News Column

Election 2012: Prospect for More Hispanic Senators Rises

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There are good indications that more Hispanics will be elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Both Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, and Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, told HispanicBusiness magazine they believe Hispanics from Texas and New Mexico could be elected.

In both states, the incumbent U.S. senator -- Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas and Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman in New Mexico -- have announced their retirements. As always, when an open seat is up for grabs, a large number of candidates vie for their party's nomination. The filing deadline in Texas is December and the filing deadline in New Mexico is February. As such, the list of candidates in both states remains fluid and will remain in flux for months.

One thing does appear to be consistent for the moment -- the names of five Hispanics seeking the Senate nomination for their parties. Three of the potential Hispanic candidates are Republicans, two in Texas and one in New Mexico, and two are Democrats, one each in Texas and New Mexico. If all five file in their respective states, it will be some time before it's known whether any will survive after each state's primary election -- Texas' occurs on Super Tuesday, March 6, and New Mexico's happens June 5. As part of its 2012 election coverage, HispanicBusiness magazine offers brief profiles of these Hispanic hopefuls for a U.S. Senate seat.

Texas Republican Candidates
Andrew Castanuela, known as "Cas," calls himself a Reagan Republican. He was born in Brady, Texas, which his website calls the true heart of the Lone Star State, but lives in Early/Brownwood, according to his website profile.

Mr. Castanuela is retired from the Air Force and currently is the program director for the Central Texas MHMR (mental health and mental retardation) Substance Abuse Youth Services. He earned a bachelor's degree in social psychology from Park University, located in Parkville, Mo., but with campuses in Austin, Texas, and in El Paso, Texas, affiliated with the Fort Bliss military base.

He is affiliated with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, Texas Farm Bureau, National Rifle Association, Texas State Rifle Association, and the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce.

He also is a member of the National Association for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors.

According to his website, Mr. Castanuela "joined the race only because, like most of us, he is tired of too much government and no common sense in fiscal spending or the protection of American morals and character."

Ted Cruz serves as a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in Houston. From 2003-08, Mr. Cruz served as the solicitor general of Texas. His website said he was the youngest solicitor general in the nation, the longest-serving solicitor general in Texas and the first Hispanic solicitor general in the state. He was 33 when he was appointed to the solicitor general position in 2003.

In his current position, Mr. Cruz leads the firm's U.S. Supreme Court and national Appellate Litigation practice.

Mr. Cruz traces his resolve to his father and mother.

"When my Dad came to Austin in 1957, as a teenage immigrant from Cuba bound for the University of Texas, he spoke no English and had $100 sewn into his underwear," Mr. Cruz's website states. "He worked his way through school as a dishwasher making 50 cents an hour, just as my Mom -- the first person in her family ever to go to college -- earned her math degree at Rice in the 1950s, working summers at Foley's and Shell."

Prior to serving as solicitor general, Mr. Cruz was director of the Office of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, an associate deputy attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, and domestic policy adviser on the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.

"We need to rediscover the leadership embodied by President Reagan," Mr. Cruz states on his website, "and the values that have kept our nation strong, including faith, family, limited government, individual responsibility and expanding opportunity for every American."

Mr. Cruz and his wife, Heidi, live in Houston, where he grew up. They have two daughters.

Texas Democratic Candidate
Ricardo Sanchez grew up impoverished, a fourth-generation American born and raised in Rio Grande City, just north of the Mexico border and nearly at the southern tip of Texas. According to his website, he used the opportunity of education to propel him into college followed by a successful military career. He retired from the Army after 33 years of service that saw him rise to the rank of lieutenant general and became commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq during the war.

His website notes: "He ended his career after commanding hundreds of thousands of soldiers, facilitating the capture of Saddam Hussein, battling international terrorists, negotiating with diplomats and global leaders, and leading an international effort to rebuild a country."

It should be noted, as the Daily Grito mentioned, that although he was cleared of any wrongdoing, his name is tied to the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. Many news outlets -- including Fox News, the Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times and UPI -- all made reference to Abu Ghraib when reporting on Mr. Sanchez.

According to his website, "His belief is that, at the most fundamental level, the issues confronting Texas and the country boil down to three: Securing the future of Texas and America, protecting the rights and ensuring opportunity for all Americans, and recapturing the American dream."

New Mexico Republican Candidate
John Sanchez is New Mexico's current lieutenant governor. He had been a small-business owner for 30 years before entering politics by being elected to the Village of Los Ranchos, N.M., City Council in 1997. He served in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 2000-02. While in the legislature, Mr. Sanchez worked for limited government, supported pro-family legislation, worked to keep taxes low and helped lead the charge to ban the possession of child pornography, his website notes.

He ran for governor in 2002 but did not make it. He was elected the lieutenant governor in 2010.

He is a strong advocate for job creation, economic development, private-sector growth and fairness in the state regulatory process, according to his website.

Mr. Sanchez and his wife, Debra, live in Albuquerque, N.M. They have two grown daughters.

New Mexico Democratic Candidate
Hector Balderas comes from the small, New Mexico village of Wagon Mound, located at the juncture of Interstate 25 and Route 120, about halfway between Interstate 40 and the Colorado border. He did not let small-village life or being raised by a single mother in public housing deter him from creating opportunities for himself. He became the first Wagon Mound resident to graduate from law school and to become an attorney.

Mr. Balderas followed a passion for work in the public sector, which included time spent as an assistant district attorney, a term in the New Mexico House of Representatives and, since 2006, serving as New Mexico's auditor. According to his website, under his leadership his office, among other things, "put an end to double-billing for expenses by a Grant County commissioner; uncovered a $3.3 million embezzlement scheme at the Jemez Mountain Public School District, the largest such case in state history; and helped uncover the misuse of funds and corruption that led to the indictment of a former New Mexico secretary of state on embezzlement and money-laundering."

His website quotes him: "In this campaign, I won't have the most connections in Washington. I won't be the candidate of the lobbyists or the insiders. But I'm not running to be their senator. I'm running to be yours."

Everyone likes to get an idea of who is ahead in any given race during an election year. But in every given week, the frontrunners change with each opinion poll conducted, every campaign financing report fi led, and who says what in a newspaper Op-Ed piece. By the same token someone who seems a frontrunner today might not even get into the primary. Filing dates vary from state to state and in Texas and New Mexico, potential candidates must fi le by Dec. 12 in Texas and Feb. 14 in New Mexico.

The list of frontrunners will remain as fluid as the number of candidates for some time, but at the beginning of December, recent opinion polls indicated that in Texas, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst enjoys a commanding lead for the Republican nomination with Mr. Cruz coming in second. Democrat Rep. Chris Bell, who has not yet announced if he is running, is the favorite for the Democratic nomination. In a recent poll he got 16 percent of the responses, with Mr. Sanchez close behind at 11.

In New Mexico, where no polling has been done recently, Republican Rep. Heather Wilson is ahead of Lt. Gov. John Sanchez in terms of fundraising. She has $1 million on hand while Mr. Sanchez has only $250,000. On the Democratic side, Martin Heinrich has $1.1 million on hand while Mr. Balderas has $465,000 at his disposal. The figures come from campaign reports fi led for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

Another important factor in terms of candidate popularity remains the Hispanic vote. Nothing suggests that Hispanic voters merely vote for Hispanic candidates, but as in all elections, it becomes a factor to consider. In a report issued March 31, Matt A. Barreto, associate professor of political science at the University of Washington and co-founder of Latino Decisions, estimated that 42.5 percent of eligible voters in New Mexico are Hispanic, but that 202,650 are eligible but not registered. In Texas, Mr. Barreto estimated that 33.7 percent of eligible voters are Hispanic, but that 2.2 million are eligible but not registered. According to the 2010 census, Texas has a Hispanic population of 9.5 million, or 37.6 percent of the state's total population, and New Mexico has a Hispanic population of 943,403, or 46.3 percent of the state's total population.

But stay tuned. Popularity and the players won't be fully known until the day of the primary elections. Then all the speculation will begin again and run until the winner is announced in November 2012.

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