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

The midterm and general elections have seen notable disparities with the Latino voter turnout rate. While efforts were made to engage the Latino electorate for the last midterm election, especially during the immigration reform debate, the numbers are reportedly lower than the 2010 midterms. Voto Latino President and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar spoke with Latin Post about comparing the midterm and presidential election cycles and on mobilizing the Latino voter bloc.

Understanding the Midterms and Role of Immigration:

"When it comes to midterm elections, turnout is generally low for every population. I always encourage people to basically compare midterms to midterms and presidential to presidential [elections]," Kumar said.

Kumar referenced a survey by Latino Decisions -- not affiliated with Voto Latino -- for conducting a poll that asked Latinos their No. 1 reason to vote for the midterm election. Latinos stated they went to vote for themselves and were not committed a political party. Kumar said the polling results showed the Latino community has started to realize they are in control of their future, but an increase in the electorate's participation would occur if politicians and organizations were to focus and talk about how Latinos take control of their future.

Kumar acknowledged one of the biggest reasons Latinos are turned off by the political process is due to the manner in which people use to talk about the issues. She said the manner used by politicians to talk about Latinos on immigration is a turn-off unless lawmakers start providing resources and action on the issue.

"We need to get to the hard work. A lot of Latinos are turned off by politics because they're like, '[Politicians] keep treating us badly. They talk to us like we're not American ... and until you fix immigration -- everytime I walk down the street, someone is going to think I'm undocumented," Kumar said.

"I say that because there was a study done where they found that 1 in 3 Americans think that every Latino in the U.S. is undocumented. Until we fix the immigration issue, then every single other citizen can see us that we are equal and then you can tackle the issues we care about, which is education. It is about having you actually create small business and create wealth. It is about equal pay for equal work."

On immigration, Kumar identified the pinnacle in mass mobilization occurred since 2006 when marches were organized.

"In less than 10 years, we have people talking about the civil rights issue of our time; contrast that to the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s, when it took 150 years as a country to get to that place; contrast that to the women suffrage where it took us another hundred years; contrast that to even the gay rights movement where it's taken us 75 years to get to this place. We've been able to, because we have been participating at the polls, put this front and center in a relatively short time," Kumar said, adding that the issue can be addressed faster by participating in midterm elections.

Kumar compared the Latino electorate to sitting in a vehicle's passenger seat, but the bloc has to be in the driver's seat in order to help decide laws. She added, "Unless we participate, then we're only going to be in shotgun and not behind the wheel."

Asked if it is harder to engage Latinos than other ethnicities, Kumar said there is a difference. While African-Americans and whites have a history of voting, participation and exclusion, Latinos also have their own issues to overcome as a community. Kumar recognized that most of the country's Latinos are first-generation American, with an median age of 27, and may have been the first in the family to participate at the polls. For a first-generation U.S. Latino in a house or school where no one talks about politics, Kumar said that individual has to work twice as hard to be politically engaged.

"You get a lot of young people saying, 'Well, politics just isn't for me.' One thing I always say is, yes, there's a lot of money in politics but at the end of the day, rich people vote too, and they vote because you can have as much money but if you don't participate at the polls, it doesn't matter what you are in the government. That's the beauty of our democracy," said Kumar.

The 2016 Presidential Election:

For the 2016 presidential election season, Kumar acknowledged the size of the Latino electorate will have increased compared to the 2012 presidential election cycle. Kumar said by 2016 there will be 2.4 million new Latino voters that have turned 18-years old. She said the election will not only be important for Latino millennials in regards to the White House but also Congress.

"We're frustrated, and we've demonstrated that we are not going to let the issue of immigration go because we have bigger issues to fry. ... And that is to make sure we are leading productive lives and that we are included in the democratic fabric of this country. Because of the impasse right now that we see on immigration, it's going to fire us even more and it's going to be a litmus test of candidates seeking the White House through congressional members."

According to Kumar, the 2016 election season will be different as engagement efforts will also occur in states with a smaller Latino population. She added, "We're everywhere. Even in Virginia where we're less than four percent of the vote, if you can't swing the Latino community the right way, you're basically not going to get into Congress and you're definitely not going to get into the Senate and definitely not going to get into the White House."

In regards to potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Kumar said the former secretary of state has demonstrated the strength and name recognition to run for the White House. Kumar said Latinas have shown favorability toward Clinton as she's seen as a fighter and mother, which may be a voting factor as more Latinas turnout to vote than Latino males.

On the other end of the spectrum, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has confirmed that he will run for president in the upcoming election. While Kumar sees him as a smart individual, she still has some reservations.

"My hope is that he uses his language and rhetoric for good so that he can heal the country and show real leadership in finding the next wave of Latino participation. My concern with him is his past hasn't really demonstrated what he could do in the future, and that is, he has stoked fear in the changing demographics of this country among the population that feels very vulnerable."

Kumar said she hopes Cruz replaces the fear rhetoric with showcasing people that the U.S. has incredible opportunities by engaging and embracing Americans, "that happens to be Latino," and by addressing the need to fundamentally fix immigration. Kumar said Cruz cannot solely run on an "enforcer-only policy," because the policy will break up American families

When asked about potential Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, senator for Florida, the Voto Latino CEO said the Cuban-American politician has to be innovative and brings both political parties to "force forward" immigration reform in the Senate.

"[Cruz and Rubio] are at the vulnerability of being held to the most extreme parts of their party, and my hope is that Rubio can rise about that like he has in the past and really provide an opportunity for Latinos to have a choice in this election, and the way you have a choice in this election is by being authentic and by demonstrating that we are going to pour the ills of our country on the backs of people who are just trying to work really hard and who serve the country everyday."

For the Millennial Electorate:

Kumar reiterated the need for millennials to be mobilized in politics, stating, "Because if you're not, someone else is going to make the decisions for you. ... The moment that we start paying attention to our surroundings and to where our money goes and to who's representing you, that's the moment when we control our destiny and our future."


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