Midterm elections' effects for Latinos - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Midterm elections' effects for Latinos

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Posted: Saturday, November 20, 2010 7:30 am

The results of the midterm elections don't mean that the wind will remain behind Republicans' sail. As USA Today's Michael Medved points out, in the 16 national elections since Ronald Reagan's presidency, a majority have led to a switch in party control.

Invariably, political moderates and independents determine the outcomes, and they are not prone to wild ideological swings. When the future looks distinctly darker, voters chose the available alternative. Rarely is the selection based on the finer points of an opposition's philosophy.

Similarly, the role played by Latino voters since the 1960s has been to correct a discrepancy, one concerning representation. Whatever their differences, Latinos agree that having representation in all halls of government is an undisputed value, which can come about only by having officials who solve problems.

Until 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court remained the last pillar of government lacking Latino representation. The election of Barack Obama had already proven the significance of the Latino vote in national elections. The investiture of Sonia Sotomayor to the Court marked the completion of the quest for full participation, making the U.S. political family complete.

The Nov. 2 elections continued in the tradition of that rollout. Latino voters were critical to the victories for California Democrats Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer and Nevada's Harry Reid. By the following day, speculation had already begun about the part those voters in the West would play in determining the 2012 presidential winner.

Before the weekend, Florida's Republican Senator-elect Marco Rubio was already doing a TV spot as his party's new face. Florida is key to the presidential race. This was a tacit recognition that, to remain a viable national party, Republicans must change with the nation's demographics and entice new constituencies.

That's where Latinos come in. Their participation in the Republican Party will change it, even moderate some of the party's rogue elements, in order to keep it functional in presidential elections.

Rubio is part of that crossover, and seemingly a Latino more concerned with representation and elections and less with preserving the past. In a similar way, in state senate races around the country--where in January Latino senators will increase from 64 to 66 (60 Democrats and 6 Republicans), several of the successful candidates ran in districts without Latino majorities - Hawaii, Missouri and Nevada. They illustrate how the new fusion breaks with old voting patterns.

That next wave is already apparent elsewhere. For instance, David Rivera, a former Florida state representative, defeated a prominent Cuban-American leader for Congress. In Texas, businessman Bill Flores defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards to become the first Republican Latino representative from that district. Also in Texas, Republican Francisco Canseco defeated incumbent Democrat Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.

Republican Jaime Herrera will become the first Latina to represent Washington state. Raul Labrador, also of the GOP, will become the first Latino Idaho has ever sent to Congress, having defeated a Democratic incumbent backed by the Tea Party.

While Texas might not be typical, it is at least illustrative of new activity. There, Dr. Juan Hernandez, a Republican immigration-reform activist, co-founded along with George P. Bush -- son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- "Hispanic Republicans of Texas" to recruit, train and finance Latino candidates.

Taking a page from what Texas Democrats have been asking of the state party for decades, the Hispanic Republicans were responsible for 12 winning candidates backed by the organization, including state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. The events are encouraging or discouraging, depending on which partisan bleacher one sits on.

Yet the fact remains, the public will topple the newcomers, just as it did some of the stalwarts, if they fail to provide the representation and advocacy the public deserves.

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