November 21, 2003

Opinion:

Pawns or Mavericks

By Andrés Lozano

Hispanics of Mexican descent account for over 8.5 percent of the US population and growing. Yet, it is a hefty community that, so far, has failed to field candidates or elects statewide and national contenders such as governors, senators and large city mayors. A lieutenant governor here, a state attorney general there, a smattering in the US House of Representatives, a host of other elected officials at the local level, that is the extent of our political visibility.

With less than half a century featuring in Florida’s politics, Cuban Americans have elected a governor, mayors galore and three very influential current officeholders at the House of Representatives. Cuban born Lincoln Díaz-Balart or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, stand a good chance of becoming nominated first and then elected next year to the Senate seat vacated by Bob Graham. Anytime soon, there is not a single Mexican American candidate with like chances of being nominated to contend for national and statewide office in Arizona, California, Illinois or Texas, states where we have the best shot at it. Is this a reason for concern among Hispanics of Mexican descent? You better believe it is! Good politics is a blend of nonspecific general benefit topics and custom-made issues. As a community we profit from some generic policies and found wanting when it comes to made-to-order answers, central to our prosperity, yet unreachable with-out adequate political representation.

Symmetry is a bad means for measuring political outcomes. We should not stand, as a matter of fact, for quota-oriented approaches, more than often a source of free antagonism. Population density is the leveraging tool we have yet to learn how to handle and put into political usage. For instance, consider how the Jewish and Italian communities are over represented relative to their numbers, while we stand under represented. What have these communities done well to achieve and even surpass representation, and where have we been missing? Two slants are the culprits. An anti-politics bias inherited from our Mexican experience and a pro Democratic Party candidates’ syndrome. Let us tackle each one at a time.

The Mexican political experience is a recent development. Most of us northbound immigrating to America before the year 2000 had no inkling of what politics were all about, since they were nonexistent in México. During the better part of the Mexican history, one party rule has been the name of the game, and abysmal for that matter. Thus, it is fair to say that Mexican immigrants and their offspring were averse, apathetic, immune and reticent towards political involvement, a harbinger of low representation to come.

Historically, Democrats have outdone Republicans at canvassing amid newcomers and brilliant amongst Mexican Americans. Therefore, voting for Democratic candidates and their platforms became a matter of conditioned reflex for a majority within our community members due to: Effective drafting by Democratic Party operatives; Oratory attuned to ears largely unaccustomed to US styled political rhetoric and prone to fall for promises, common currency in Mexican politics. By and large, Democratic politicians were successful at replicating a familiar jingle and generating an expected response among us: The time-honored ruse of offering what the customer knows, not necessarily needs. Finally, the four major state destinations of the Mexican immigration in the US largely were or are Democratic Party bulwarks, a formidable recruiting advantage on its own merits.

These circumstances are at the crux of the Mexican American political under representation dilemma, a paradox to overcome. Predictable voters, Mexican Americans are taken for granted by the Democratic machinery with little to bargain for in terms of issues and matching political representation. Meantime, the puny numbers within the Republican Party, simple are not enough to muster attention at the GOP. So, we have fallen into a vicious circle and become pawns in lieu of maver-icks, incapable of upsetting party’s electoral outcomes if our voting strength is not reckoned with. Which are the choices?

As a political pragmatist I do not advocate affiliation or recommend ways individual voters should decide at the polling booth. I do, however, advocate an issues oriented approach and tough bargaining by community leaders to tilt political planks towards Mexican American needs and aims, more effective if achieved through both major political parties. Also, a believer in the weight of numbers, am certain our interests will be better served in Washington when, regardless of party affililiation, state Congressional Delegations comprise our proportional representation.

Are the resulting figures realistic? They surely are! Furthermore, they must become our benchmark since demographic density and distribution in these states warrant their feasibility. No better gauge is currently available or needed. Both major parties political machineries are also aware of these facts and, not without a struggle, will yield and turn amenable to candidates’ realignment in their ranks, if for no other reason than securing voter’s recognition and choice. This, in turn, will occur when we shear-off labels and our support becomes both unpredictable and crucial towards the electoral success of either party, the one offering us the better deal, precinct by precinct, where we can tilt the outcome.

Andrés Lozano (alozanoh@msn.com)

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