Latinos: A Republican’s New Best Friend

Mark Laluan

The Republican wave that washed over the nation in the last midterm elections never quite reached California’s shores.

Where Democrats were thrown out of office by the bushel in the rest of the nation, Californians rejected Republican candidates in droves.

Demographic shifts have given the Latino voter a disproportionate amount of influence in California politics. By voting as a de facto bloc, Latinos have constantly voted for Democratic candidates that support their views on immigration.

Focusing on the Latino voter at the cost of not weighing in the interests of other minorities seems at first glance myopic. Yet, Latinos have been the one force in California’s politics which have consistently thrown their weight behind Democrats.

Whereas Republican and Democrats have been able to competitively campaign for support from other demographic groups, Latino voters have been the one political resource Democrats can safely bank on.

The results of this allegiance are quite striking: not a single Republican currently holds an executive position in state government and lopsided Democratic majorities dominate both assembly and senate.

All is not lost for California’s embattled Republicans. Republicans have continued to gain ground in voter registration and their former bastion of Southern California has begun to shift towards the red in recent years.

Latinos can, and must be, a part of any revival of Republican fortunes. Their numbers are too great in California to be ignored by any political movement.

The core of Republican policy, fiscal responsibility and limited government, can benefit the Latino voter as it can benefit the bottom line of any American voter. However, a rift between Republicans and Latinos can be caused when Republican lawmakers begin to preach a message that amounts to one part nativism, one part overt nationalism.

Republicans ought to bear in mind this example—that of the immigration station at Ellis Island where naturalization officials of the 19th century merely asked for the immigrant’s name and afterwards shoved some citizenship papers in their hands. For the descendants of those immigrants to raise their voices against economic refugees who have journeyed to America for the same smattering of reasons their ancestors journeyed here is overt hypocrisy.

Democrats have used the Republican preoccupation with combating immigration, both legal and illegal, to galvanize public support against Republican policies. The GOP’s planks of tax reform and small business stimulation have been drowned out by Democratic voices harping on immigration policy.

In the past two decades, Democrats have failed to produce any major pieces of substantive legislation to address California’s fundamental structural problems.

K-12 and public higher education remain underfunded, public infrastructure is decaying and businesses have left California in droves for better economic climes in the Southern United States and overseas due to an antiquated corporate taxation system.

Unfortunately for the GOP, lack of Latino support has led to limited Republican presence in public offices at the state and local level. To make up for this lack of numbers, Republicans reverted to being the “Party of No” and were portrayed in media as being the main roadblock to political progress.

Now with the state teetering on the brink of insolvency and with Democratic infighting at an all-time high, Republicans have an opportunity to detach themselves from the immigration question and regain the trust of the California electorate.

If Republicans wish to remain true to a “state’s rights” position of doing whatever is best for each individual state, Republicans need to realize that Latinos are part of the political and economic fabric of California, and, as such, they must have their needs and aspirations represented.

To begin this process, Republicans must advocate for the free flow of labor to and from the United States. Creating guest worker programs should not be treated as tantamount to throwing America’s borders wide open to threats.

To make these individuals feel unwelcome and to try to restrict their ability to climb the social ladder is a self-defeating proposition. As the party that advocates the benefits of the free market, Republicans must be in support of any individual that desires to apply his or herself to honest work.

These individuals should not be harassed and belittled, but be registered with the government so that they can be given the opportunity to pay their fair share of taxes for the benefits, such as welfare, that they are liable to receive during their stay in America.

Republicans must also squarely support education as a path to citizenship. Far too long have figures in academia and public education been given carte blanche to preach a message to the Latino student that the American government is their enemy, and it is working to deny them their birthright as Americans of Latin heritage.

Republicans must not fuel any of this divisive and arguably racist dogma. Instead, Republicans must draw inspiration from their immigrant forbearers who came to America to settle the West to make the connection between the trials endured by their fore-bearers and the Latino immigrant experience.

For these immigrants arriving from Europe, ownership of land was the key to upward mobility. For our generation, education is the key to upward mobility.

The Republican Party should not concern itself so much with trying to verify the “loyalty” of these individuals. The same rhetoric was used by nativists of old to deny their ancestors from Eastern Europe, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia and Southern Europe a fair share in the American Dream.

In addition, California Republicans need not worry about the possibility of losing influence on a national level by adopting a pro-immigration stance. California maintains one of the larger GOP congressional delegations and the party as a whole can hardly afford to lose the seats and influence given to it by the Golden State.

However, if Republicans insist on sticking to the same old anti-immigration rhetoric, Republicans will have abdicated the ability to represent the goals and aspirations of nearly a third of California’s population.

If Republicans wish to take up the mantle of leadership and return to the halls of power, the price of admission must be the adoption of a welcoming stance on immigration—a stance that will allow it to compete for the Latino vote on equal terms with other forces working in the state.