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Hispanic Vote Gaining Clout
By Laura Meckler
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hispanics, reaching for political power
as their numbers grow, sent a clarion call to both political parties
Tuesday: do not take us for granted.
In key states across the country, Hispanics helped elect both
Democrats and Republicans, whoever responded to their concerns,
and their leaders hope politicians will see them as a key swing
vote as they approach the 2000 presidential election.
"If they expect to get elected, they better start learning,"
said Cecilia Munoz of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's
largest Hispanic advocacy group. "The bottom line is, as
voters, we expect to be respected. We expect to be treated like
Americans, which is what we are."
Half of Hispanic voters in Texas, traditionally Democratic,
gave their support to GOP Gov. George W. Bush, who made it clear
that he had no interest in the sort of anti-immigrant policies
backed by California Republicans.
Helping matters, Bush also speaks fluent Spanish. So does his
brother, Jeb Bush, who is married to a Mexican-American and was
elected governor of Florida, thanks in part to a strong Hispanic
Meanwhile, in California, Hispanics are still furious at GOP
support for anti-immigrant and English-only measures, and they
delivered 78 percent of their votes to Democrat Gray Davis for
governor and 70 percent to Democrat Barbara Boxer for Senate,
based on exit polls conducted for The Associated Press by Voter
"If the GOP wants to stay in control and move forward,
then they need to sort of follow the steps taken by Bush, by both
Bushes to include the Latino vote," said Lydia Camarillo
of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which worked
to mobilize Hispanic voters in four states.
Voter registration is growing among Hispanics as more become
citizens and more become enraged at anti-immigrant policies. Hispanics
also are becoming an increasing portion of the electorate in several
key states. They made up 36 percent of the electorate this year
in New Mexico, 13 percent in California and 16 percent in Texas,
But the Hispanic community is not monolithic.
Florida is populated with Cuban-Americans, staunch anti-Communists
who have traditionally backed Republicans. Yet the Southwest is
home to Mexicans and New York attracts Puerto Ricans, who generally
Hispanics already make up about 10 percent of the U.S. population
and by 2005 are projected to overtake blacks as the nation's largest
minority group. Nationally, Hispanics made up just 5 percent of
all voters Tuesday, but that, too, will grow, as more immigrants
become citizens and are motivated to go to the polls.
Already, they are a key constituency in certain important states.
Looking ahead to the presidential contest, they could play a critical
role in places like California, Texas, New York and Florida, which
carry the largest blocs of electoral votes.
This year, California Democrat Barbara Boxer lost the white
vote, but was propelled back to the Senate by black and Hispanic
voters, who overwhelmingly supported her.
By contrast, GOP New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato captured just
over half of the white vote in his re-election bid, but overwhelmingly
lost among blacks and Hispanics and was defeated.
Seeing the potential, both parties have reached out. House
Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has hired a Spanish-speaking spokeswoman
to communicate with Spanish-language media. Over the last two
years, California Republicans have registered 30,000 new voters
at swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens. Both Democratic and
Republican candidates for California governor ran ads in Spanish
for the first time this year.
Even staunch conservative Republican Bob Dornan, who accused
Latino voters of outright fraud in his defeat two years ago for
Congress, sent out a host of Spanish fliers including one featuring
Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas. He declared
himself to be the "true Latino" candidate because he
opposes abortion no matter that his opponent, Rep. Loretta Sanchez,
actually is Latina. She won.
It is a perfect illustration of why simply reaching out the
Hispanic community is not enough, leaders say: Politicians must
walk the walk on important issues.
"Outreach is important and outreach is great, but outreach
by itself isn't going to attract voters if your policies aren't
consistent with what people want," Munoz said. "It's
pretty hard to make that case if you're Bob Dornan."
The key is making politicians pay a price for supporting an
anti-Hispanic agenda, said former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros,
now president of Univision Television in Los Angeles.
"Frankly, the effectiveness of those tools has come to
an end," he said. "The numbers are now too large to
do it and get away with it."
LULAC, "Hispanic Voters Make
ORLANDO SENTINEL, "The Awakening
Giant: Hispanic Voters Made the Difference"
PUERTO RICO HERALD, Interview
with Rick Dovalina, LULAC President