Is this a sign of the Hispanic political tsunami?
A coalition of Hispanic and progressive groups announced Wednesday that Colorado will be one of three states where thousands of Latinos will be encouraged to exercise their political power at the ballot box.
Latinos Rise is a $15 million effort in Colorado, Florida and Nevada – three states where Latinos represent at least 18 percent of the voting-age population. “These three states hold the key in changing the outcomes in this election and providing opportunity for comprehensive immigration reform,” so long as progressive candidates are elected, said Ana Temu of the Center for Community Change Action, one of 10 groups involved in the outreach effort.
The effort is driven, at least in part, Temu said, by “hateful rhetoric” from the Republican party toward Latinos and immigrants. With the help of Latinos Rise, Latinos will come out in droves to vote, “to punish the Republican party and [Republican presidential nominee] Donald Trump supporters, and reward candidates” who will stand with immigrants and work on a pro-immigrant agenda, she said.
Trump has made tougher immigration restrictions, including a wall between the U.S. and Mexico — insisting Mexico will pay for it — an ongoing campaign refrain. A poll released earlier this year by America’s Voice, a Washington, D.C.-based immigrant advocacy group, and Latino Decisions, a political opinion research firm, found that only six percent of Hispanics in Colorado have a somewhat or very favorable opinion of Trump. Eighty-five percent said they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of him. One-third of those surveyed identified immigration reform and deportations as one of the most important issues the president and Congress need to address.
Much is at risk, according to Juan Gallegos of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition Action Fund.
“We’re very invested in this election,” Gallegos told The Colorado Independent Wednesday. “We need to protect [our families} in any way possible. A Republican win at the presidential level could be devastating to immigrant families. We aren’t sitting this election out.”
The outreach will focus on educating 100,000 Latinos about the importance of voting this year, rather than a focus on voter registration. Latino voters feel disenfranchised, Gallegos said, yet they are a large bloc of voters and should know the power they hold.
Weld County, where Latinos make up 28 percent of the population, is high on their list. Gallegos said they will knock on the doors of 16,000 registered Latino voters in Weld County. Eventually, they hope to have up to 50 canvassers around the state.
Temu said the effort isn’t only about getting Latinos to vote this November. It’s also about mobilizing Latinos to become more engaged in the political process, which could include eventually running for elected office.
Latino political power is down in Colorado, at least as reflected by the number of elected Latino lawmakers at the Colorado General Assembly. While Latinos represent about 21 percent of the population, only 11 members of the legislature are Latino in the 2015-16 sessions. The numbers are about the same as they were two decades ago, when Latino representation at the capitol closely mirrored the percentage of Latinos in the state population.
The Latino tsunami, a term coined by former Speaker of the House Ruben Valdez of Denver, refers to the coming-of-age of Latinos in Colorado and of their nascent political power. About 35 percent of the Latino population in Colorado is 18 or younger, but about half of the voting age population is between the ages of 19 and 40, prime territory for this year’s outreach efforts.
Latinos have a strong potential to influence the election, Temu said, but the election is just part of the effort. The group plans to push for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, as well as to encourage Latinos to be more involved in politics, including running for elected office.
“It’s a long-term process,” Temu explained. Some groups have been working since 2010 to groom people for campaigns, either as campaign managers or as potential candidates. Those efforts are coming to fruition, she said.
The funding for the $15 million outreach effort will come from Immigrant Voters Win PAC, a Washington D.C. group funded largely by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The PAC also is spending money in Colorado to back the candidacy of Democrat and former state Senate President Morgan Carroll of Aurora, who is challenging Republican U.S. Congressman Mike Coffman for the 6th Congressional District seat.
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, via Creative Commons on Flickr