April 5, 2002

Chismes de mi Gallinero:

Une Poco de Respeto — A Little Respect Please

By Julio C. Calderón

Las Gallinas are pondering a question – “What will happen if you organize a party, but forget to send out invitations?” – a simple question sure enough. Certainly, it is one that will keep the gallinas busy as they go about scratching the ground. I will elevate the question for the politicos – What happens if you organize a campaign, but forget to inform the voters?” This would be an unthinkable mistake for any political consultant. But it is one that is continually repeated by campaigns – Democrat and Republican. The Latino voter always goes uninvited to the dance.

This has been a long-standing issue with campaign consultants. All types of consultants, Democrats, Republicans, and La Raza Unida have pondered the problem of getting Latinos to vote, over the last three decades.

Latino activists in the late 1960s believed that the community’s political power was in voting as a block. This worked in farming communities in Texas that gave rise to La Raza Unida Party. However, the ‘Viva La Raza’ rhetoric fell on deaf ears in California. Although Latinos, for the most part, are registered Democrat, unlike the African American voter, it is a fluid vote. Latinos have crossed party lines in significant numbers in past elections. Republican gubernatorial candidates have won as high as 45 percent of the Latino vote during the 1980s.

The Latino voter is more conservative than he is given credit by Democrats. The Republicans know this but have not been able to design the rhetoric that will connect with Latinos’ conservative nature. Part of the communications problem is in the consultants the GOP employs at the party headquarters and by the campaigns.

A March 31, 2002 article in the Washington Times points this out. An unidentified “Republican campaign advisor” was quoted as saying, “In California, we are going to do nothing and hope Hispanics don’t know there’s an election in November.” I imagine that campaigns or the GOP pay this person good money for this thinking.

The article compared Latino voter influence, real or perceived, in the coming Texas elections where the Republican governor is facing a Latino Democrat, to the influence of the California Latino voter in the Gray Davis – Bill Simon contest. As expected, Gov. Davis’ campaign guru, Gary South also had something to add.

He believes that Latinos in California have a reason to turnout in greater numbers. He said, according to the article, “…and they do have a reason to come out (to vote). We have the highest ranking Latino office holder in America sitting here on our ticket, Cruz M. Bustamante for Lt. Governor.” South didn’t say that Davis has given Latinos a reason to come out and vote…but that Bustamante is reason enough for Latinos to vote Democrat. The theory should be good news to Gary Mendoza, Republican candidate for Insurance Commissioner.

What all of this reveals is the disrespect campaign consultants have toward Latino voters. For all of rhetoric the candidates spew about how important the Latino community is to their campaigns, it is all for naught when their consultants freely express their distaste of having to spend money and resources on their vote. This last statement assumes, of course, that any money or resources are spent in amounts needed to make a significant impact on the community.

The millions and millions of dollars spent on a statewide campaign are sucked up by television and radio advertisements. Very few of those dollars are spent on Latino television or radio; none is spent in Latino newspapers. These newspapers don’t have the clamor of a Los Angeles Times or San Francisco Chronicle but they are read in the communities they cover. These are the communications conduits to Latino voters.

These publishers did mention, however, that the campaigns do send them their press releases by the hundreds – never a check. Since the releases get to these weekly newspapers, than we can deduce that the campaigns know who and where they are. We can also deduce that they value these publications as important to get their canned message out to the public, or else why spend the stamp money. Why do campaigns expect free space, but are not willing to buy advertisement? It is all about getting an invitation to the party.

The reasoning used by consultants is very simple. The Democrats are comfortable in the belief that Republican can’t sway the 35 or 40 percent crossover of Latinos to give the GOP a win. So why spend the resources to get out the vote? All Mr. Davis has to do is put Mr. Bustamante in a convertible with him in the East Los Angeles’ 16th of September parade. Bustamante will do it, remembering how Davis put him in his place during the court battle to overturn Proposition 187. I mean, Davis even took some of his parking spaces under the capital building.

Republican consultants, on the other hand, use history as a standard. Latinos don’t produce the votes, so why bother. The belief being that since the Latinos haven’t voted Republican in the past their resources are best spent elsewhere. If history is the guide, then why should Latinos vote at all?

Why should they if they have never been asked to vote for Democrats or Republicans? If we are to believe another Republican consultant quoted in the Washington Times article, then we can expect the same this election year from the GOP. “We are not going to run a Hispanic strategy,” according to a fellow named Wayne Johnson, identified as a Republican consultant in Sacramento. “Hispanic turn out will be low, as will the turn-out in general,” he added.

What Republican consultants have not taken into consideration is that there is a general dissatisfaction with Davis, even among Latinos. The energy crisis hit these communities hard too. They are the working poor of the state, faced with much higher utility bills. They are the ones that feel increased gas prices and sales taxes the most.

Latinos are Californians and the greater majority of this community is naturalized or born-and-raised American. This year, with or without an invitation, they will come to the party, and they will impact the outcome. We are well aware of the fact that there is an election in November.

Mr Calderon can be reached at Mi Gallinero@AOL.COM

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