Will Greg Abbott take the bait on Voter ID?

By Alex Gonzalez

The Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that he’s taking Texas to court over its voting laws is the latest battle between the White House and Texas Republicans. But before Greg Abbott jumps into an open war of words with Obama and Holder, Abbot needs to be reminded that Obama is a shrewd politician and he does not just get into the fight just for the sake of fighting.  Obama knows that for now democrats cannot win Texas; but he also knows that can change if he can increase voter registration for the Texas democrat base, key to the long-term democrat Battleground’s plan in the state. By taunting Republicans in Texas to make provoking statements on the Texas Voter ID law, Immigration/borders security and redistricting, Abbott and other GOPers may be pushing Latino voters into the arms of the democrats. If “the General” takes the bait, he may in fact be used to get more Latinos to register as democrats.

The push by Holders to take Texas to court over Voter ID is a perfect trap for Republicans. Each time Obama or Eric Holder make announcements on issues such Voter ID, Immigration and redistricting in Texas,  Abbott counters with visceral opposing  statement to arouse the Tea Party anti-Obama base; if you get his emails, you can see that his emails are made of anti-Obama material more than actual policy statements. Some have even suggested that unless Texas gets a serious Republican candidate challenging Abbott, he will not talk about serious issues.

Conversely, is well known that voter ID and redistricting are issues still fresh in the minds of Latinos in Texas, and Latinos take them very personal since they presume to be the targets of those bills. And, add the opposition to the Senate S.744 Bill by Sen. Cruz and Cornyn–who have recently hired a California-based Tea Partier Brendan Steinhauser to runs his re-election campaign–and what we have an arena  for an ideological war of words Between Greg Abbott and Obama and Holder in Texas, which may give democrats ammunition to recruit more Latinos voters if Abbott goes too provocative with his statements.

And it is not that Latinos don’t or won’t like Abbott, he is very amicable person. But he lacks the bravado and big persona of Rick Perry, and therefore, he will be more inclined to resort to staunch tough ideological statements to stir the base, as some have suggested.

For example, the day Erick Holder announced he was taking Texas to court, two hours later Abbot carried his message to a conference call with reporters with phrases like “state sovereignty” as he dismissed Holder’s chances and the necessity for bringing a case at all. As for Holder’s claim that there’s “evidence of intentional racial discrimination … as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination,” Abbott argued that’s “ancient history,” and on the contrary, Holder was using the voting rights laws “for partisan purposes in ways that harm Hispanic Republicans.”

So if Abbott really wants to argue that Holder’s push to stop Voter ID “harms” Latinos in the state, he needs to explain to Latino voters  how this bill hurts them.  Otherwise, he will be entangled in an ideological feud with Holder and Obama over pure rhetoric, a fight that is good red meat for the nihilistic Tea Party base but may irk Hispanic voters.  As I said, Abbott needs to shows how this law is good for Hispanic and how opposing ObamaCare is bad policy, but not Medicare and Social Security for white seniors who make 60-70% of the GOP base in Texas. 

In addition, on Immigration, is not clear whether Abbott will be a single-layer “strategic fence” Free Trader in the campaign, or a Tea Party “double-fence close the border” type of candidate that arouses Tea Party groups.  The tone on Immigration was not decided by Abbott, but he can control the message. But when Abbott is surrounded by the Tea Party base, Abbott does hint to a double-layer fence candidate. In an interview with conservative  radio Abbott talked about border security and immigration suggesting that a Middle- Easterners were coming through the southern border posing a “threat” to Texas, and therefore, we need to have border security before an Immigration reform.

And, this is more politics than real “threats” since the entire  democrats Congressional delegation from South Texas–who has access to the most sophisticated U.S. Intelligence data–oppose this idea of militarization of the border.

Ironically, unlike Rick Perry who loves talking about trade with Mexico, Abbott does not talk about the prosperous trade region Texas shares with Mexico under NAFTA, which has built Texas’ economy; he also does not talk about how border communities, mostly Latino, are rapidly growing thanks to $1 billion of daily trade in the region; which is why some Latinos in the region fear that too much “threat” talks tarnishes the image of border communities in Texas.  Listen to this radio interview, and this some of statements and link Abbott has on his official facebook page

Greg Abbott shared a link.July 12 near Austin, TX. Secure the border NOW! I talked with Sean Rima about border security, ObamaCare, and the upcoming major announcement in San Antonio.   

Greg Abbott shared a link.June 26 near Austin, TX. The border is NOT so secure, contrary to Washington’s claims: Mexican prison escapee caught in Texas – http://bit.ly/12h5KHf  http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Mexican-prison-escapee-caught-in-Eagle-Pass-4620706.php

So this is the double-layer fence candidate that Obama will love to have in Texas because this type of candidate perpetuates that myth of a violent border–violent Mexican criminal and Middle-Easterner are coming across the border in droves–and makes Republican look out of touch with Latinos. But this myth is morbidly popular with Tea Party base that votes in the primaries; conversely, Latinos in South Texas will most likely find this characterization offensive and probably will not vote for a candidate that make their communities look like war zone, as Texas historian, policy scholar and professor at SMU Cal Jillson points out.

Jillson said Hispanic voters are more likely to sit out the election than to vote for a Republican candidate like Abbott despite his Hispanic-friendly rhetoric and occasional use of Spanish in his remarks. “Dropping in a few words of Spanish is a nice touch, but Hispanics always wait for the third and fourth paragraphs of the speech, where you better be talking about education, health care and how to improve quality and access to both,” Jillson said. “This is where Republicans run into tremendous problems.”

Greg Abbott being interviewed by Univision in Brownsville, TX in July

This is the pragmatic Abbott candidate that is bad for Holder and Obama’s plan because it shows Abbot being closer to Latino Texas culture and voters. However, if Abbott take the bait and engages in ideological war or words  with Holder over voter ID and redistricting, and with Obama on Immigration, most likely Abbott will turn off some Latino voters because Latinos perceive these issues differently form the Tea Party base.

Abbott needs to talk about policies important to Latinos if he want to become a popular candidate with Latino voters. Other Republican governors like Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada have learned that promoting the right policies important to Latinos gets them closer to voters and in the community. Hence, policies matter a great deal to Latinos voters more than loud Tea Party speeches in Latino communities. And Republicans have a great record on education in Texas.

In fact, it was Greg Abbot who represented the University of Texas in defense of the state Top Ten Percent bill that helps Latinos from poor high schools across the state get into UT System. And Abbott knows that Texas needs to graduate even more young Latinos to sustain the economic growth; but he does not talk about it since Tea Partiers don’t want to hear about educating young Latinos and how this is good for the economy of the state, or they don’t want to hear about transportation infrastructure and water funding bills.

On Immigration, the fact that Sen. Cruz and Cornyn voted against the immigration bill in the Senate will force the entire Republican establishment in Texas to get behind the message of “the bill does not secure the border.” Thus, Sen. Cornyn’s message of “the bill does no secure the border” will not resonate well with Latinos. And this puts Abbott in very precarious spot. Sen. Cornyn knew how the wind was blowing in Texas on Immigration before he voted NO on the bill; his own poll showed in late January that only 33%–and maybe even lower–of Latinos voted for Romney and Cruz.  But Sen. Cornyn weighted his options, and he opted to vote NO on Immigration to woo more Tea Party votes to compensate for any loss of Latinos voters for the primaries, that is why he hired a Tea Partier as his campaign manager. Moreover, our own survey shows that 80% of Tea Parties don’t want an Immigration reform.

 As a result, the Immigration theme agenda for 2014 in Texas was set by Cruz and Cornyn, and Greg Abbott has no option but to follow the Party message of “the bill does not secure the border.”  In other words, this won’t be the a Rio Grande family values campaign, as the RNC had hope in its Growth and Opportunity Project from last March; so Abbott needs to be cautious not to fall into the trap set by Holder and Obama and make provocative statements that may scare off Latino voters.

Therefore, in order for Abbott to be taken seriously among Latinos–the same way Rick Perry was since he got got 40% of the latino vote in 2010–in Texas he needs to use his strong political rhetorical skills to explain why it is Ok to oppose Obamacare but not oppose Medicare Social Security, Social Security Disability insurance which makes American addicted to federal Entitlements. Or, Why is Ok to reject a University of Texas ID to vote but it is OK to accept a  License to carry a concealed handgun as legal form of identification to vote.    

How Greg Abbott chooses to handle his message on issues important to Latinos is his choice and relevant to the objective of the Battleground Texas’s plan since the Tea Party is a transient movement but Latinos soon will become the majority in the state. Hence, Holder is deliberately setting an agenda to taunt Abbott into an insensitive candidate who is pushing policies that hurt Latinos. And if you follow the history of Latino voter registration in California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, the only time when Latinos voter registration surges is when Latinos get angry about policies that directly affects them.  And in Texas there about 2.2 million of Latinos unregistered to vote totaling a total 4.4 of Latinos eligible to vote while the entire GOP turnout base has been stagnant at only 4.5 million for the last 10 years.

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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