On Latino political power

I have three things to say about this article concerning Latino population growth versus Latino political power in Harris County and elsewhere.

1. I think one reason why Latino voter registration and turnout lags its population and is so poor in comparison to whites is that there’s a sizable number of Latinos who are not being directly engaged by political campaigns. Latino GOTV efforts tend to focus on the traditional Latino areas – Denver Harbor, the East End, etc – but there’s a lot of Latinos who don’t live in those areas. My understanding of current demographic data in Harris County suggests that maybe 2/3 of Latinos in the county live outside the “traditional” Latino neighborhoods, with about half of those folks living in the reddest parts of the county, the north and northwest. An example that’s been cited to me, one where the vast majority of new homes being built have been bought by people with Hispanic surnames, is Precinct 599, up in Spring. It was carried by Jim Sharp last year by a 446-422 count (30.7% turnout), despite being in the 70% Republican HD150 (and SD07). You think Debbie Riddle or Dan Patrick expended any effort talking to these folks? All I can say is that if they didn’t, the odds are that nobody did. Why should people who aren’t being engaged get involved?

2. There are never enough opportunities to go around. Waiting for them is a guarantee that you’ll never make more than incremental gains.

[County Commissioner Sylvia] Garcia said the lack of candidates is not because Latino politicians aren’t motivated to run, but that they’re waiting for the right opportunity.

“The reality of politics is that incumbency has a lot of power and that is difficult to overcome,” Garcia said.

Problem with that is that the right opportunity may never present itself, and when it does you may not be in the best position to take advantage of it. It’s going to take Latinos knocking off a few Anglo incumbents (keep an eye on the Democratic primary in HD140, and maybe the general election races in HDs 138 or 144) and winning city- or county-wide races for stories like this to go away. There’s one serious Latino candidate for an At Large Council seat this November: former HISD Area Superintendent for the Southeast and Central Districts and Austin High School Principal Jose Trevino, running in the crowded At Large #5 race; looking ahead to next year, there’s Council Member Adrian Garcia’s potential run for Sheriff. That’s what I’m talking about. We’ll see what happens.

3. I’m always amused to see Orlando Sanchez, the hardest working man in county government, get quoted in a story like this. Whatever else he may be doing to keep busy as County Treasurer, it’s nice to know that he’ll still take the time to return a reporter’s phone call.

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