a Democrat to a Republican in early 2011. In 2010, Republicans in Texas also elected “Quico” Canseco in district 23rd defeating Democrat “Ciro” Rodriguez 49-44%. In addition, in Texas Bill Flores won Texas Congressional District 17th held by 10-term Democratic incumbent Chet Edwards.
But that was then. In 2012, in Texas, only one of those Latino Republican state legislators elected in 2010 was re-elected to the Texas legislature, Rep. Larry Gonzales from District 52 who ran unopposed. But the 2012 election did add a new Republican Latino legislator, Jason Villalba from district 114 in the Dallas area. The other Latino Republican legislator, J.M. Lozano, changed from a Democrat to a Republican in early 2012 after redistricting brought more conservative voters into his old Democrat district.
Congressional District 23
In 2012, “Quico” Canseco lost to Democrat Pete Gallegos by 4 points, even though the Republican National Committee (RNC) poured about $1.5 million into the race. Currently, freshman Democratic Rep. Pete Gallegos is trying to fend off Republican challenger Will Hurd who defeated Canseco in the 2014 Republican primary. Currently, American Action Network, a conservative think tank, is adding $1.6 million in ads against Gallegos.
The district is vast and has been a volatile district, represented by four congressmen in the last decade; this district mirrors the demographic changes in most South Texas congressional districts. The district, where about 60 percent of the voters are Hispanic, covers areas from El Paso to San Antonio, spanning 29 counties and two time zones; and immigration and jobs are on the mind of voters since El Paso is one the biggest port of entry for trade between Texas and Mexico. So if Gallegos wins, it will be another sign to the Republican Party that, a predominant Latino district, in South Texas will reject any harsh rhetoric on immigration, and if the party hopes to regain any traction in South Texas, it needs to find pragmatic candidates that are in tune with the real needs of the region, economic development policies and less of the politics of “more fences” and “shutdown the border.
Jim Henson and Joshua Blank, pollster from the Texas Tribune, noted that slowly but surely, the electorate is reflecting the demographic shifts of the state.
“Anglos continue to decrease as a proportion of the population and Hispanics increase, that’s a big trade of voters. A shift from the 2010 electorate to a loosely plausible 2014 electorate that is 5 points less Anglo and 5 points more Hispanic”
So will this 5 points less Anglo and 5 points more Hispanic make any significant dent in outcome in November? Percentages matter in as state of where the Latino Vote can realign the power structure with a high turnout; additional, percentages are important since both parties will have to develop strategies based on Latino turnout, Latino vote percentages in South Texas, and in major metro areas where voter registration slowly but steadily has spiked.
According to the Huston Chronicle:
Voter registration spikes in Texas’s largest counties Nearly 150,000 more Texans in these counties are eligible to vote in November’s election between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis than could vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to tallies released by Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis counties. Ahead of this midterm cycle, where Republicans are again favored up-and-down the ticket, that trend seems to have been flipped as 2.2 percent more Texans are registered to vote. It’s not just the state’s most populated counties that have seen registration increases, either. Hidalgo and Cameron counties in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas saw increases since 2012 of 15,000 and 6,000 respectively, according to a local news report.
As a result, this increase in voter registration among Hispanics in South Texas, and an overall increase of voter registration in the major metro areas in Texas, along with a decrease of 5 point among “Anglos,” could play a significant role in voter turnout ant the percentages obtained by both parties.
Did they vote for Madrigal or against Davis?
Wendy Davis won the Democratic primary easily, by a 79 percent to 21 percent margin over Reynaldo “Ray” Madrigal, who spent little or no money had no perceptible name identification. Yet Davis lost 26 of Texas’ 254 counties to Madrigal, mostly heavily Hispanic counties in the Rio Grande Valley. They included the largest county in the Lower Rio Grande, Hidalgo, as well as Webb County. Davis’ defeat of Madrigal was no surprise. However, what is being pointed out by the Press and the Republican Party of Texas is that Davis lost several Hispanic counties in southern Texas.
GOP strategists and political bosses in the state heralded this as a rejection of Davis’s pro-choice views among Hispanics. And that may be true. But, in November, the real test for this argument will be whether these counties that are predominantly Hispanic, in fact, voted against Davis; or did they vote for Hispanic candidate over the Anglo candidate. If GOP strategists are correct, Hispanic voters in those counties should still vote the same way against Leticia Van De Putte who holds the same pro-choice views as Wendy Davis does. But if Hispanics vote for Van De Putte over Dan Patrick, who have strong pro-life views, this will be evidence that Latinos in South Texas strongly favor a Hispanic candidates, in both parties; and they may reject Patrick due to his harsh immigrant rhetoric, even if he a staunch pro-life candidate, since Latinos are currently naming immigration a “top issue.” Consequently, these 26 counties could become a microcosm of what is to come in Texas politics among Hispanic voters.
Moreover, Will Greg Abbott’s effort to win the 40 percent of the Latino vote be successful in these counties and South Texas and vote Republican, even though Patrick continues to show South Texas as an area of “lawlessness” and “war-zone” by showing TV ads where ISIS could be entering through South Texas.
This are all important elements that are already in the minds of many voters and they will vote on this already preconceived messages. This election will serve in many way as crystal ball into the future, but we will only know how Latinos vote until Election Day.