The coming of age of the Latino vote, and the group's increasing political sophistication, is a significant and positive development on California's political landscape this election year. In just four years, Latinos doubled their share of the vote, from 6% in 1994 to 12% in last week's primary--one-eighth of the electorate. Their voting numbers still fall short of the total Latino population percentage in California, but no one can deny the steady electoral progress of Latinos, and the story is far from finished.
Four Latino politicians won their parties' nominations for statewide office. Former Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat from Fresno, has a good chance of being elected lieutenant governor. The other three, whose odds for victory are considerably longer, are Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park) for insurance commissioner, Ruben Barrales for controller and Gloria Matta Tuchman for the nonpartisan office of state superintendent of public instruction. Bustamante and Martinez are Democrats with legislative experience, and Barrales and Matta Tuchman are Republicans.
As a result of Tuesday's election, both the state Assembly and the Senate could see a surge in Latino representation after the November general election. And although the Democratic Party is still the choice of most Latinos, Barrales and Matta Tuchman are among the signs of a healthy bipartisanship. Three other Latino Republicans--Robert Pacheco, Abel Maldonado and Charlene Zettel--ran for Assembly seats in Walnut, Santa Maria and Poway and are all but assured of victory in November.
The bipartisanship should be no surprise to those who understand the dynamics of the Latino community. It is a reflection of the conservative values of the vast majority of Latinos on the one hand and their natural political alliance with the labor movement on the other.
The overwhelming vote of Latinos against Proposition 226, the initiative to restrict the use of union dues for political purposes--75% of Latinos voted against it--suggests that labor's message resonates strongly with this group.
Meanwhile, Proposition 227, the initiative that largely puts an end to bilingual education, won handily statewide, although most Latino voters rejected it. But it's not correct to interpret the statewide result as a vote against the Latino community. The differences between this election and the divisive 1994 general election should be clearly stated. Whereas the message of Proposition 187 in 1994 pitted Latinos against the other ethnic groups in the state, this time both those in favor and those opposed to bilingual education pitched a positive message for the children of immigrants, pointing out the values of learning English as promptly as possible. Proposition 187 was designed to force the children of illegal immigrants out of school. The intent of Proposition 227 is to improve education and assimilation, although its sponsors and opponents clearly differed on the best way of doing that.
Certainly this primary has left us with a better feel for the state's diversity. Little by little, each ethnic group, especially those with a historical presence in the state, is participating more in the political process. There are many obvious benefits to that. It's important that California not remain a state where one group does the governing and other groups are governed. This election's results can, over time, build bridges where once there were walls.