September 16, 2005

Commentary:

The Power of Numbers - Let’s Seize the Moment

By State Senator Liz Figueroa

For some time now, I’ve been asking myself “What does Hispanic Heritage Month really mean?” To non-Latinos it may be a reason to join our festivities and savor our tasty food and for most Latinos, it may be an opportunity to proudly recognize and honor our families’ country of origin. I take it one step further and ask myself, “What do California Latinos still need to do to truly honor one another?” My answer is always – we need to stand tall collectively which translates to — those who are eligible, must vote.

During my 11 years as a legislator, I have always done what is best for all Californians. I am a Democrat, but I represent both Republicans and Democrats. I am a woman, but I represent both men and women. I am a Latina, but I represent people of all ethnicities and races. The one thing we all have in common is that we are Californians.

That is why I am deeply dismayed by our Governor’s willingness to sacrifice the good will of California voters for a shameful power grab. During the 2003 recall election, voters believed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s promise of putting politics aside. They placed their trust in him to be an honorable governor.

I am greatly troubled by how quickly he has abandoned his promises to represent the people. The vast majority of Californians now believe they were sold a bogus movie ticket and now they’re ready to walk out of the theater.

The 2005 legislative year was severely marred by the Governor’s overt political threats. Despite the capitol’s politically turbulent atmosphere, I, along with many of my colleagues, have worked very hard to do the jobs we were elected to.

Two of my key measures have been sent to the Governor for signing. SB 231 will bring greatly needed reforms to the California Medical Board, which regulates doctors in California and was in need of structural changes and patient safeguards. SB 577 will enable state government to streamline and improve its procurement practices which will save the state considerable money and is supported by many of our state’s high technology companies.

Regrettably, the Governor’s unnecessary November special election has overshadowed everything in Sacramento. He chose politics over policy and his big business donors over the voters. And if he wins, average, hard working Californians will lose.

The Governor first of all wants more control of our state budget process by weakening our state’s checks and balances. He is also insisting on changing the way we draw our local districts in a measure so flawed even members of his own party are opposing it, and are raising money to make sure it fails. Finally, he wants to change the way teachers are granted tenure.

As I travel the state, I hear exactly what the polls confirm — Californians do not support this special election. While the Governor and his financial supporters will spend millions of dollars on mass media commercials, I place my faith in the good sense and will of the voters to see through the Governor’s scam.

His political machine is banking on apathy and low voter turnout to get their way. Latinos must seize the moment to send the Governor a strong message - he can no longer discount Latino voters.

Let’s take this opportunity and truly go beyond the generic platitudes bestowed upon us during Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s look inward and elevate our contributions to our state and country. The time is now to find the political stamina to take charge of our social and political obligations. Challenges continue to face California Latinos and we can not afford to fail our future generations.

I know the day is near when California Latinos will stand tall and receive the respect long over due. Let us truly honor one another and our heritage in a powerful way well beyond the month-long designated Hispanic Heritage celebration. We must make a difference. Latinos must not simply register to vote. We must follow through and cast our ballots – California is depending on us.

Surely, we are making progress. The Latino electorate has emerged as a growing and distinct presence on California’s political landscape. Fourteen percent of all California voters are Latino. Twenty-eight percent of California’s adult population is Latino. That means for every registered Latino voter, there is someone out there who is not registered and needs to be.

Yet, despite our strong Democratic leaning, Latinos are not ideologically committed to either political party. But we are committed to making sure our children have access to a good education; that affordable healthcare is available for all Californians; and, that government and our business community work towards maintaining a healthy economy.

Let’s truly celebrate our Hispanic Heritage by voting during the Governor’s special election this November. Our political power is in our numbers.

State Senator Liz Figueroa represents the Tenth District (Alameda and Santa Clara Counties).

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