Latino vot­ers’ course un­clear

Dems seek gains af­ter im­mi­gra­tion back­lash, but GOP is con­fi­dent

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Ward and Kevin Diaz

DAL­LAS — Josie Zamora, 44, born in Mex­ico and a le­gal res­i­dent of Texas for nearly 15 years, says she can feel the build­ing pres­sure.

“You can feel it in the com­mu­nity,” she says in de­scrib­ing her Oak Cliff neigh­bor­hood, where many of the fam­i­lies are from the same small towns in Mex­ico.

First was Don­ald Trump’s bor­der wall, and the push from politi­cians to de­port all im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally. Then came the pas­sage in Austin of a Texas ban on sanc­tu­ary cities and the calls to de­port Dream­ers, the young im­mi­grants who were brought into the United States il­le­gally by their un­doc­u­mented par­ents.

Last week, when Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced he was end­ing a pro­tec­tive amnesty pro­gram for about 200,000 Sal­vado­rans na­tion­wide, Zamora said she just shook her head.

“We’re Trump’s punch­ing bag,” said the of­fice man­ager at a Dal­las book­keep­ing firm. “I try to ig­nore what he and a lot of his Repub­li­cans say. It makes me an­gry.”

As Democrats look to make gains in Congress and mount a chal­lenge to Gov. Greg Ab­bott this year, they shouldn’t count on a big Latino vote, de­spite the back­lash to hard­line poli­cies and rhetoric of Trump and the GOP on im­mi­grants. It’s more com­pli­cated than that.

To suc­ceed, they would have to trans­late that anger into a surge in Latino voter turnout — some­thing Democrats have pre­dicted for years, but has not ma­te­ri­al­ized. Democrats would also need their pre­dic­tions to come true that more Latino

vot­ers means more votes for them. How likely is that? Zamora and sev­eral of her friends laugh.

“You act like all (Lati­nos) vote and think alike. Wrong,” said one friend, Maryana Gon­za­les, adding she would prob­a­bly vote Repub­li­can, if she votes in Novem­ber at all. “The Democrats think we’ll all turn out for them. I’m Catholic. No abor­tion or gay mar­riage. I’m not a Demo­crat.”

It’s an elec­tion year in Texas when Lati­nos are con­sid­ered a key and Democrats are tout­ing the can­di­dacy of the first Latina run­ning for gover­nor, former Dal­las County Sher­iff Lupe Valdez. But the Lati­nos at the restau­rant with Zamora mostly said they weren’t in­ter­ested in the elec­tion at all yet.

In fact, only one knew who Valdez was, even though the sher­iff is said to live nearby.

“Most (im­mi­grant vot­ers) prob­a­bly don’t want to rock the boat, so they just don’t vote, even if they’re mad,” Zamora ex­plained. “I’ve heard again and again how (Lati­nos) are go­ing to turn out and win ev­ery­thing for the Democrats. I don’t see that.” Oth­ers dis­agree. “It’s true that Lati­nos don’t vote as a bloc, be­cause Repub­li­cans have done a bet­ter job in the past of court­ing Lati­nos in a sin­cere way,” said Sylvia Man­zano of Latino De­ci­sions, a re­search firm that fo­cuses on His­panic vot­ers. “But that’s not hap­pen­ing any­more. And it’s not just that they’re ig­nor­ing Lati­nos. They’re do­ing worse. They’re ac­tively work­ing to re­pel Lati­nos.”

Less than 40 per­cent of Lati­nos in Texas reg­is­tered to vote in 2016, the low­est rate com­pared with white or black vot­ers. In a state with a long his­tory of low voter turnout, even fewer voted: just 28 per­cent of reg­is­tered Latino vot­ers cast a bal­lot in 2016, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus Bureau es­ti­mates. By com­par­i­son, 63 per­cent

Democrats “make a huge mis­take by think­ing they have a hold on the His­panic vote” and “still don’t get why His­pan­ics voted for Trump. They may not like the man, but they re­spond to some of his ideas.” Al­fonso Aguilar, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Latino Part­ner­ship for Con­ser­va­tive Prin­ci­ples

of white reg­is­tered vot­ers went to the polls.

While Texas Demo­cratic Party of­fi­cials and party ac­tivists say reg­is­tra­tions of His­pan­ics are up sig­nif­i­cantly, GOP cam­paign con­sul­tants say their polling shows that many Lati­nos are likely to vote Repub­li­can be­cause they agree with the party’s an­tiabor­tion, small-gov­ern­ment, pro-busi­ness poli­cies — even their stance that im­mi­gra­tion laws should be fol­lowed.

“Texas Lati­nos are fired up and fight­ing back to pro­tect their fam­i­lies. The track record is clear: Texas Repub­li­cans have re­fused to fund neigh­bor­hood schools, re­fused to raise the min­i­mum wage, and re­fused to pro­tect the Af­ford­able Care Act,” said Manny Gar­cia, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Texas Demo­cratic Party. “At the same time they’ve at­tacked Dream­ers, at­tacked the Vot­ing Rights Act, and passed the ‘show-me-your-pa­pers’ bill, SB4. Don­ald Trump, Greg Ab­bott, and Texas Repub­li­cans have pulled ev­ery trick in the book to at­tack Latino fam­i­lies and in 2018, they will be held ac­count­able.”

Even in a year when polls show Trump has fallen out of fa­vor with many who voted for him, es­pe­cially Lati­nos, ob­servers are split on whether the build­ing pres­sure on Latino com­mu­ni­ties will ben­e­fit Democrats like they pre­dict.

“If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said ‘of course, this is go­ing to hurt (Repub­li­cans),’” said Guadalupe Cor­rea, an im­mi­gra­tion ex­pert and former chair­woman of the Gov­ern­ment De­part­ment at the Univer­sity of Texas in Brownsville who now teaches at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “To­day, I would also say yes, but I don’t know to what de­gree.” Trump fac­tor

Trump’s elec­tion in 2016 with nearly 30 per­cent of the His­panic vote — de­spite his many taunts against Mex­i­can im­mi­grants — has forced a re­vi­sion in how an­a­lysts must view the Latino vote, she said.

“I thought that with all that rhetoric the Repub­li­can Party was go­ing to lose His­panic sup­port, and that the His­panic vote was go­ing to really have an im­pact on the elec­tion,” Cor­rea said. “Well, it hap­pened that more His­pan­ics voted for Don­ald Trump than I would have as­sumed. Or the His­panic vote just wasn’t as im­por­tant as I had as­sumed.”

De­spite Trump’s provoca­tive rhetoric about build­ing a mas­sive bor­der wall and creat­ing a “de­por­ta­tion force,” His­panic vot­ers in 2016 were only about 11 per­cent of the elec­torate na­tion­wide, about the same as in 2012.

“It’s clear that the His­panic vote is not mono­lithic and that nei­ther party can take the vote for granted,” said Javier Palo­marez, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Wash­ing­ton-based His­panic Cham­ber of Com­merce. “Elected of­fi­cials, on both sides of the aisle, should be work­ing hard to earn the His­panic vote and the trust of the His­panic con­stituency.”

Surges in the Latino vote have been pre­dicted be­fore, but they did not turn out in big num­bers to protest Trump.

Lati­nos did vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton by more than 2-to-1, ac­cord­ing to exit polls. But 2016 un­der­scored that Lati­nos are not ide­o­log­i­cally mono­lithic, even if they gen­er­ally break for Democrats, much like other mi­nor­ity groups, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists have posited.

There are other fac­tors as well, in­clud­ing His­pan­ics’ low voter par­tic­i­pa­tion rates, par­tic­u­larly in Texas.

They don’t all have the same con­cerns, ei­ther. Though many Sal­vado­rans en­joy pro­tec­tions from the Tem­po­rary Pro­tected Sta­tus pro­gram Trump is phas­ing out, Cor­rea said, it doesn’t af­fect most His­pan­ics. At the same time, many His­panic con­ser­va­tives have lit­tle more sym­pa­thy for il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion than other Amer­i­cans.

“Plus, there is a seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion that has been in the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions, and are not vot­ing as a class,” she

“Be­fore a year and a half ago, I had never had to think about the fact I was Mex­i­can. Trump changed ev­ery­thing. I al­ways carry my pass­port now so that if I ever get stopped, I can prove that I am a U.S. cit­i­zen. If Lati­nas voted in num­bers, we could be the Blue Wave that the Democrats are hop­ing for.” So­raya Colli, Demo­cratic ac­tivist

said. “Many of them voted for Trump be­cause of the way they iden­tify them­selves in pol­i­tics. Iden­tity pol­i­tics play in very dif­fer­ent ways, and it’s not so straight­for­ward.”

“There are other fac­tors that im­pact how the His­panic pop­u­la­tion votes,” Cor­rea added. “This is all hap­pen­ing now. It is very con­fus­ing, and we don’t know if the is­sues are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent by the end of the year. There could be North Korea, or any num­ber of things.”

In 2014, when he was elected gover­nor, Ab­bott re­ceived about 44 per­cent of the Latino vote in Texas, giv­ing the party op­ti­mism that those num­bers could grow fur­ther in the 2018 elec­tions. But that op­ti­mism is now di­min­ished, with Trump get­ting much of the blame.

Even so, Al­fonso Aguilar, a former Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Latino Part­ner­ship for Con­ser­va­tive Prin­ci­ples, thinks Democrats “make a huge mis­take by think­ing they have a hold on the His­panic vote — just like they didn’t un­der­stand why av­er­age Amer­i­cans would vote for Trump, they still don’t get why His­pan­ics voted for Trump.

“They might not like the man, but they re­spond to some of his ideas,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar sup­ports the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram and a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for Dream­ers, as do many Repub­li­cans. While he wants to see the is­sue re­solved, he ac­cuses lib­eral ac­tivists of turn­ing it into a wedge is­sue by threat­en­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down over a deal, some­thing he thinks would back­fire on Democrats.

He also ac­cuses Democrats of ig­nor­ing the di­ver­sity of the Latino com­mu­nity in the U.S., which he con­sid­ers an ar­ti­fi­cial con­struct.

“You can­not ap­ply the African-Amer­i­can model to the Latino com­mu­nity,” Aguilar said. “The African-Amer­i­can model is a ho­moge­nous ex­pe­ri­ence. The Latino is not.” Fol­low­ing the rules

Ask Javier Monte, 38, a con­struc­tion fore­man who has lived in Texas for two gen­er­a­tions, whether he is a Demo­crat or Repub­li­can and he rolls his eyes be­fore an­swer­ing. “I voted Repub­li­can when I voted,” he said. “I agree on most of what they want. The rest I can live with. And de­por­ta­tion? My fam­ily came here legally. We fol­lowed the rules. Oth­ers should do that, too. If it’s the law, it’s the law for every­body.”

His friend, Ray Lopez Padreda, 40, stands nearby shak­ing his head.

“He’s wrong. A lot of good peo­ple who have never done any­thing wrong are go­ing to get hurt,” he says, ad­mit­ting that he has never voted in the 14 years he has lived in Texas. “I got signed up a cou­ple of times, but I never went out. We never voted in Mex­ico,” he said. “I just want to keep my head down and keep work­ing and have a good life. The pol­i­tics don’t in­volve me.”

At the same time, So­raya Colli, 40, a Texas-born Demo­cratic Party ac­tivist in Dal­las, pre­dicts this will be the year Texas’ Latino voice is heard.

“Be­fore a year and a half ago, I had never had to think about the fact I was Mex­i­can,” she said. “Trump changed ev­ery­thing. I al­ways carry my pass­port now so that if I ever get stopped, I can prove that I am a U.S. cit­i­zen. If Lati­nas voted in num­bers, we could be the Blue Wave that the Democrats are hop­ing for.”

State Sen. Sylvia Gar­cia, a Hous­ton Demo­crat run­ning for Congress, has hopes for the same wave. “We’re run­ning a cam­paign for Congress, but we are also run­ning a cam­paign to en­er­gize and in­crease the mi­nor­ity vote,” she said, echo­ing the sen­ti­ments of Demo­cratic Party ac­tivists in Dal­las who are hop­ing a Blue Wave will help them take lo­cal of­fices and leg­isla­tive seats from Repub­li­cans, even if the party does not win its first statewide of­fice af­ter a 24-year drought.

“This is a build­ing process that will take time,” Colli said.

While Lati­nos have been un­der­rep­re­sented at the polls in the past, some ac­tivists be­lieve that could change go­ing into the sec­ond year of Trump’s pres­i­dency, par­tic­u­larly if a bor­der wall pro­gresses while the hopes for Dream­ers re­cede like the TPS pro­gram did for Sal­vado­rans.

“I see His­panic vot­ers look­ing at th­ese is­sues and really think­ing about com­ing out to vote,” said Vanessa Ro­driguez, a Dreamer from Austin who met with law­mak­ers from Texas last week in Wash­ing­ton. “For some time a lot of Lati­nos have not re­al­ized that a lot of power is in their hands when it comes to vot­ing.”

As a 19-year-old im­mi­grant liv­ing in the coun­try without le­gal per­mis­sion, Ro­driguez, whose par­ents brought her to the U.S. il­le­gally when she was 6, will not her­self be able to vote. But she’s be­come ac­tive in pol­i­tics none­the­less.

“All th­ese is­sues sur­fac­ing are mak­ing an im­pact,” she said. “Peo­ple are be­com­ing more aware, and the more that this is­sue (DACA) is pro­longed and is left up in the air without res­o­lu­tion, more peo­ple are look­ing at vot­ing as a way of guar­an­tee­ing that some­thing will be done.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is among Repub­li­can lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton who are con­fi­dent that Trump’s poli­cies will res­onate with many in the His­panic com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially on the econ­omy and lax en­force­ment of im­mi­gra­tion laws that are blamed for much of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal mess.

Cornyn fo­cused on mi­nor­ity out­reach in his last re-elec­tion bid, and said he re­cently met with a group of His­panic lead­ers who re­it­er­ated that many im­mi­grants and His­panic vot­ers care about se­cu­rity.

“I think the pres­i­dent is uniquely sit­u­ated to come up with a solution that not only demon­strates com­pas­sion but also demon­strates a com­mit­ment to se­cu­rity,” Cornyn said.

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