It has been a week since the polls closed on this year’s mid-term elections, and during that time pundits have talked about everything from the amount of money spent collectively on federal campaigns (nearly $4 billion, a record), to the number of political ads that aired on TV (more than 1.4 million in October, an all-time high), to, oh right, what the results might mean for America (in a nutshell: we voted for “change,” whatever that means).
But where does the Latino perspective come in? Because for all the pre-Election Day talk about the importance of the Latino vote this year—and for the clear impact it had in many races—I haven’t really heard much discussion about what politicians can learn from the way we voted. And so I am offering up my own (admittedly non-scientific) conclusions, gleaned from the conversation I’ve been listening to on Facebook, Twitter and Latina.com:
1) Don’t expect us to vote for you just because you have a Latino last name. This year, Republicans made a concerted effort to court Latino voters, putting forth a whopping number of Latino candidates: As we reported in the November issue of Latina magazine, 75% of Latino Congressional challengers this year were Republican.
For me—and for many Latinos—seeing this many of us vying for top leadership positions was a source of great pride . . . up to a point. Take the case of New Mexico Governor-elect Susana Martinez, who shattered a glass ceiling in becoming the first Latina to ascend to the highest level of state government. A moment worth cheering in the community? Depends on whom you ask.
Although many Latinas are glad to have a new role model—and clearly many of us voted for her—there are plenty of Hispanics who agree with the Latina.com commenter who wrote that Martinez “doesn’t share any of our values,” and stressed, “We should focus on a candidate’s policies and voting record, instead of their surnames.”
Let’s hope politicians get the message that nominating Hispanic candidates should mark only the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with Latinos, not the entire story.
2) Playing the race card makes us really, really angry. Right up until Election Day, Nevada’s Republican candidate for the Senate, Sharron Angle, looked poised to topple Democratic incumbent Harry Reid; in fact, going into the vote, she held a slight lead in the polls. But Angle had made a fatal flaw: In the weeks leading up to Nov. 2, she ran a series of TV ads about the need for immigration reform which featured shots of Latinos who looked menacing. Hispanics across the country denounced the ads as racist (in a Latina.com poll, 70% of respondents agreed with that assessment), and in a state where Hispanics comprise 15% of the electorate, Angle's strategy was akin to political suicide.
Let’s hope politicians get the message that directing hateful rhetoric our way is only going to send us running . . . right to the polls, to vote for the other candidate.
3) We want what everybody else wants. There was a lot of discussion pre-Election Day about how to appeal to Hispanic voters, with many thinking that immigration was going to be a key issue guiding our decisions. But the Latino population is not the same as the immigrant population. Yes, many of us are immigrants—but there are even more of us who are first-, second- and third-generation (and beyond!); in fact, today’s Latino explosion is being driven not by immigration, but by those of us who are born here.
No wonder then that when the Pew Hispanic Center conducted a pre-election survey of Latinos, it found the number one issue of importance to us is education, followed by job growth and health care. After all, as the second-largest group in this country—and the fastest-growing one—we are American society. Which means that if we can’t get an education, or find work, or take care of ourselves, it’s America overall that will suffer.
Let’s hope politicians take note of our growing numbers—and consequent influence—and start to speak directly to us when talking about the issues.
And, most of all, let’s hope we Latinos start to capitalize on our growing power so that we can drive the agenda, instead of trusting others to do it for us.