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Latinos Are Election 'Game Changers,' Says Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa

First Posted: Aug 25, 2015 05:00 AM EDT

Latin Post presents "Turnout," a series that features leading politicians, government leaders and advocacy groups discussing and debating the most important issues facing the Latino voting bloc.


The Latino electorate will once again be the key in the 2016 presidential election, according to Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who has long observed and understood the hurdles of the voting bloc.

Hinojosa, born and raised in the Lone Star State, has been the Texas Democratic Party chairman since June 2012, responsible to coordinate efforts with local county parties to ensure citizens are engaged to vote for Democratic candidates and recruit candidates on local, state and regional levels.

Despite the state's majority comprising of minority populations, the low political engagement, according to Hinojosa, is the real reason why Texas is not a "blue" state such as California. With more than 38 percent of Texas comprising of Latinos, Hinojosa told Latin Post there is low voter turnout from the Latino community. He recognized the Texan Latino electorate as young and low-incomers, which does factor in encouraging the voting block to go out and vote.

As most should be aware, the Latino electorate is a diverse bloc. Hinojosa identified working class and low-income Latino populations are more likely to vote Democratic, but higher educated and affluent Latinos will tend to lean Republican. He mentioned social issues, such as religion, abortion and same-sex marriage, are among the top concerns among Latino Republicans, stating some predominant-Latino clergy and churches have said voting Democratic is voting against God.

But overall, Hinojosa recognizes the Latino vote is an influential electorate.

"It's the game changer. It's the game changer obviously in Texas and the Republicans are very much aware of this, and it's the game changer nationally," said Hinojosa.

The chairman said the Lone Star State is home to five million Latinos who are eligible to vote, but yet they have not turned out on Election Day. If 20 percent of those non-voting Latinos voted in 2008, Hinojosa said then-presidential candidate Barack Obama would have won Texas.

"If you take a million Hispanic voters at the rates they are voting, we could easily win every single election in Texas, given the tendency they vote for Democratic candidates," Hinojosa added.

Hinojosa said the Texas Democratic Party's Latino engagement efforts have been improving, especially through education and connecting with counties that have not received as much Democratic outreach, after encountering turnout rate setbacks. With the 2014 election, Hinojosa stated the Republican Party's voter identification law made it difficult to register people and discouraged voters.

"All that is designed to intimidate and place fear in the mind of Latinos that if they participate in the electoral process, it may have bad consequences for them and their family, and they (Republicans) have been successful at that," said the Texas Democratic Party chairman.

Nationally, Hinojosa acknowledged the Latino electorate is the key for victory for Democrats in swing states, including Colorado, Florida and Virginia, which have seen an increasing Latino population. Demographic changes have also paved way for Democrats wins. In the case of Florida, Hinojosa said the majority of Latinos are not Cubans but Central Americans, South Americans and Mexicans. But within Florida's Cuban community, the younger population have voted Democratic.

"We're critical, but we're not instantly marching in the steps Democrats want us to march. I think what our presidential candidates do is going to be important to them," Hinojosa said, noting Latino elected officials can play a major role for the country if selected on the Democratic Party presidential ticket.

One name Hinojosa recommended is U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, who was the youngest city councilman in San Antonio's history, later served three terms as the city's mayor and the first Latino to deliver the Democratic National Committee's keynote address in 2012.

"There's no person that we've had in the last 30 to 40 years more qualified than Julián Castro to be a vice presidential candidate," Hinojosa said. "That's an example of where Latinos are expecting the Democratic Party to remember how Latinos vote and reach out to them by placing someone on the ticket that they can relate to."

Hinojosa also commended U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, the twin brother of the HUD secretary. The chairman recalled that both Castro brothers worked their way through life's struggles, completed their education and have been effective public officials.

"It's not about whether or not you can speak Spanish, like people like Jeb Bush who like to brag about it, its about whether or not you can relate to what's important to these families that are struggling everyday," said Hinojosa, who noted Latinos' top issues are jobs with decent wages and benefits, healthcare and affordable higher education.

Hinojosa said the addition of a name such as Julián Castro on the Democratic presidential ticket will increase voter turnout significantly, especially among the swing states.

"If you put Julián Castro, or someone like him, on the ballot as a vice presidential candidate in 2016, it increases the chances of Democrats winning the presidential election by a lot, and I think our candidates for president recognize that," Hinojosa said, and questioned who else would be more qualified than the HUD secretary. "We have great Democratic senators and congressmen in the United States that would do a good job, but someone better than Julián? I doubt it."

Hinojosa reiterated that Latinos are the game changers in the presidential elections, and many pundits have acknowledged the impact of the electorate during the 2008 and 2012 elections. Despite the impact, Hinojosa said it is difficult to understand why people -- such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who Hinojosa questioned whether or not the senator deserves to be called Latino -- espouse a stance that includes denying birthright citizenship to U.S.-born children just because the parents are undocumented immigrants.

"For the longest period of time, we have all concluded that it is highly inappropriate and very, very harmful to use the words 'illegal alien.' There is no human being that is 'illegal.' God didn't make 'illegal' people," said Hinojosa, adding that the latest insult is the term "anchor babies."

"Jeb Bush is married to a Mexicana, who's born in Mexico, his kids are half Mexicano. You would think that he would understand how insulting this is to our community," Hinojosa continued, also criticizing Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates for considering adjustments to the 14th Amendment.

Hinojosa said it is "bizarre" for him to see these candidates' rhetoric that works against families.

Within the Democratic presidential field, Hinojosa said the candidates are speaking about the issues affecting Latinos. Highlighting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Hinojosa said any of their speeches have direct influences to Latino families. He acknowledged the Democratic candidates have spoken about increasing the minimum wage, an important issues to families, including Texans as the majority of minimum wage earners are Latinos. Another important topic is making it easier for students to seek higher education, which Hinojosa said the Democratic presidential field addressed.

"One additional factor would be when they put a Hispanic on the vice presidential ticket, whoever is the nominee, and I think that's just going to be enormously great," Hinojosa added.

Hinojosa's advise for voters: vote for the candidate that will fight for them and their families.


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