News Column

The Hispanic Vote in 2008 and Beyond: An Interview with Antonio Gonzalez, Part 1

Oct. 28, 2008


Antonio Gonzalez,  SVREP president, hispanic vote
Antonio Gonzalez, President of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project

Antonio Gonzalez has been at his job a long time, and he knows his business like the back of his hand. As head of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), Mr. Gonzalez is an expert on the dynamics of voter turnout and the intricacies of American elections. We asked Mr. Gonzalez for an update on the Hispanic vote in the 2008 campaign and his views on what that increasing Hispanic electoral muscle means for the future of American politics.

What is your anticipation of Hispanic turnout this election?

The Latino vote hasn't declined in a presidential cycle compared to the previous one since 1976. So if I tell you we're going to make history and break records, I'm not lying. We're going to have a great season, and we're going to break the 11 million voter barrier. We were at 9.3 million [registered voters] in '04. This year I think we will be slightly over 11 million registered voters, and you run the turnout on that and we will break 9 million votes cast.

. . . There's a lot of interest in this election, but to hyper-mobilize Latinos, we would have to have some of the Latino super-states in play as battleground states. That's where the money goes. Still, we are going to break records. And the other side of this is we've seen the economy has made it harder to generate resources for independent [get-out-the-vote] efforts. The McCain and Obama theories of the election don't include real investment into the Latino vote. We're not in their top-tier electorates with some exceptions in the battleground states.

That's the luck of the draw and the nature of campaign business. I don't think we can get to 12 million [registered] and 10 million votes cast. There's just not enough resources out there because of the bad economy.

What is SVREP doing in this campaign to increase Hispanic voter turnout?

We're working with groups like LULAC, Hispanic Federation, and NALACC (National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities) and MAPA and many others in a partnership to mobilize the Latino vote on a nonpartisan basis. We are working in states across America.

In particular, we are working on mobilizing Southwest voters. That campaign is called "Movimento 10/12" -- movement to get 10 million votes cast and 12 million registered voters. SVREP is working in seven states -- California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina and Florida -- in about 60 community-based projects. We've already registered about 50,000 new voters, and we think we will end up with about 75,000 by the deadline. That's about normal for a presidential election for Southwest Voter. And then we expect to have an even bigger get-out-the-vote effort over the next month. So we're busy.

But what about the future? How might the growing Hispanic vote transform American politics?

If you perceive yourself as passing from a minority to a majority community, what are you going to do differently? Well, part of that is to try and create a new governing coalition.

And what is the one electorate that is closest to Latinos, objectively speaking, in voting patterns, priorities, and values. It's blacks. So this conversation is now beginning in earnest among the [African-American and Hispanic] leadership. Because it is different.

You know Los Angeles now with Mayor Villaraigosa and the Latino majority has a definite different ethos with different governing priorities, different public policy and sense of itself than it did in 1960. Different, different agenda, different players.

What is that difference?

Well the notion of re-envisioning and reengineering everywhere we can makes a lot of sense. Again, if you look at the place where we have had a sense of new governing coalitions, Los Angeles would be a good case study. You know L.A. is a place of dramatic reengineering and investment, public investment, and re-envisioning. What have we had in the last 10 years here? We have redone our charter, voted ourselves 12 billion dollars to build 150 public schools, redoing our port, trying to pass a sales tax to redo our rapid transit system. Everything that is supposed in postmodern America to be bad -- supposedly government is bad, right? "Big government is bad. Get government off your back." Well it's the opposite where an agenda is driven by people that come from a minority, working-class experience. It's the opposite. Government is not bad. Public investment is not bad. A helping hand from government is not bad.

Instead of looking at the world though the lens of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps individualism, I think there is a more community-based ethos endemic to Latino political power.

Tune in tomorrow for part two of our interview with Mr. Gonzalez, where he discusses the implications of Hispanic votership to the two-party system

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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