Thursday, July 18, 2024

Guest Blogger Series: Janet Murguía on “GOP flirting with Disaster on Latinos”

As featured in Politico:

The National Council of La Raza honored Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in 2007 for his work on immigration. “We are going to solve this [immigration] problem,” Graham said that night, “We’re not going to run people down. We’re not going to scapegoat people. We’re going to tell the bigots to shut up, and we’re going to get this right.”

Now, Graham talks about immigrant women giving birth in the United States as a “drop and leave” calculation—as if describing animals. This is the surest sign yet that the Republican Party has written off the Latino community in the midterm elections.

It’s your prerogative, Republican leaders, but let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, long, long ago, in the state of California, there lived a Republican governor who had abysmal approval ratings and was facing reelection. He, too, decided that Latino-bashing was his way out. And so he foisted Proposition 187 upon the land.

Yes, he won reelection. But his success placed a curse on his fellow Republicans. Not one could win a major office in the state. Until Arnold Schwarzenegger—an immigrant with moderate and pragmatic positions on immigration—broke the curse in 2003 by winning the gubernatorial race.

Now, we know 1994 was long ago. But there are several reasons why the tale of Gov. Pete Wilson and his legacy’s impact on California Republicans should serve as a wake-up call for today’s Republican Party:

The Numbers: Latinos are the youngest and fastest-growing group of voters in the country. What does that mean? In 1994, 3.5 million Latinos went to the polls. By 2008, that number was 10 million. There are still nearly eight million Latinos who are eligible but have not yet registered to vote. Moreover, a half-million young Latino citizens will turn 18 every year — for the next 20 years, according to Democracia U.S.A.

This Latino vote has already been credited with turning several red states blue, or at least purple. Yet, due to increasingly anti-Latino positioning, the Republican Party has been hemorrhaging Latino support since 2004. That was the high-water mark — when President George W. Bush won 43 percent of the Latino vote.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) received just 30 percent in 2008. A recent survey by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials shows support for this year’s California Republican candidates for senator and governor is in the teens.

The Issues: Immigration, though traditionally not at the top of Latino concerns, always has an energizing effect on voter participation, because a candidate’s stance here offers Latinos a proxy for how he or she views their community. This is not surprising — considering the level of anti-Latino sentiment that the immigration debate has unleashed on the Latino community, regardless of immigration status.

For years, Latino voters’ top concerns were remarkably consistent: jobs and the economy, education and health care. Today, several recent polls tell a different story¬—Latinos now rank immigration as either No. 1 or No. 2. And Latino voters, who overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform, are likely to be looking at how candidates talk about and act on this issue.

The Voters: The anger Wilson and Prop 187 provoked in the Latino community and its consequences are well-documented. The well-worn admonition that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it still holds. The NALEO poll reveals that strong majorities of Latino voters in five key states believe that Republicans were not making or were not interested in making an effort to reach the Latino community.

One major conclusion of the Hispanic Federation/League of United Latin American Citizens poll is that Latino voters feel that their community is “under attack.” So the party leading that systematic attack—from Arizona, to Virginia, to revising the 14th Amendment—should not think you can just come back in the next election wearing a different face as if nothing happened..

On immigration, Republicans are choosing to trade sound national policy for cheap political points. Yet they are sacrificing more than that. If they continue, they are likely to receive little support from Latinos not just this year, but for many elections to come.

Rather than trying to win hearts and minds, Republicans have chosen to scapegoat the Latino community in hopes of energizing their base.

The real question is whether the GOP realizes the cost of its actions. The party is mortgaging its future. The Republicans’ tunnel-vision focus on 2010 could be flirting with permanent minority status.

Janet Murguia is the president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, the largest U.S. Latino civil rights and advocacy organization.


  1. Well said Janet…well said.

  2. They talk a lot but will gain nothing.