By Robert Castaneda
Make no mistake; national leaders within the Republican Party are pursuing the Latino vote with gusto because they know, as does this President that demographics are political destiny. This realization by the powers that be in the GOP and White House paid real dividends on Election Day. Numerous articles have been written and much has been said that the national Hispanic vote for Bush put him over the top. That being said, what happened with the Hispanic vote for Bush in California?
First, many in the California Republican Party who decide on, and manage campaigns would rather be right than successful on Election Day. Recent campaigns with a negative message that single out Latinos in a failed effort to galvanize white Democrats and Republicans did not work. Two campaigns quickly come to mind; that of Rico Oller for the 3rd Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the recent campaign of Tricia Hunter running for the 76th Assembly District in the California State Legislature.
Many Latino Republicans have witnessed the continual erosion of the GOP in this state due to the basic fact that the state has changed, and the California GOP has not changed with it. That’s not to say that Republican issues like smaller government, the proliferation of entrepreneurship and commerce, and individual freedoms without the unneeded control of intrusive government are out of pace; to the contrary, they are right on target, Republican leaders in California simply do a horrible job at selling these successful precepts to immigrant populations, women, and minorities. These groups represent the change in the California political landscape and the Republican market share of these groups must increase if Republicans are to recapture political relevance in this state.
The second reason is complacency. To a degree term limits has changed some of the faces, but not the status quo mentality of Republicans in Sacramento. The 1990 census proclaimed rapidly changing demographics with Latinos fueling that change. To their credit Democrats were quick to identify this change, charted a course of political advantage, and redrew district lines that created “Latino Democratic Districts”. Democrats did all of this planning and execution without a countering move by Republicans.
Today the Latino Democratic Caucus is the primary player in the State Legislature. They are a source of power and fear amongst Sacramento Republicans as well as Democrats. Yes, that’s right, Democrats! That was never more evident than the excessive pandering by former Governor Grey Davis to court this caucus during his recall campaign with signing a bill authorizing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants after vetoing that same bill twice before. Grey’s mistake was that he assumed that the Latino Caucus represented the vast majority of voting Latinos across the state. The eventual outcome for that recall vote proved that they did not. Even with a well-known, well-financed Latino politician and a member of that “Latino Caucus” on the ballot, votes for non-Latino Republican candidates exceeded 40%, and the expected Latino vote for Davis was not there either.
Why hasn’t the California GOP been able to build on this success? The simple answer is that institutional complacency that compels a single-minded vision that selects Republican candidates and strategizes their campaigns. However, a golden opportunity to turn that around exists with the Governor’s effort to realign legislative districts and bring in new blood, but the California Republican Party must seize the initiative this time. Protecting incumbent politicians by party leadership thus reducing new voters to the Republican Party would guarantee political ineptitude for at least another decade. Republicans should champion the reapportionment debate that independently redraws the political map to reflect districts that are competitive thus providing a more level field for Republican and Democratic candidates. Demographically diverse districts with a more balanced count of both registered Democrats and Republicans would require candidates of both parties to change the divisive tone of their campaigns and force a debate addressing the broader good. A contest of ideas is a contest Republicans can win, and foster campaigns all Californians can be proud of.
Currently, incumbent politicians of both parties control this process and change does not serve their interests. Non partisan debate, the proliferation of ideas, and pragmatic solutions to the state’s problems do not exist in this environment. That brand of politics serves the few, much less Latinos where jobs, education reform, security, and healthcare are primary issues not addressed by business as usual.
Creating more competitive districts offers the best hope for Republicans to increase their number in elective government; furthermore Latinos could play a big role in that political shift. What is required is for state and national leaders in the GOP to provide clear goals as to increasing the number of Latinos in the party, and prescribe a course of political action with California redistricting that aids that outcome.
The salient question for California Republicans is that how do they increase the vote in the Latino community in the face of issues that confront and divide good, well intentioned people. For example, the issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented aliens; the real problem is not the position of many in the Republican Party on this issue, rather it is the blatant inability for Republican operatives to sell that position to many non-effected Latinos who believe they are being singled out by Republicans for political purposes. In politics perception is reality and Republicans need to do more to change that perception.
Never embraces a strategy that gets you a bigger piece of a shrinking pie. When you loose market share, do not become protectionist over that shrinking piece. Aggressively seek new ways and means to increase your market share, identify effective process change, and always aim high with your goals. For the California Republican Party there should be no greater goal than increasing Latino voters who vote Republican. This will not happen by doing nothing, and hoping that the Democrats will form their usual circular firing squad when it comes to Latinos won’t happen either. It will take targeted resources, planning, and a nonstop effort of serious leaders within the California Republican Party to make that happen.
Robert Castaneda was appointed by former Governor’s George Deukmejian as his Liaison to the Hispanic Community and by Pete Wilson as a Special Assistant for Community Relations.