African American and Latino voters played a pivotal role in statewide and national elections on Nov. 3. Both groups arrived at the polls in huge numbers, providing a major boost to Democratic candidates in House, Senate and gubernatorial races.
African American voters apparently heeded the call of black leaders to protect President Clinton from impeachment and the possibility of further cutbacks in affirmative action, welfare and financial aid for education. They were joined at the polls by Latino voters angered by recent ballot initiatives targeting immigration, bilingual education and health care.
KARIMA A. HAYNES asked a church leader and a history professor what factors prompted high voter turnout in a mid-term election year when participation is generally low.
Youth group leader, Christ Memorial Church, Pacoima
The African American community came out because of what is happening in Congress. African Americans are tired of impeachment hearings and they forwarded a sharp message: The country is ready to get back to business. We have seen the effect of [this message] with the resignation of Newt Gingrich. The African American and Latino communities are realizing that they do have a voice. We are not the minority, we are the majority, and we are finally recognizing that socially and politically we are a strong force that has to be reckoned with.
African Americans and Latinos are seeing the value of their vote not only on a national front, but on a local front. We see how in California the Democrats basically control the state senate, because both Latinos and African Americans went to the polls. We are starting to see that we can get a return on our vote. We never saw an immediate return before. Now we are able to see that if we come together, this political power base can be turned around. Our vote actually counts.
We turned out in record numbers because African Americans and Latinos are not only concerned about voting for a president, but local initiatives. Everything directly affected us as a people. We voted for gaming on Indian reservations because we recognized our own plight in that initiative. When you think about the Indians and the powers that be in white America, we see that we are still living in a time in which people are robbed through the vehicle of politics of what is rightfully theirs.
History professor, Cal State Northridge
A general political maturation of the population and an anger over [past] ballot initiatives on health, bilingual education, affirmative action and immigration is what prompted Latinos to vote.
Among Hispanics, there is something that we call “personalism.” It works on the negative and the positive side. Latinos, even more so than other people, look at things personally--they place more emphasis on a person than on a principle. Once they like someone like Robert Kennedy or Cesar Chavez, they are loyal, right or wrong. Gov. Pete Wilson, over a number of years, has chosen to allow himself to be indentified as anti-Latino. He is the best thing that ever happened to help Latinos because he, almost alone, has awakened the community to the importance of voting. [Atty. General Dan] Lungren, although he is Roman Catholic and likeable, did not reach out to the Hispanic community because he felt that he had to cater to his voter base. [Gov.-elect Gray] Davis didn’t reach out very well either, but he didn’t have a negative personality.
Another major factor in high voter turnout was that [Lt. Gov.-elect] Cruz Bustamante was on the statewide ticket. He is a likeable fellow, he smiles, he’s self-effacing, he’s chubby and he doesn’t act as though he is so caught up in his own self-importance.
There were other candidacies that awakened Hispanic voters. The most prominent was Loretta Sanchez. She is charming, a woman and her name is very prominently Latino. Also, Latinos don’t like anyone [former U.S. Rep. Robert Dornan] who would [verbally] beat up on a woman.
In Los Angeles, [state Sen.-elect] Richard Alarcon won. In spite of the negatives of Richard Alatorre and Mike Hernandez on the City Council, the strength of the desire to vote overcame the embarrassment of those two guys. Many Latinos have told me, “I wish those guys would ride off into the horizon.”