Commentary Politics

Latinos Demand Real Action, Not ‘Hispandering,’ in Exchange for Votes

Juliana Britto Schwartz

With would-be politicians concentrating their efforts on expensive Spanish-language advertising, lukewarm get-out-the-vote efforts, or voter suppression laws, neither party actually did any impactful outreach to overcome the very deep disillusionment Latinos feel.

In the lead-up to Tuesday’s elections, candidates on both sides of the aisle deployed a variety of tactics to manipulate the Latino vote, which pundits predicted would play a pivotal role in the final results. But when one evaluates the winners and losers of Tuesday’s races, it seems that all the pandering to Hispanics—“Hispandering,” if you will—was ultimately unnecessary. In fact, a bigger factor at play was Democrats’ refusal to stand up on behalf of Latinos and Latinas.

This summer, President Obama announced that he would delay executive action on immigration reform until after November, which proved to be the last straw for Latinos waiting for a move on the issue. In fact, immigration reform was the most important issue for Latinos at the ballot this year, as confirmed in an election eve poll from political opinion firm Latino Decisions.

Aware that this was a topic of contention, but unwilling to promise any real policy changes concerning it, many candidates dug deep into expensive ad campaigns to bring out the Latino vote through shallow maneuvers. In Texas, the winner of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election, Republican Greg Abbott, faced an uphill climb to convince the ten million Latinos who live in his state that he was the right candidate for them. Running against reproductive rights champion Wendy Davis, he understood the importance of speaking to voters of color, ultimately spending $1.1 million on Spanish-language ads. The first of these included his Latina mother-in-law and was aired during the Mexico versus Brazil World Cup Game. On the campaign trail, Abbott frequently reminded voters that if elected, his wife would be the first Latina First Lady of Texas.

Abbott’s “Hispandering” was not nearly as effective as he might have hoped, however, as Davis ultimately brought in 55 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls. This is unsurprising upon examining Abbott’s policies, which make it clear that his relationship with his Latina wife does not translate to a friendly relationship with all Latinos or Latinas. Once he comes into office, Abbott has promised to work to repeal Obamacare, which would reinstate enormous barriers to health care for thousands of newly insured Latinos. He also supports the further militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, which already funnels tax dollars toward private prison corporations and weapons manufacturers. And although Abbott remained relatively quiet on immigration during his campaign, he has not distanced himself from the Texas GOP and its hardline stance calling for an end to in-state tuition for undocumented students and a ban on “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce immigration laws.

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On the other hand, Abbott’s opponent Wendy Davis was relatively effective at speaking to communities of color, particularly women of color, promising that if elected, she would fight to increase the Texas minimum wage and sign the Texas Equal Pay Act into law. However, even Davis was unable to overcome Latino dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party’s immigration reform failures on a national level, which may have contributed to a low Latino turnout during midterm elections. Texas also has one of the most restrictive voter ID rules in the country, making it even harder for people of color to cast their vote.

Neither did Latino voters make the needed difference for Democrats in Florida’s gubernatorial elections. Faced with Tea Party gubernatorial incumbent Rick Scott or former Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, there was no great choice for communities of color. In spite of this, both candidates recognized the need to court Latino voters, who make up a relatively small but key percentage of the electorate in their state: Both chose Latino running mates and participated in a debate on the popular Latino news network Telemundo. Gov. Rick Scott, in particular, launched what Reuters’ David Adams called “the biggest and earliest Spanish-language TV ad campaign in Florida history.” Scott even took Spanish classes, running ads that featured former Gov. Jeb Bush encouraging voters in fluent Spanish to support his campaign.

However, like Abbott in Texas, Scott’s track record on Latino issues is abysmal. Polling shows that Latinos rated access to health care as a relatively significant priority this election. Yet as Florida governor, Scott did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even with the available federal funding for startup costs. He has actively opposed Obamacare and promised to continue to do so, and his stance on raising the minimum wage—also of concern to Latino and Latina voters—is unclear at best. (In the past, he has opposed an increase, but in a recent debate with Charlie Christ, he awkwardly came out as supporting one, so long as the private sector sets them.) Scott’s record on immigration is equally poor, considering that he once supported an Arizona-style immigration bill.

Most likely because of Scott’s stance on these issues, his opponent Charlie Crist did better with Latinos and voters of color in general. But even with his fair share of “Hispandering”—check out this Spanish ad narrated by his Latina running mate, Annette Taddeo—the former Republican was unable to clearly communicate to Latinos how his policies would be different from the many other Democrats who have been talking the talk, but not walking the walk, when it comes to immigration. Crist did not win over enough Latinos to seize the Florida governor’s seat on Tuesday.

Like in Florida and Texas, Latinos were poised to make a big difference in Georgia’s elections. They represent the fastest-growing voter bloc: In 2003, 10,000 were registered to vote, and 220,000 are registered now. In Georgia, however, rather than trying to engage those voters through shallow maneuvers—or, as unlikely as it may seem, legitimate action—politicians poured their resources into disenfranchising them. Republicans like Secretary of State Brian Kemp required that every ballot go through a complex screening process that ultimately resulted in the reported loss of at least 40,000 votes, mostly from voters of color. Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter targeted almost all of his campaigning at, as the American Prospect put it, “white dudes in suburbia,” altogether ignoring communities of color.

This kind of suppression and apathy, combined with overall disappointment with both parties, means that David Perdue—who supports repealing Obamacare—now holds Georgia’s Senate seat, and Nathan Deal—who once assumed a young woman was undocumented because she was Latina—will remain governor of the state.

The GOP enjoyed a sweeping victory Tuesday, with Republicans gaining control of the Senate, maintaining control of the House, and winning many key gubernatorial races. However, this should not be taken as a sign that conservatives are suddenly learning to speak to Latinos, people of color, or women in a way they can hear. On the contrary, exit polls show that white men won the GOP victory Tuesday. No amount of money can repackage political platforms that do not represent Latinos’ and Latinas’ concerns about immigration, poverty, education, and reproductive rights into robotic Spanish. English may not be the first language of many Latinos, but that does not mean that we can’t understand “Hispandering” when we see it.

So what’s the takeaway? It’s time Democrats start listening. In this election, Latinos showed that they would not show up for politicians who do not take effective and meaningful action on issues they care about. With would-be legislators and governors concentrating their efforts on expensive Spanish-language advertising, lukewarm get-out-the-vote efforts, or voter suppression laws, neither party actually did any impactful outreach to overcome the very deep disillusionment Latinos feel for politics. So although the Republicans’ paltry attempts at “Hispandering” may not have done them any particular good, Democrats’ refusal to commit to real change harmed them even more.

After deciding to delay any executive action on immigration reform, Obama has faced multiple hecklers at different speaking events who publicly hold him accountable for his inaction. At the most recent one, he told the protester to “go protest the Republicans.” Hopefully, he and other Democrats understood loud and clear from these elections: Latinos are holding you accountable. Do something.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”