Chang­ing face of area’s pol­i­tics

Keep­ing up midterm mo­men­tum, Lati­nos turn to­ward lo­cal races

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By JENNY MAN­RIQUE Staff Writer jenny.man­[email protected]­diadal­las­news.com

When North Texas vot­ers head to the polls in May, they will elect more than 100 may­ors, city coun­cil mem­bers and other pub­lic of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing, pos­si­bly, the first His­panic mayor in Dal­las his­tory.

When North Texas vot­ers head to the polls this May, they will elect more than 100 may­ors, city coun­cil mem­bers, school board trustees and other pub­lic of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing, pos­si­bly, the first His­panic mayor in Dal­las his­tory.

Un­like other cities with large Latino pop­u­la­tions, such as Los An­ge­les or San An­to­nio, Dal­las has never had a Latino mayor.

Al­ready, the list of pos­si­ble can­di­dates to re­place Mayor Mike Rawl­ings in­cludes three His­panic names: Regina Mon­toya, for­mer head of the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty; Miguel So­lis, Dal­las school board trust­

ee and pres­i­dent of the Latino Cen­ter for Lead­er­ship Devel­op­ment; and for­mer Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ja­son Vil­lalba. Mon­toya and So­lis have an­nounced their can­di­da­cies; Vil­lalba is still de­cid­ing on whether to run.

“These are peo­ple with an im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal back­ground. … It should be noted in the past we’ve had Latino can­di­dates [for mayor], but never a woman,” said Va­lerie Martínez­ebers, direc­tor of Latina/o and Mex­i­can­amer­i­can Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of North Texas.

“There has been a tremen­dous change in terms of fe­male lead­er­ship. Un­like male mo­ti­va­tion — both white and Latino — women run with a po­lit­i­cal rea­son fo­cused on help­ing their com­mu­ni­ties. Men feel mo­ti­vated by power and pres­tige and a de­sire to ad­vance their ca­reers.”

Mon­toya be­came the first Latina can­di­date for the job when she an­nounced her bid in Novem­ber.

“Not only am I the first fe­male can­di­date here in Dal­las, but re­ally there has never been a Latina mayor in any of the main U.S. cities in the his­tory of this coun­try,” Mon­toya said in an in­ter­view with The Dal­las Morn­ing News.

Leg­isla­tive diver­sity

Mon­toya worked in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and has been a mem­ber of the DFW In­ter­na­tional Air­port board and the Mex­i­can Amer­i­can Le­gal De­fense and Ed­u­ca­tional Fund (MALDEF).

“Not only is Dal­las ready for a Latina mayor, we owe it to the city,” Mon­toya said.

“We owe it to the young Lati­nas who at­tend, for ex­am­ple, Thomas Jef­fer­son Mid­dle School, where my mom taught for many years. Or to the 38 per­cent of chil­dren who live in ex­treme poverty in Dal­las,” she said.

Mon­toya led an un­suc­cess­ful cam­paign in 2000 to un­seat Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Pete Ses­sions in Texas’ 5th District.

She re­called that one of her most fer­vent vol­un­teers was cur­rent state Rep. Vic­to­ria Neave, now in her sec­ond term as a law­maker but who at the time was a mid­dle school stu­dent.

“We women are all in this bat­tle,” Mon­toya said.

Three North Texas Lati­nas — Jes­sica González, Terry Meza and Ana­maria Ramos — were elected to the Texas Leg­is­la­ture in the midterm elec­tions.

That means this year’s state Leg­is­la­ture has 32 women, up from 29. Fe­male can­di­dates helped the Demo­cratic Party win 12 for­merly Repub­li­can­held seats.

“I’m very ex­cited about 2019,” Neave said. “We want other young women to re­al­ize that they can, too. It’s us women who work on is­sues im­pact­ing women’s lives like do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual as­sault, as we have pro­moted plat­forms like the women’s march to make our­selves heard.”

While North Texas’ leg­isla­tive cau­cus is be­com­ing more di­verse, His­panic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in eight city coun­cils — Ar­ling­ton, Dal­las, Fort Worth, Gar­land, Grand Prairie, Irv­ing, Mesquite and Richard­son — is poor.

Of 66 mem­bers on these bod­ies, only five are Latino. (And only eight are AfricanAmer­i­can.)

In other words, white coun­cil mem­bers older than 50 de­cide the fate of North Tex­ans.

Keep­ing mo­men­tum

“The Latino vote and African­amer­i­can vote in city elec­tions in the Dal­las­fort Worth area are the worst in the coun­try,” said Jorge Con­tr­eras, direc­tor of Work­ing Fam­i­lies Party in Texas.

“In cities like Ar­ling­ton, just 0.5 per­cent of Lati­nos vote in lo­cal elec­tions,” Con­tr­eras said. “What we’re try­ing to do is re­cruit and train young and di­verse can­di­dates who can in­spire those vot­ers.”

A few days be­fore Christ­mas, Con­tr­eras was lead­ing a work­shop for a group of about 60 pro­gres­sive can­di­dates who will run in May’s lo­cal elec­tions.

The can­di­dates learned about strate­gies and cam­paign plan­ning, re­cruit­ing vol­un­teers, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and fundrais­ ing prac­tices, among other top­ics.

“The Latino vote inspired by Beto O’rourke’s grass­root cam­paign was im­pres­sive. We don’t want to lose that mo­men­tum,” Con­tr­eras said.

“But the can­di­dates con­tend­ing in statewide elec­tions don’t man­age the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem for your chil­dren, nor do they de­cide whether your neigh­bor­hood streets are clean,” he said. “We must make sure those who get to those posts look like the com­mu­ni­ties they rep­re­sent.”

An­a­lyst Martínez­ebers said that Latino par­tic­i­pa­tion is up in com­par­i­son with pre­vi­ous elec­tions. “But the num­ber of those who reg­is­ter is big­ger than those who in­deed turn out to vote,” she said.

“Dis­in­for­ma­tion dis­cour­ages peo­ple, as does the fact that can­di­dates don’t cam­paign for them, don’t reach out to them. If a can­di­date shows vot­ers that their is­sues are im­por­tant for them, that cre­ates a vot­ing habit.”

Ac­cord­ing to Demo­cratic Party data, na­tional Latino voter turnout in the 2018 midterms was up 174 per­cent from the 2014 midterms, a leap that helped the party gain 34 seats in the U.S. House.

But get­ting that His­panic en­thu­si­asm and en­ergy to carry over to lo­cal polls, with cities like Dal­las and Fort Worth hav­ing among the na­tion’s worst turnout rates, is no small chal­lenge.

More­over, the me­dian age of vot­ers turn­ing out in lo­cal elec­tions is 62 for Dal­las and 66 for Fort Worth, while only 2 per­cent of Lati­nos ages 18 to 49 turn out, ac­cord­ing to data from Port­land State Univer­sity.

An­other ob­sta­cle shown in the data is that in Dal­las, 32 per­cent of vot­ers live in “polling deserts,” or neigh­bor­hoods where voter turnout is lower than half the av­er­age for the city. In Fort Worth, the fig­ure is 25 per­cent.

Lati­nos on the ticket

Even though city elec­tions are non­par­ti­san — mean­ing can­di­dates don’t run un­der a party af­fil­i­a­tion — some of the new Latino faces run­ning for of­fice have vol­un­teered for Demo­cratic cam­paigns in the past.

That’s the case of Gio­vanni Valderas, an alum­nus of the Latino Cen­ter for Lead­er­ship Devel­op­ment, who an­nounced in Oc­to­ber his bid to rep­re­sent north Oak Cliff in the Dal­las City Coun­cil’s District 1 seat.

Valderas had al­ready worked for the cam­paigns of Paula Ros­ales, who in Novem­ber was elected Dal­las county judge, and cur­rent coun­cil mem­ber Omar Narváez.

“Work­ing for those cam­paigns helped me to over­come the fear of knock­ing on doors of strangers and ask­ing for their sup­port,” said Valderas, who as an artist and deputy direc­tor of Kirk Hop­per Fine Art, is the brain be­hind Ca­sitas Tristes, lit­tle piñatas mim­ick­ing real es­tate signs that are placed in sites deemed to be con­tribut­ing to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

“Ini­tially, that was the hard part, but now it’s very ex­cit­ing for me get­ting to know the vot­ers and their strug­gles to get to the end of each month,” he said. “Our elected of­fi­cials for­get that and see us [Lati­nos] just as num­bers.”

Valderas’ plat­form in­cludes af­ford­able hous­ing for his district, as he thinks de­vel­op­ers in Oak Cliff are killing not only the chance for peo­ple to pay a lease or buy a house, but for Latino busi­nesses to get sub­si­dies to sur­vive.

He says Oak Cliff cov­ers neigh­bor­hoods “beyond Bishop Arts” that the city has for­got­ten and where ser­vice in­fra­struc­ture should be im­proved.

“We need to pro­vide safe neigh­bor­hoods and safe streets, but at the same time, work­ing with schools so they be­come more of a cul­tural and com­mu­nity cen­ter,” he said.

Six staffers work on Valderas’ cam­paign, but he con­tin­ues to re­cruit vol­un­teers for what he calls “the Chan­cla Squad” (flipflop squad). He said he’s run­ ning for coun­cil to change “a nar­ra­tive about Lati­nos which isn’t true.”

“I have a Span­ish ver­sion in my web­site for Span­ish­speak­ing peo­ple,” he said. “I share their val­ues, and I be­lieve if most elected of­fi­cials are rich, Lati­nos won’t feel em­pa­thy or rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

Dan Bar­rios, can­di­date for Place 3 on the Richard­son City Coun­cil — held since 2011 by Scott Dunn — said his city has a diver­sity deficit, point­ing out that the body is made of largely of “gray­haired white men.”

“We need more than a chair at the ta­ble for ev­ery­one — more voices cel­e­brat­ing diver­sity,” he said. “And most im­por­tant, to not for­get the peo­ple who elect us.”

A South Texas na­tive, Bar­rios said he wants to push for af­ford­able hous­ing in Richard­son and to help en­sure small busi­nesses aren’t ousted by newly ar­rived big cor­po­ra­tions.

Mean­while, for his cam­paign, his wife and 10­year­old son are help­ing him by mak­ing shirts and but­tons. Bar­rios’ Face­book page al­ready has nearly 1,000 fol­low­ers, and he hopes to lead peo­ple to the polls.

“Each small step con­trib­utes to cre­ate a coali­tion,” he said. “If tra­di­tion­ally we Lati­nos have not been pushed to run, it’s up to us do­ing it now — from the base and humbly.”

Ash­ley Lan­dis/staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

State Sen. Jes­sica González is one of three North Texas Lati­nas, in­clud­ing Terry Meza and Ana­maría Ramos, newly elected to the Leg­is­la­ture.

MIGUEL SO­LIS

REGINA MON­TOYA

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