January 11, 2008

Steve Padilla

LATINO BLUE

Many are saying something historic is happening in this Presidential election year, including all the candidates. True, each election and their results are important. But in this new year of 2008 the facts may actually support the speeches and rhetoric.

Regardless of the outcome, this election is already historic. For the first time in our nation’s history the prospect of a female or African-American President of the United States is a very real one. The mood in our country can be felt everywhere. Wherever you go where politics are discussed, the comments come easily and are coupled with great passion. Regardless of issues or party affiliation, people are clearly restless and ready for change. This year could be one in which we witness a dramatic shift in national direction, nothing short of a 21st century political earthquake.

People are paying closer attention to this election and are already voting in larger numbers than at any time in recent history. There are clear indications that young and new voters may vote in record numbers. Last but not least, an increasing movement of Latino voters toward one political party and away from another - combined with our importance in key states will mean the influence of the Latino vote may reach new and historic levels as well.

The current president campaigned eight years ago on themes of healing, unity and common ground. The problem now clear to almost everyone, is that he governed in a very different way. The man who pledged to be a “uniter and not a divider” has been the most divisive and destructive in modern history. For six years straight, his party’s control of the congress helped him do it.

Their tax policies have been a confused mix of attempts to return to “trickle down” and outright theft. The wealthiest 1% has benefited, the middle class has shrunk, more people fell into poverty, health care and education costs rose. The party of small government bloated the budget, created the largest federal government bureaucracy in American history, ballooned the national debt, sought to use government to regulate private lives, and brought the meaning of “big brother” to new heights. Oh, did I mention the constitution has footprints on it?

Around the world, America’s standing and moral-authority are at all-time lows. Violence has decreased in Iraq, only because some of the insurgents have cut a temporary deal with us, being paid daily to stop attacks on American troops and provide security. They still want us out, and we can’t maintain our “surge” forever. Our adventures abroad cost us over $6 billion a month and rising.

The results of the 2000 election remind us that picking a president in our country is not one national election, but really 50 individual ones. People want unity and results after the votes are counted, but the color of the electoral map when it is all over is critical to deciding the direction of our country. Which states are “blue” (Democratic) or “red” (Republican) in their presidential preferences is important. In 2008 Latinos will comprise over 9% of the national vote and much more in critical states.

The gains made in 2000 and 2004 by this president and his party attracting Latino voters have evaporated. Most interesting is the fact that the “immigration” issue is not even the most important issue among us. But the tone and attitude about the issue by some in his party have served to solidify a different kind of migration - by Latinos to our Democratic Party roots.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center (Dec 6, 2007) indicates immigration is an important issue to all voters, but it ranks 5th after education, health care, the economy, and crime among Latinos.

According to the study 57% of Latino registered voters identify as Democrats or say they lean in that direction, compared with 23% identifying as Republicans. At 46 million strong, Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the country, and comprise a critical swing vote in important states like New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Colorado, all potential swing states on the electoral college map which have been close contests in recent years. Of course, Latinos maintain a strong influence in large states with many electoral votes likes California, Texas and New York.

In addition, the Latino population is largely young, and studies show young Latinos identify even more strongly with the Democratic Party. As these potential voters begin to get involved in the process the full impact of the Latino vote is yet to be felt.

Our nation is clearly not in the mood for any more old politics of blind dogma, arrogance and division. The appeal of a “New politics” of unity and results is dominating our political process. Woe unto the candidates or parties who do not recognize the history or seize the opportunity to embrace the shifts that are occurring. It may well be that on election night this November, Republicans will look up and out and both be feeling and observe an electoral map that is very blue.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org.

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