Will Latinos Get it Done for Texas Democrats?

By Anthony Gutierrez

With Latinos quickly becoming the largest demographic group in Texas, there is no shortage of speculation on the political ramifications of that demographic trend.

In fact, several recent columns have put forth some interesting theories.

Forrest Wilder, a staff writer in the Texas Observer, proposes in two recent columns the theory that Republican outreach efforts are showing signs of success.

A contrary point of view comes from a Fort Worth Star-Telegram piece, which cites polling data and the historic budget cuts to public education made by Texas Republicans. That perspective posits that today’s Republican Party is essentially blowing up the bridges to the Latino community built by some of their more sensible predecessors.

Taking these in turn, Mr. Wilder’s theory of Republican success among Latinos is based upon three Latino party-switchers who recently became Republicans. While I personally believe his correlation is completely absurd, I’m willing to concede that it won’t be formally absurd for about a month. But on May 29 at 7 p.m., his argument will officially fall apart because at least one but likely all three of his “success stories” will fail to make it out of their party primary.

The one who will definitely fail is particularly notable because he was the first to switch parties. Soon thereafter he was awarded with the job of leading the Republican Party’s Hispanic outreach. In that role, his job consisted mostly of going on TV and defending some of the most blatantly discriminatory proposals put forth in decades by Republicans.

During the redistricting process, he attempted to expel as many Latinos from his district as possible. When he ran face-first into a Voting Rights Act violation that restored the Latino numbers, he said he would not be running for re-election because the number of Latinos in his district made it “ … unwinnable by me or any other Republican.”

Essentially, the Latino in charge of Latino outreach for the Republican Party was so scared of Latino voters that he quit. And it was actually a smart move.

As cited in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, a Univision/ABC/Latino Decision poll showed that 73 percent of Hispanic voters said Republicans “don’t care” about Hispanic voters or are “hostile.” Additionally, 55 percent of Hispanic Republicans said they felt like their own party ignored them.

Those sentiments are the inevitable product of hateful Republican rhetoric and misguided policies like the $5.4 billion Republicans cut from Texas public education, disproportionately harming Latino communities.

While I think all of that combines to refute any claim of Republican success in this regard, I do think it’s fair to ask if Democrats are doing enough to earn Latino support.

I would first offer that Mr. Wilder visit any heavily Latino community in Texas right now and tell me which candidates are knocking on doors. Who is it that Latinos are receiving phone calls from? The fact is that you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of communities where Republicans are even showing up.

In contrast, any Democratic campaign manager in Texas who isn’t including Latinos in their target voter contact universe would (or should) be quickly fired for negligence.

But knowing that we need to target Latinos has never been our problem and in fact, when we have the resources, Texas Democrats are very successful in downballot races by turning out Latinos.

And there’s the rub: in Texas we have 254 counties, 20 media markets and an awful lot of real estate to cover. Putting the kind of Latino turnout programs you see in swing states like Nevada or Colorado in place in Texas would carry a price tag in the tens of millions of dollars.

It’s a tough problem. But, we have come up with a theory of our own.

Last year the Texas Democratic Party launched an innovative Latino engagement program called the Promesa Project. Through this program, we’re asking young Latinos to give us their promise, or “Promesa,” that they’ll talk to their family and friends about voting Democratic.

That simple premise was the product of two recent findings. First, that today’s young Latinos are increasingly the trusted sources of political information in their families. Second, that the Internet has surpassed television as the main source of news for people under 30.

We believe that utilizing online outreach layered on top of traditional grassroots techniques will allow us to efficiently increase our vote share among older Latinos, boost Latino turnout among younger Latinos and simultaneously begin an engagement process that will build out Party towards the future.

Time will obviously tell us whose theory is correct. Our project began last year and we’ll be proud to stand by our results in November. Mr. Wilder’s theory will face a crucial test on May 29th and we’ll be anxiously watching to see how his Republican “success stories” fare.

 ANTHONY GUTIERREZ serves an adviser to the Texas Democratic Party and other Democratic candidates through his video production and digital media firm, Cadre Media.

[Photo by echobase]

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