Anyone who doubts the flexing power of Connecticut's Hispanic vote — for that matter, the Hispanic vote throughout the United States — should spend five minutes with a young man in a hurry named Joseph Rodriguez.Here are more tidbits that people in Danbury who are not paying attention to the change in tone and the rise in outright anger towards the Republican Party and the Boughton administration within the city's immigrant community.
Last fall, Rodriguez, 22, whose parents moved here from Puerto Rico, didn't stop at getting himself elected as a Democratic member of the New Haven Board of Aldermen. Excited about the possibility of changing politics in Washington and transfixed by what promised to be an epic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Rodriguez threw himself at the job of organizing New Haven's Hispanic wards for Obama, an effort that eventually contributed to the Illinois senator's 4-percentage-point win over Clinton in Connecticut's Feb. 5 primary.
"There is no question that, by late last summer, Hillary Clinton was way ahead among the Hispanic community in New Haven," Rodriguez said last week. "The mainstream media kept saying that the Latino population would vote for Hillary because of favorable memories of the presidency of Bill Clinton."
"These so-called political commentators also said that Latinos were Democratic conservatives and would go for Hillary, or that Latinos wouldn't vote for an African American," Rodriguez said. "But I knew that the commentators really didn't understand Latinos."
While simultaneously running for alderman, Rodriguez set up a phone bank for Obama, dispatched teams of canvassers on door-to-door efforts in eight wards, and worked closely with a college group, Yale Students for Obama, educating New Haven residents about their candidate. Rodriguez and his Yalies even organized a "Faith Lit" effort every Sunday morning, canvassing Hispanics as they left church and placing Obama literature on the windshields of cars parked for services.
"On primary day, New Haven went 2-to-1 for Obama — 12,000 votes for Obama, 6,000 for Hillary — and we demonstrated what the Latino vote can do," Rodriguez said. "We've proven that all of these myths about our voting patterns [across the country] aren't true."
Before this extraordinary election year is out, Americans are going to hear a lot more about the Joseph Rodriguezes of the Hispanic community. And on Tuesday, the powerful Mexican-American vote in Texas will figure prominently in that state's Democratic primary. (Texas' 7 million Hispanics are now one-third of the state's population; they are projected to grow to 15 million, roughly half the state's population, by 2030.)
There's no doubt that the candidates know the importance of the Hispanic vote. Last week, as soon as Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., endorsed him, Obama dispatched Dodd, who is fluent in Spanish, to be his surrogate speaker in Hispanic districts in Texas.
Nationwide, there are 46 million Americans of Spanish-speaking descent, or 15 percent of the total U.S. population, and Hispanics are expected to grow to 102 million, or almost 25 percent of the population, by 2050. Hispanic population growth is dramatic in many critical swing states — Florida, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico — that figure prominently in Electoral College vote counts.
Andres Ramirez, vice president for Hispanic programs at the New Democrat Network, a Washington think tank, has analyzed the Hispanic vote in this year's presidential primaries. He calculated that Hispanic participation increased from 9 percent of the overall Democratic primary electorate in the 2004 primaries to 13 percent this year.
In Connecticut, Ramirez found that the number of Hispanic voters grew from 2,535 in the 2004 presidential primary to 20,236 this year. This swelled the Hispanic vote to 6 percent of the state's primary electorate. It might not sound like a lot, but many elections are decided by just a few percentage points, as occurred in the state primary this year.
This gives Hispanic voters a powerful ability to sway elections.
Ramirez also found that rising participation among Hispanics is good news for the Democrats — 75 percent of Hispanics who voted in the primaries this year voted Democratic. And in states such as Florida, where Cubans and other Hispanics historically have leaned toward Republicans, Ramirez has concluded that the large turnouts this year showed a substantial shift to the Democrats....and trust me, the anger towards Boughton within the Latino population has spread far beyond Danbury.
Connecticut's current Hispanic population of roughly 450,000, expected to grow to more than 750,000 by 2030, exhibits most of the dynamic factors found nationwide. The diversity of the Hispanic community is growing, as "new Latinos" from Central and South America augment the state's predominantly Puerto Rican base. Young, second- and third-generation Hispanics who have become more culturally assimilated often are willing to split ranks with their parents and vote independently. They are "breaking by age," or education levels, like any other ethnic group.
Although most Hispanic political activists and experts agree that the community does not vote as a bloc, one topic has clearly energized it this year. After three years of repeated efforts by the Bush administration and Senate Republicans to enact tougher immigration laws, a backlash favoring the Democrats has swept through.
Last November, the Pew Hispanic Center polled 2,000 Hispanics nationwide and found that 79 percent of Hispanic registered voters said that the immigration issue has become "extremely" or "very" important to them in the presidential race — up from 63 percent who said the same thing in June 2004. And 41 percent told Pew that the Democrats are doing a better job of dealing with illegal immigration, while 14 percent said that Republicans are doing better.
Yolanda Castillo is a vocational counselor with the state Department of Social Services who lives in Hartford's South End. She is a member of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus and, after carefully studying the websites of the Democratic candidates this year, decided to back Clinton.Food for thought as this country moves forward, comprehensive immigration reform will will eventually become a reality, and the old Danbury political machine that has been in power in one form or another for the last 40 years vanishes. I'll make it a point to republish this post on the 20th anniversary of this site in 2025 so we all can have a laugh.
Castillo says one of the mistakes that white voters make on the immigration issue is considering it a problem that happens somewhere else — along the borders of far-off Texas, say, or in southern California.
"Well, right now in Connecticut, in Danbury, we have a mayor who is really against illegal immigrants," Castillo said. "He has decided to turn municipal police officers into immigration police. Oh my God. We are in the United States, in 2008, where people are supposed to be free and pursuing opportunity, and this is happening right here in Danbury. And here's why that is significant now. Puerto Ricans like me, who are citizens, or Cubans, who were invited here, might not have cared about this issue before. But I can tell you that I am one totally faithful Democrat who will fight for all Latinos on this issue."
Ramirez said he believes that the immigration issue has galvanized Hispanics to register and vote — one reason that Hispanic turnout rates climbed this year.
"Many Latinos who have been reluctant to engage now have a cause to champion," Ramirez said. "The Republican party has gone to great lengths demonizing immigrants and making this a Latino issue while ignoring immigrants from other regions. Latinos know that there is no hope for them in the GOP."
...you can't stop the inevitable.