Why Republicans Have More High-Ranked Latino Elected Officials

By Alex Gonzalez

There have been two very interesting articles about how the Republican Party, though perceived as anti-minority Party by  Democrats and Progressives,  actually has more high ranked Latino elected officials than Democrats. One of the articles, by John Avlon for CNN, in a very superficial way, points out the GOP has two Latinos and two Indian (Indu) governors while the Democrats have zero” minority” governors.  Noemie Emery from the renowned WeeklyStandard wrote a more in depth article titled Grand New Party: These are not your father’s Republicans on the same topic, but she expanded on it by explaining the cultural and regional—urban v, rural—districts have elected Democrats to Congress only because Democrats insist that minority districts are important because only a black candidate (minority) can represent black districts. In Emery’s observations these new  self-made “minority” Republicans like Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) who have triumphed  over ethnic stereotypes a “are living examples of upward mobility.”

John Avlon’s article is very straight forward and in fact makes the Democrat Party insincere because there is a greater diversity, minority representation, in the GOP. He noted that:

Among the Republican ranks is Brian Sandoval, the Hispanic governor of Nevada. The 49-year-old is now racking up an impressive reform record in his first term. Likewise, there is New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez, a former district attorney who remains popular in her state despite an otherwise Democratic tide…  How many Hispanic governors do the Democrats have in office? Zero. 

 Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is one of the nation’s most innovative governors… There is also South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley who in the past two months, she has appointed the first African-American Republican from the South to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction (Tim Scott). How many Indian-American governors do Democrats have in office? None. Likewise, the GOP is looking at two young new Hispanic stars in the Senate chamber — Florida’s Marco Rubio and the newly elected Ted Cruz from Texas. Interestingly, both men are of Cuban descent. 

In Avlon’s views there is a misconception about the GOP because the old stereotypes don’t hold when looking at the facts — Republicans have been quietly making inroads into communities of color, even if that hasn’t yet registered in overall voting patterns. Essentially, Latino candidates can be elected without appealing to the large “minority” of voters because they appeal to generic white Republicans, independents and about 40% of the Latino vote, which is the percentage Martinez, Sandoval, and Rubio–among the non-Cuban Hispanics—got in 2010.

Noemie Emery’s article explains why Republicans have managed to elect “minority” candidates.  She too points out that “GOP will have, in 2013, two Hispanic senators from two big states, two Hispanic governors from blue states that went for Obama, two governors from two deep Southern states who are children of Indian immigrants, and Tim Scott, who now fills DeMint’s seat as the only black serving in that body, and the fifth to serve there since Reconstruction.  She argues that:

The Republicans now have an assortment of stars who are female and/or minority, but far fewer overall female and minority elected officials, and have a hard time winning votes from nonwhites and from unmarried women. Democrats, on the other hand, win big among nonwhites and (single) women, and have many more nonwhite and female elected officials… In short, there is a quality/quantity split that should perplex both parties.

Emery has the same observations that Avlon has in that  the GOP can elect “minority” candidates than can appeal to generic Republicans, cross-over voter and independents. But, she suggests that the Voting Rights was indeed a “privilege” because it gave blacks the opportunity elect someone of their own race or background.  To guarantee this, Democrats “create strange, convoluted electoral entities, guaranteed to elect blacks or Hispanics in perpetuity.”  Initially, these districts succeeded in electing more “minority” members to Congress, but it also created “insular, one-party districts, they lacked the incentive to appeal to the diverse and more moderate voters who decide statewide and national races.”

“The vast majority of black and Hispanic members hail from urban districts that don’t require crossover votes to win, or represent seats designed to elect minorities,”

They are more liberal than the average Democrat, no less the average voter, making it more difficult to run statewide campaigns.” Nonwhite Republicans steer clear of these districts and choose to debut in more diverse venues, from which they emerge knowing how to talk to a much wider audience. Democrats find themselves locked in a ghetto, which offers the option of steady employment, but not too much opportunity to advance…   The minority district institutionalizes the theory of the mosaic (for instance, that blacks are best represented by other blacks), while Republicans cherish the theory that anyone from any background whatever can speak for himself, for the country, and for all it contains.

The Tea Party, routinely caricatured in the media as the KKK redux, has brought the GOP an influx of nonwhites and women, backing Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott against more establishment figures… Republicans have tried, and not done well earlier, but never before have they had so many vibrant and young multihued standard-bearers, eager to talk up the charms of free markets, with examples from their (and their parents’) own lives.  They are living examples of upward mobility: Rubio’s immigrant parents educated four children; Haley’s immigrant parents started a successful business.   

Consequently Republicans, according Emery, have elected “minorities” because “these are not your father’s Republicans;” they are young and willing to tell the story of their immigrant parents who toiled to send their American-born kids to college. Also, these new Republicans have opted to appeal to Republicans and cross-over voter because they don’t have to go to “ghetto” districts where minority is elected, “ghetto” districts were drawn due to in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

We can all agree that both Avlon and Emery are correct when they point out that there is a misconception that Republicans don’t elect “minority” candidates since we have two young Cuban Senators, two Mexican-Americans Governors, and two Indian governors in the deep south–Haley and  Jindal, and first Tea Party black senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott.  Also, we all can agree too that this message is not being conveyed to the masses, as Avlon and Emery also point out. Hence, the problem with the GOP as the no “minority” Party.

Gov. Susana Martinez and her and her sister Leticia walk hand-in-hand

However, Emery is very incorrect in one thing–and this is why I encourage conservative/Republican Latinos in southwest to create their own Latino identity since in D.C. they know very little about Latinos in the Southwest in Texas–in using the Voting act as the culprit for low support for the GOP among Hispanics. Both Governors Martinez and Sandoval supported the creation of Hispanics “minority” in their respective states because they understand that Latinos, as a group, can be lured into the GOP.   Moreover, Sandoval wanted to protect these districts in Nevada because the Democrat-controlled legislature wanted to add “white” liberal voters to the district. In fact, it is Governor Susana Martinez who as openly has invited the GOP to work with Latinos in their own neighborhood, or districts. For example: in an interview with the LAtimes, Martinez stated that:

We need to embrace them not just at election time….We visit them, and they don’t appreciate that. And I don’t blame them for not appreciating that. We should not visit them when we need their vote and that We have to make sure that as Republicans we don’t just visit Latinos during election time, but that we make them part of the solution… It’s extremely important that we elect people that look like the population they serve.”

Therefore, the popularity of Gov. Martinez is based and the fact she is now campaigning on populist like-us-for-who-we-are  –and-how-we look-like to woo Republicans and cross-over voters in New Mexico. So rather than accusing Hispanic districts as too liberal and “urban ghetto” districts, as Emery call districts that elect “minority” Democrats, Martinez and Sandoval are pulling up their sleeves and going to Hispanic  neighborhoods and districts inviting Latinos.

Also, Martinez remains a very popular governor with a 70 percent approval because she is campaigning on school reform, and even only admitting that she will accept ObamaCare  because she know that the state needs the benefits of the program for poor residents—she is , therefore, a compromiser.  Moreover, Martinez was elected with the Tea party wave, but the Tea has stopped brewing, and now she needs to govern and stay popular with 46% of Latinos in the state who want reform in education and healthcare.  And just like Sandoval, they need to appeal to Latinos Districts. Furthermore, Marco Rubio might have started out as a Tea Party darling, but he has now recanted stringent ideological Tea Party views–Ted Cruz is next—and now his views are more geared towards  school reform, Dream Act, Immigration, and Hispanic outreach. So Rubio too has moved to center to work the Latino ticket.

If Emery’s theory was accurate, at the Congressional Level, “Quico” Canseco would have been the perfect candidate since he was elected with the Anti-Obama wave in 2010 by differing incumbent Democrat Ciro Rodriguez 53%-47% in Texas districts 23. However, District 23 is 85% Mexican-American, yet Canseco’s campaign was a very Tea Party plain campaign, no passion. Canseco never wanted to campaign on issues important to voters in his district such education, immigration, healthcare, and free trade with Mexico. He instead, took a very strong Tea Party position on immigration (No Dream Act) and militarization of the border, views that many businesses saw as scare tactics that keep tourism and business away. Thus, he never really fomented an emotional connection with voters in two years in Congress.  Initially,  he did win, but he was not capable of improving or maintaining his popularity with voters. As a result, and although TX Dist-23 was one of the most expensive congressional races, he lost again to Pete Gallegos by 10 points (55-45).  Therefore, winning is only the first step, but staying popular is even more difficult, and if those GOP Latinos elected official do not go back to the community, voters will vote them out, even those are “ghetto” districts.

And  even if Emery calls Latino Districts” liberal ghettos” just because they vote democrat , the reality is the districts has to do more with political gerrymandering  gimmicks that political ideology.  For example, the highly praised area where Marco Rubio comes from in south Florida, for year has been fixed into Cuban Districts to have Republicans Hispanics elected. Even in 2012 the Republican Party of Florida drew the three Congressional Cuban Hispanic Districts by bringing in about 15,000-20,000 Republican voters into the districts to defeat any Democrat incumbent. Are these Hispanic “minority” districts that have been fixed for decades also ghetto Hispanic districts under the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Or is only when Latino districts in San Antonio, Albuquerque, or Los Angeles that can be label “ghetto” district?

While Avlon and Emery make succinct  points to show that the Latino GOP candidates are successful in attracting minority voters, generic and cross-over  Republicans, Emery’s views has condescending tone by suggesting all Latinos  are poor and living in “ghetto” districts if they vote Democrat.   She is wrong to suggest that since even affluent Latinos in Texas and businesses people who are social and fiscal conservative shy away the GOP because they don’t see the Party and  in community (she sounds like the 47%  rich Republican who assumes that everybody is as well off as she is).  Similarly,  as the recent survey  by the Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN)  underlines,  in states like New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Texas even if Latinos self-identify as conservative, they still could not vote for Romney due to the cultural mistrust about the GOP advocating for interests (issues) of the Hispanic community.  In other words, it is not as simple as just low-income, “minority” labels, but rather a larger miscommunication between those conservative intellectuals in DC who insist in portraying the Latino communities as “ghettos” just because they don’t vote Republican.

Politic is all about popularity.  And unlike Canseco, Gov. Martinez and Sandoval are doing the right thing in embracing Latinos in their own districts. And all new latino candidates need to do the same since this will be the last decade that Republicans legislature can have control over mapping Congressional districts, as Charlie Cook argues  By 2021, when the next redistrict takes effect, Latinos will be well over 50% of the population of the southwest, and if Republicans stay away from these districts, as Emery suggest, there will no viable Republican Party in the entire southwest.

So winning is the first step,  appealing to the Latinos masses is the next big challenge for those high ranked Latinos “minority” elected officials who want to move even higher. And is not so much a “privilege” to want someone from your own ethnicity represent you in Congress but rather demonstration that that Latinos are being incorporated into the political structure.

Would Cubans trust and accept a non-Cuban representing their interests In Congress?  Would Jewish-Americans trust and non-Jews with Israel issue. So why is wanting a Conservative Mexican-American to represents us in Congress any different?  And that shouldn’t be a “privilege” it should be a necessity.

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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