Photo: Cynthia Van Maanen
Thanks to their growing influence all over the country, Latino voters will be more important in the 2016 general election than ever before, especially in states like Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. The Texas Tribune Festival panel, “Latinos and the Presidential Election,” presented an opportunity to discuss the Latino community’s increasing role in the current election. The panel included State Representatives Ana Hernandez (D-Houston) and Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), and conservative political strategists Juan Hernandez and Daniel Garza. Texas Tribune reporter Alexa Ura moderated.
Strikingly, neither of the two conservative panelists supports the Republican nominee for president. Juan Hernandez, co-founder of Hispanic Republicans of Texas, is working on Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party run in 2016. Daniel Garza, who founded the LIBRE Initiative, a grassroots outreach organization that focuses on Latino voters and promotes a conservative message, has said previously that he does not support the Republican nominee. It’s unclear who Garza does support, and he made no endorsements at this panel. In fact, all four panelists agreed that the Republican nominee for president is damaging the GOP, especially among Latinos and other people of color.
The panelists also agreed that both major political parties, and especially the GOP, need to reach out to Latino voters more effectively. When the issue of party outreach came up, Representatives Hernandez and Rodriguez were quick to note that the Democratic Party needs to do better in engaging Latinos, listening to them about issues that affect them, and getting them to turn out on election day.
Mr. Garza’s organization presents a good model for Latino outreach. The LIBRE Initiative emphasizes issues rather than candidates, and engages Latinos in 10 states with local activists focused on limited government, economic growth, affordable market-based healthcare, and common-sense immigration reform. Garza was prepared with numerous statistics about both Latinos’ impact on elections and the impact of issues like taxes and healthcare on Latino communities. His positions on these issues, though, drew some ire from audience members, one of whom spoke with Garza after the panel was over. That discussion became heated, with the audience member walking away shouting “You’re blind!”
During the panel, the moderator asked, “Is immigration a litmus test for Latinos?” Echoing the GOP’s “autopsy” report after the party’s failure to draw more people of color to the polls in 2012, panelists agreed that some Republican candidates put forward such an offensive position on immigration that it comes across as xenophobia and bigotry directed toward all Latinos. This impression makes it very hard for the Republican Party to appeal to Latinos, let alone build support for other issues.
The panel focused primarily on Latinos and the electoral process, but did not discuss how to deepen the bench of Latino elected officials and recruit more Latinos to run for office so the Latino community has greater experience from which to draw to help elevate its members to the highest offices. In Texas Latinos do run for office at the local, state, and national levels—though not quite in numbers that would reflect the 39% of Texans who are Latino—but winning those elections can still be difficult. Land Commissioner George P. Bush remains the only Latino elected to statewide office in Texas. The panel focused primarily on Latinos and the electoral process, though an equally important panel could be held on how each of the 2016 presidential candidates’ policies might affect Latino communities. As Representative Rodriguez said, “the issues Latinos care about aren’t that much different than anyone else, but they affect us more.”