Posted on 12/07/2004 8:24 PM EST
Can Hispanic Finally Assert Their Political Power?
By Julio Barreto
By Julio Barreto
If Hispanics do become the major political force that most pundits believe they will soon be, the 2004 presidential election may be remembered as the break-out year.
Both parties spent considerable time, money and attention to courting the Hispanic vote, and each received a significant enough portion of it to feel optimistic about the future.
In reality, both still have lots of ground to cover.
The controversy surrounding conflicting Hispanic exit-poll figures in the presidential race obscures the real issue: neither party has a real hold on Hispanics.
Democrats point to data of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project which show that two-thirds of the Hispanic vote went to John Kerry, the same percentage as went to Al Gore in 2000. They present this as proof that they are the party most in tune with the issues of concern to Hispanics.
However, the fact the George Bush did not lose Hispanic votes from those posted in 2000 should be a boost to Republicans and a cause for concern to Democrats.
Why? Because at a time when most Hispanic advocates argue that this administration has established policies harmful to their community, it has secured a base to build upon for the next election cycle.
It underscores the fact that Hispanics have not pigeon-holed themselves to a single party, as has the African-American community.
The key for Hispanic voters will be to leverage their numbers to secure policies and initiatives that provide true gain for the community. Democrats must be held to as high a level of accountability as Republicans.
Early reaction by Democratic leaders to Kerry’s defeat seems to indicate that they are strategizing on how they can capture a portion of the white evangelical vote that was so crucial to this election.
While a portion of that message may play well within the evangelical Hispanic community, for the most part, it leaves people of color on the outside looking in unless a strong message of accountability is sent both parties.
Given the discrepancy in numbers between Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, it is unlikely that Democratic-sponsored initiatives will be successful this year. The Republican leadership seems to be adamant in pursuing an agenda that could prove hostile to a majority of Hispanics.
However, Democrats must not be allowed to use that as an excuse not to address Hispanic concerns. Democrats have been able to secure the African-American vote time and time again without any real accountability for party failures.
Yes, Democrats do vote correctly on so-called “minority” issues, but look at the power structure within the Democratic Party. Look at the power structure within the inner circle of John Kerry’s campaign. There were no people of color calling any significant shots for Democrats.
Their message: we want your vote but only so much of your input.
Republicans are also very white-heavy at the top. While they have fewer obstacles to overcome to win the Hispanic vote than they do to win over the African-American vote, they still have their own hurdles. They will lose Hispanic voters if anti-immigrant initiatives are placed on the ballot by Republican groups in California, Colorado and Georgia.
They just don’t get it. The values that drove white evangelicals to the polls are the very values that immigrants bring to this country. Yet immigration could be the wedge issue that separates Republicans from Hispanics, just as the history of racism separates Republicans from African Americans.
Republicans must get real. Passing a Constitutional amendment to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president does not count as being immigrant friendly. Republicans must support an immigration reform policy that provides a realistic path to naturalization and eventually citizenship for those already here.
Understandably, they fear losing a portion of their reactionary white voter base. However, they will gain long-term.
The GOP must also demonstrate, in a very real way, that its proposed path to the American Dream, i.e., riding the wave of free enterprise, works in poor communities.
Right now, free enterprise works in poor communities best if you are engaged in illegal activities. Hispanics are all too often trapped in areas with inferior school systems, high crime, inadequate housing and low-wage employment that offer little opportunity for advancement. Hispanics must see that policies which support the GOP philosophy work in a very real way to help families achieve social and economic success.
The 2006 and 2008 elections will go far in determining the extent to which Hispanics are a true and united political force, or whether they’re just another group that can be manipulated by either party.
Because most today’s Hispanic “leaders” are closely aligned with the Democratic Party, new leaders may need to emerge to ensure that the Hispanic vote is not held captive by either party.
© 2004, Hispanic Link News Service. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.