Latino voter regis­tra­tion in Texas is surg­ing

2012 lev­els sur­passed along bor­der and in big cities de­spite short fund­ing

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Lam­brecht

WASH­ING­TON — Voter reg­is­tra­tions among Lati­nos are well ahead of 2012 along the Texas bor­der and in the state’s largest counties — likely fu­eled in part by Don­ald Trump’s in­cen­di­ary com­ments about people of Mex­i­can her­itage — de­spite a lag in fund­ing to non­par­ti­san groups sign­ing up vot­ers.

Bexar County of­fi­cials in San An­to­nio re­ported cross­ing the 1 mil­lion mark of reg­is­tered vot­ers for the first time, an ad­di­tional 30,000 people this year and 80,000 more than in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“That’s the size of a small town we’ve reg­is­tered this year,” said Bexar County Elec­tions Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jac­que­lyn Cal­la­nen.

She at­trib­uted the ex­pand­ing elec­torate to pop­u­la­tion growth and to an elec­tion sea­son she termed “non-con­ven­tional.”

Har­ris County al­ready has posted a 150,000 in­crease since 2012, thanks in part to the ad­di­tion of be­tween 1,200 and 1,500 newly nat­u­ral­ized citizens added each month to the voter rolls, Har­ris County Voter Registrar Mike Sul­li­van said.

Re­marks by Trump, the pre­sump­tive GOP presi-

den­tial nom­i­nee, com­bined with pro­pos­als for mass de­por­ta­tion, a bor­der wall and curbs on remittance­s im­mi­grants send back to Mex­ico have seeded what Lati­nos hope and ex­pect to be ex­plo­sive growth in their elec­tion-year in­flu­ence.

Many Latino lead­ers can cite the date Trump emerged — June 16, 2015 — with his “drugs … crime … rapists” al­le­ga­tions, pro­vid­ing more than a year for anger in im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tions to take root.

Late-break­ing race

Nonethe­less, groups de­voted to mo­bi­liz­ing Lati­nos con­tend that de­spite the many newly reg­is­tered vot­ers, they see com­pla­cency by donors and Demo­cratic Party lead­ers.

“Don’t count on Don­ald Trump being the guy who’s go­ing to get people out to vote in Novem­ber,” said Ben Mon­ter­roso, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cal­i­for­ni­abased Mi Fa­milia Vota.

Mi Fa­milia, which has of­fices in San An­to­nio, Hous­ton and Dal­las, has a goal of reg­is­ter­ing 95,000 people this year across the coun­try. The group is less than a third of the way there and at least 10,000 be­hind the pace of four years ago.

At this point in 2012, the Na­tional Coun­cil of La Raza had sig­nif­i­cant op­er­a­tions in Florida, Colorado and Ne­vada and lesser pro­grams in Texas and four other states. Last week, the group was fully up and run­ning only in Florida.

“We have one-fifth the fund­ing we had back then even though Lati­nos are the talk of the town,” said Clarissa Martinez-de-Cas­tro, the La Raza Coun­cil’s deputy vice pres­i­dent.

Part of the prob­lem, lead­ers say, are plan­ning de­lays due to the late­break­ing race for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion. They say, too, that donor money that used to be spent on non­par­ti­san regis­tra­tion is land­ing in par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tions.

“A lot of it is flow­ing di­rectly into PACs or fo­cused on ads and mail,” Martinez-de-Cas­tro said, “rather than the re­tail work and the el­bow grease it takes to bring new vot­ers into the equa­tion.”

In the runup to Cal­i­for­nia’s June 7 pri­mary, news ac­counts trum­peted the new po­tency of His­panic vot­ers, but the San An­to­nio-based Wil­liam C. Ve­lasquez In­sti­tute, which stud­ies Latino vot­ing trends, says those as­sess­ments were overblown.

Af­ter an­a­lyz­ing Cal­i­for­nia data based on Span­ish sur­names, the in­sti­tute con­cluded that Latino regis­tra­tion had grown by a “quite slug­gish” 3.1 per­cent since April 2015.

“These new data counter the all-too-preva­lent nar­ra­tive that Lati­nos are being mo­bi­lized by Don­ald Trump’s anti-im­mi­grant nar­ra­tive,” wrote in­sti­tute pres­i­dent An­to­nio Gonzalez.

Fund­ing from Kochs

In Texas, the Mis­sion-based Li­bre Ini­tia­tive is among groups un­wor­ried about re­sources to reach out to Latino vot­ers through so­cial ser­vice and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams — though not yet voter regis­tra­tion, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Daniel Garza said.

The 5-year-old or­ga­ni­za­tion has re­ceived mil­lions of dol­lars from con­ser­va­tive donors Charles and David Koch to pro­vide a coun­ter­weight to left-lean­ing groups mo­bi­liz­ing Lati­nos. Li­bre has 80 paid staff and 50 con­tracted work­ers in 10 mostly bat­tle­ground states and soon may be­gin op­er­a­tions in two or three more, Garza said. “What we’re doing is en­gag­ing Lati­nos in a dif­fer­ent way than the left is,” he said.

He la­beled some of Trump’s as­ser­tions and poli­cies as “di­vi­sive and un­pro­duc­tive” and promised to func­tion as “an hon­est bro­ker” in the months ahead.

“But when he gets it right, we’ll praise him for it,” Garza added, not­ing a list of po­ten­tial Supreme Court nom­i­nees Trump pro­duced in May.

In Texas, Li­bre be­gan op­er­at­ing re­cently in El Paso, but­tress­ing of­fices or staff in San An­to­nio, Hous­ton, Dal­las and Austin.

In deep-red Texas, which has an es­ti­mated 1.4 mil­lion un­reg­is­tered Lati­nos of vot­ing age, some groups are feel­ing left out of the na­tional game. Hil­lary Clin­ton may be trail­ing Trump by sin­gle dig­its in Texas, as a poll by the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin found last week. And Texas, thanks to Latino vot­ers, may one day be­come the Elec­toral Col­lege gamechange­r that Democrats crow about.

Ten­sion ev­ery 4 years

For now, though, or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the South­west Voter Regis­tra­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­ject, which fo­cuses on new and first-time vot­ers, say they are starved for funds.

“In most cases, there is very lit­tle money fall­ing into Texas for voter regis­tra­tion,” said Ly­dia Ca­mar­illo, South­west’s vice pres­i­dent.

Her or­ga­ni­za­tion is the na­tion’s old­est non­par­ti­san Latino voter group and is cred­ited with reg­is­ter­ing 2.5 mil­lion vot­ers since the mid-1970s. At this time four years ago, South­west was fully staffed in Texas and seven other states.

That is not the case now, said Ca­mar­illo, who at­tributes de­lays to a be­lief by some would-be donors that Trump alone will en­er­gize Lati­nos. Oth­ers have cal­cu­lated that their money can do more good in tra­di­tional bat­tle­grounds like Ohio, she said.

The ten­sion felt in Texas this sea­son is one that sur­faces ev­ery four years be­tween groups turn­ing out vot­ers in Novem­ber and those seek­ing to build long-term power for Lati­nos.

Mi Fa­milia’s Mon­ter­roso lamented what he calls the “ro­man can­dle” ap­proach to Lati­nos.

“If you’re just go­ing to come in three months be­fore the elec­tion and see the people who are lucky to be in a tar­geted area, that is not build­ing po­lit­i­cal power,” he said.

San An­to­nio Ex­press-News file

Re­marks by Don­ald Trump have mo­bi­lized some Latino vot­ers, but groups de­voted to get­ting out the vote see com­pla­cency by donors and party lead­ers.

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