By Linda Vega
Democrats could anticipate the Latino vote without much effort or campaigning in past political races. In fact, it used to be the norm that if Latinos voted, no one asked their political affiliation because it was presumed that they were Democrat, especially in Texas. Studies have shown us that Latinos will come out and vote at certain times and for certain candidates. For instance, Latinos came out in heavy numbers in 2004 (44%) to vote for President Bush who is considered not only a friend to Latinos, but their protector. Other than that, the voter apathy has been consistent for the community, even in 2008 for the Obama election. This is perhaps the reason Obama laughs and says he will have five more years to work on issues that affect the community. So while Latinos have voted consistently, it has been in small numbers and for Democrats. Latinos are a group population who live in regions (like RGValley and California) that under represent their interests and keep them in an income below the poverty level.
Currently there are 3.8 million eligible voters in Texas, California leads with 5.4 million. Of those 3.8 million those Latinos eligible as voters are currently at 25%(New Mexico leads with 38%). The segment between the ages of 18-29 which is at 31.1%, is growing at a rapid rate. This is also the segment that seeks to move up in the income category and the one that will impact the political movement in Texas in the next 2-6 years.
Every year the growing number of Latinos becoming eligible to vote increases by 500,000 either by gaining Citizenship or coming into the voting age of (18). As a result, Latinos are gaining in political power in the U.S., not just in Texas.
Recently in Texas, two Democrat Politicians have switched sides to the right, and this trend is growing. Democrats attempt to paint this as treason, but it is more of a logical and survival move. The changing demographics and opportunities for Latinos seem to be the key. In the past, Latinos struggled in Texas for “effective” representation by their own, that is Latino elected officials. Latino leaders are encountering a resistance by Democrats who have developed a patronage system in California, and now seek it in Texas, especially in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. This is a region that has afforded people only a slight opportunity for progress and change. The Valley has been ruled by Democrats since the1960s, and opportunities for Latinos have only slightly improved within the last 20 years.
However, things are changing with new educational opportunities for Latinos and new leadership building on the horizon. In a recent redistricting plan, those who were in a solid Democratic district are now in a district that has more Republican voters. The new redistricting has created a Darwinian concept of survival: change to the evolving environment or perish. Some Democratic candidates are adhering to this concept and thus are switching parties. But changes are usually rejected and feared by those who have held power for too long, in this case the Democrats.
Democrats fear this change for many reasons. First, they are losing their long argument that the Democrat party is the only party for Latinos. No longer will they be able to parade Latinos as loyal democrats–or as a needy minority whose only options are government programs–regardless of the policies passed to push down their potential. Moreover, Democrats can no longer coast through an election campaign and anticipate the Latino vote to be in their favor. They must now compete with the Republicans, who now have strong contenders and who offer more opportunity for Latinos in state policies.
An example of this is the 10% Admission into college. This program is advocated by a Republican Governor and Attorney General. Both Governor Perry and AG Greg Abbott understand that this program is an opportunity for Latinos to become better educated which in turn places them in a higher bracket. This will create a new taxpayer who will be fiscally conservative and produce a new voter loyal to that party who provided that opportunity. And while this law is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court, the Democrats cannot effectively argue that is against opportunity for Latinos. Likewise, the right cannot argue that it is affirmative action for minorities because it is a law that is based on merit and does not take into consideration the fact of race. Yet, it is the first law that has increased the number of Latinos into higher education. It is rationally related to a governmental interest, and the only test that it must meet according to Constitutional law.
Second, there is new fresh leadership. Democrats, in the Valley, have long been the uncontested candidates who ran for office. Previously no one dared to questioned or even run for the positions because of lack of support from constituents and funding. But this antiquated thought might be changing. Many Democrats are changing parties in the Rio Grande Valley. J.M. Lozano recently changed from Democrat to Republican and has followed the footsteps of Rep. Aaron Pena who changed parties in 2011. This is giving voters more of a selection. These new Latino Republicans want a change where opportunity will be available for the voters and where politics will be based on merits, not patronage. Also, these new Republican Candidates want vast opportunities for all residents of the Rio Grande Valley and can now offer better choices to their constituent’s children and families. This type of courage is attracting new young voters who are eager to have other opportunities available for them and their future families, rather than just having the “same old same old” guard of representation. That is, there is now more of a choice other than one political party.
So while the Democrats parade that there is a President of color in the White House and Latinos could be next to occupy that same role in a “few years,” it is the latest promise that is heard often when vying for votes in the community. However, this is no longer enough to sustain and hold onto the voters from an Administration who delivers nothing to the Latino community. With the exception of George W. Bush who got up to 44% of the Latino vote in Texas, Democrats have controlled over 2/3 of Latinos vote for the last 40 years, in Texas. The Obama Administration has not offered anything to Latino Democrats voters, in way of policies that offer opportunity, leadership in cabinet posts, or other high ranking officials. Perhaps this is the wake-up call that Latinos need to finally abandon the antiquated politics of patronage. Latinos should be thinking about their options and wondering why they keep voting Democrat and not moving up the ranks.
This has become evident to the all contenders who are eying the changing demographics in Texas. If Latinos are to gain any credibility and perhaps have a stronger voice in religious freedom, let’s say, preserving Conservative mantras are the key. As President Ronald Reagan once observed, “Latinos are conservative, they just don’t know it yet.” Now is the time to awaken that realization to a new type of political candidate who will not only bring a change to the Latino Community but an opportunity that many never thought possible.
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