Last week, my 3rd grader’s homework was about our form of government and the values that make us Americans. I thought it was an appropriate and timely assignment given the upcoming election. In a few days Virginians will go to the polls to elect the next governor of the commonwealth and in doing so will practice the most cherished and sacred act of a democracy: practicing our right to vote. Much is at stake in this election for the Latino community. The next governor will make choices on many issues that have a direct impact on the quality of our lives including the types of funding our schools gets; local immigration efforts, about our healthcare options, our pocketbooks and a women’s right to choose. Latinos have a lot to think about since Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cucccinelli offer two very different visions for Virginia.
Cuccinelli’s tax reform plan would lower the tax rate for the wealthiest Virginians, even though Virginia’s most affluent residents pay less in state and local taxes than those on moderate or lower income (yes you read that correctly). Yet, he opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage when Latinos in Virginia make an average of $24,000. Virginia already ranks 39th among the states in school funding, despite being the ninth-wealthiest state. In spite of this Cuccinelli’s tax plan could cut $1.4 billion from the state’s general fund revenues. These cuts could result in an estimated $422 million decrease in school funding which would disproportionately impact many of the 136,000 Hispanic children who are enrolled in our schools.
On healthcare Cuccinelli is a longtime and staunch opponent of Obamacare. In fact he filed the first unsuccessful lawsuit arguing the measure was unconstitutional, in spite of the fact that in Virginia 31 percent of Hispanics lack health insurance. He also opposes a woman’s right to choose.
His record on immigration is abysmal; it is almost like he wanted to compete with Tom Tancredo! In 2010, Cuccinelli pushed Virginia to adopt similar policies to Arizona’s S.B. 1070 law; he supported giving law enforcement officers the authority to inquire about immigration status. In 2008, when he was a state senator, he urged Congress to amend the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to deny U.S. citizenship to children of the undocumented. In 2007, he voted against a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Virginia public universities and he also sponsored a bill that would allow employers to fire employees who do not speak English in the workplace. He has tried to moderate his tone on immigration recently but his record speaks louder than words.
For all of these reasons, it is not just a slogan to say that the future of Latinos in Virginia hangs in the balance in this election. As the Washington post recently noted, the Latino community has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few decades and our political influence can be significant and powerful. According to calculations by the Center for American Progress of change in eligible voters from the 2008 and 2011 American Community Survey, in 2012 there were 259,800 eligible voters in Virginia, an increase of 74 percent from 2008, and it is projected that by the year 2016 there will be 387,500 eligible voters.
Yet, numbers by themselves don’t equal power. What is powerful is when those numbers are turned into votes and when we elect leaders who will fight for our interests. This is why we should model what our children are learning today and take part in the democratic process. It is our future and our Commonwealth too.
Vanessa Cárdenas is Vice President of Progress 2050 Action at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a resident of Fairfax City, VA.