Pacific News Service
Oct 05, 2004

Why Are Kerry and Bush Ignoring California's Huge Latino Vote?

News Feature, Gloria Alvarez and Gitzel Vargas

Eastern Group Publications

LOS ANGELES-- Once upon a time, Latinos in the U.S. were small in numbers and few considered their vote a matter of any consequence. Not so today, if you believe all the hype and rhetoric coming from the Republican and Democratic parties.

It’s a well publicized fact that in recent years the number of Latinos eligible and registered to vote has steadily risen, causing both major political parties to stand up and take note. But with the presidential election less than five weeks away, neither party seems to think that this is an election where the Latino vote will matter much on November 2, at least not in California — a non-swing state.

But isit folly and shortsighted to think that way: could both parties be damaging relations with the Latino population for future elections, or are they so secure in their belief that they are the party of the future among Latinos, that sitting out one election in California is no big deal?

According to the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI) Latino voter registration will hit an all time high 9.4 million in the United States. As of 2003, 2.1 million lived in California. History has shown Latinos, much like African Americans, have traditionally voted Democrat, but the question today is will they keep doing so?

One resident, out shopping with her daughter at the Target in Commerce, and who asked that her name not be used, said it was “ridiculous” that the presidential candidates were not campaigning in California. “How can I know who to vote for if they don’t campaign here,” she asked. “If I don’t know something about them by November, I probably won’t vote. Or maybe I’ll go for the Green Party.”

Voting for the Green Party candidate, although she admits to not knowing his name, makes sense to Leah Ramos, a Lincoln Heights resident who says it’s time the two major parties stop “pretending” they care about her vote.

“I didn’t know much about other parties until we recalled Davis,” (former California governor) said Ramos who was waiting to catch a bus on San Fernando Rd. “But I got a chance to hear Peter Camejo and Mrs. Huffington, and I liked what they had to say. If Camejo was on the ballot here I would vote for him for sure, at least I know he knows something about Mexicans and he is from California.”

Ramos adds, “my brother went to Vietnam, but that war is over, I want to know about stuff that matters today, not 30 years ago. Our schools are all messed up and a lot of people don’t have jobs, why don’t Kerry and Bush talk about that? Have they even come to L.A.?”

So why aren’t the candidates in California? The answer, to some, is simple – Kerry has the lead and Bush has little chance of catching him.

In July, Democratic National Committee, DNC, Chairman Terry McAuliffe told EGP, "My job is to win the White House, so the reality is we won't be spending a lot of time in California since we know Kerry has a large lead here." Asked if that's not shortsighted, especially in terms of Latinos who during last year's gubernatorial recall voted in larger numbers for the recall of Democrat Gray Davis and for the Republican candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger than anyone had expected, McAuliffe responded, "The Democrats are better for Latinos in all areas, education, healthcare, jobs, and the state party will be getting that message out, but right now we (the DNC) need to focus on November and those swing states that could determine the election. McAuliffe seemed surprised by the notion that Latinos might in any significant numbers consider voting for other than a Democrat.

Former Senator Art Torres, who is now the California Democratic State Party Chair, said Democrats don’t take California or California Latinos for granted, but that it is “smarter” to spend campaign money in states where Kerry can gain more votes.

“We’re not going strong on the president, but we will campaign strongly for the Senate and Congressional seats,” Torres said. “We are doing this through mail, email and door to door.”

When asked if maybe California and its Latinos should be given more attention than they have because of the fact that many Latinos voted for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, Torres said, “I hope that by now people have realized what a mistake they made. He doesn’t want to give (driver’s) licenses and he’s raised tuition so high that many of our kids can’t get a higher education. This is why they should vote for Kerry.”

He added that Kerry was misquoted on the driver’s licenses issue, and said Kerry wants to leave the decision up to each state. When asked what he thought the important issues to Latinos were Torres responded, “The war and its policies, health care and education.”

Luis Vega agreed.

Vega, spokesperson for the California Republican Party and Republican Congressional Candidate for the 31st District said, Republicans don’t take the Latino vote for granted and are working hard to get their vote.

There is a Spanish language website, Spanish speaking people in the organization and we also walk door to door, Vega said.

When asked how he thought Latinos would vote in November, he jokingly replied that he was not “Walter Mercado” but that the, “Latino community has a historical opportunity to make itself heard, to prove to the Democrats that they can’t take them for granted.”

Vega said the main difference between President Bush and Kerry is that Bush shares many of the values that Latinos do. For example, he said, the values of family, faith, hard work and diversity. He’s also a man of principle who stands by what he believes.

But talking to Latino voters in the L.A. area you get a sense that they have not yet fully connected to the November election, although a growing number seem concerned about the possibility that we will be in Iraq for a long time and the draft might be reinstated.

“I have two nephews and a niece who are just out of high school. I’m scared they could get drafted,” said Ramos adding, “and I heard both Bush and Kerry think we should stay there (Iraq) and maybe even go to Iran or Korea. So what’s the big difference?”

And so with election right around the corner, Nov. 2, who the Latino vote for president will go to may be a sign that things are changing in party politics — if just ever so slightly.