Are Connecticut Latinos on the Sidelines this Election Year?
October 07, 2010
This historic election year in Connecticut, with so many political offices without an incumbent, the opportunity for real change for the fastest growing ethnic group in our state seemed possible. It meant that perhaps, finally, we would be well represented with the nomination of a Latino on a statewide ticket.
But the opportunity slipped through our fingers. This milestone would have done much to serve as a symbolic acknowledgment, and would have gone a long way in energizing the Latino electorate. Rather, many political observers say it sent a clear message to all: that Latinos are still not an integral part of the state and an important aspect of the political landscape. The failure to nominate a Latino for statewide office may have an impact on the number of Latinos who go to the polls in November— a great loss for Connecticut, because a truly vibrant democracy needs involvement from all its citizens
What happened? Why couldn’t the state’s Latino leaders pull it off? Didn’t party leaders want to be inclusive? We can begin with the unfortunate reality that too many political leaders have wrongly bought into the “Latinos don’t vote” myth, and as a result have understandably focused on other political bases. And conversely, we, as Latinos, must take responsibility for not being more aggressive in demonstrating our political power at the polls and conducting some tough love negotiating with party leaders.
The underlying reasons are numerous on both sides. Latinos have to stop asking when will party leaders help us or when will “they” give us a voice? In Puerto Rico, an election and voting is a national pastime with over 85% of the electorate participating. What’s happened in Connecticut that the passion for democracy has disappeared?
Clearly, Latinos are not alone in voter apathy. That was demonstrated during the primary election this past August when just a little over 20% of our state’s voters bothered to go to the polls in an election year that could produce fundamental major changes in our government and policies. Like many others, Latinos ask, “will my vote really make a difference?” We are disproportionately affected by the downturn in the economy and feeling increasingly marginalized. The anti-immigrant rhetoric plaguing this election has left many jaded. To address this apathy, national Latino organizations such as NCLR, NALEO and LULAC recently issued an urgent call to Latino voters to participate in the upcoming elections in order to take a stand for respect and against the attacks on our long and proud history in America.
In Connecticut, we must focus on transforming our community’s anger into action. We hope it’s not too late for this November, but as a long range goal, it’s time that we, as Latino leaders in our state, begin to think about a more comprehensive and strategic approach to educate voters, in addition to conducting registration drives.
One successful model is the Southwest Voter Education Project. Founded in 1974, it has grown to become the largest and oldest nonpartisan Latino voter participation organization in the U.S. In recent years, it has launched such programs as Latino Vote USA, Latino Vote 2000, Campaign for Communities (2004), and the Ten-Four campaigns in the last three presidential campaigns. As part of the education process they also developed effective outreach to communities of faith and small business owners, especially Latinas who work from home or have developed entrepreneurial ventures while caring for persons in their extended families.
As for the political establishment and candidates from both parties in our state, a genuine effort must be made to engage the Latino electorate group. For example, we have listened to endless campaign talk about creating jobs and supporting small businesses. Latino media outlets are among the small businesses the economy needs; they are located in our urban centers and hire local residents. Yet Latino media outlets have not been the recipients of the millions of dollars poured into political advertising these past few months. This oversight has also led to an enormous communication gap between candidates and their future constituents and impedes Latino voter turnout.
Clearly, the responsibility for moving Latinos from the margins into the mainstream in the electoral process falls on all of us. We are all stakeholders in Connecticut’s future.