An insider riffs on rivalries that haywire Latino influence.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
We’ll call her Señorita X, or X for short. She’s an up-and-coming power player in Monterey County politics – educated, professional and forthright. You may have seen her at public meetings; if you have, you know she’s not afraid to speak her mind on issues that impact the local workforce, education, employment and crime.
But despite the seeming fearlessness, she’s asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of this discussion: She wants to speak very, very frankly about the concept of Latino political power – who has it, who wants it and why the idea that Latinos can band together behind a single issue, much less decide to support a single party, is never going to happen.
It’s a quick bit of insight into the research behind this week’s scholarly cover by Norman Nie. Nie is a software entrepreneur and Stanford University professor who founded the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (now defunct, according to the outgoing voicemail message, due to budget cuts). He and a group of Stanford Ph.D. candidates pored through endless numbers and analyzed national voting patterns to figure out why Latinos vote the way they do.
If Latinos wanted to, they could swing almost any issue their way, definitely locally and almost certainly nationally. As the research essay Nie originally wrote for Miller-McCune put it, his look at voter behavior reveals a “momentous prospect” – a Latino electorate that votes together and allies itself with one political party. (Nie, however, uses “Hispanic,” and that’s a word X says should be avoided: “That’s a term the federal government made to lump us into one group for their own purposes,” she says.)
Regardless of the word, voting en masse is something that’s flat out not going to happen, X says. Nie’s data show neither party has won the hearts and minds of Latino voters, but maybe the fact that scholars even suggest it could shows, quantitative data aside, they just don’t understand the subtleties of Latino culture.
“You know how if you put a bunch of live crabs in a bucket and one gets to the top, the others will grab at it and pull it back down?” X asks. “That’s what happens when a Latino gets high up. I don’t have to worry about Republicans. It’s my own people. It’s arrogance. It’s ‘You have something, and I desire it and should have it and I should get in front of you.’”
In short, X says: “We need to get our shit together. We need to leave our grudges at the door and remember we’re here for the people, and if we fail to do that, we need to be held accountable for it. Some people haven’t been held accountable for a long time.”
There are examples of X’s thesis all over this week’s cover. Sergio Sanchez, Salinas City Councilman and union organizer, mulled a run for the state Assembly seat being vacated by Anna Caballero, who was looking to win in the state Senate. Instead, Sanchez backed Luis Alejo; his support of Alejo helped propel the Watsonville mayor into state office. Caballero, meanwhile, lost the Senate seat to Anthony Cannella, mayor of Ceres, but still finds herself in Sacramento – Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her as Secretary of State and Consumer Services. Had the district lines been drawn differently (see story, p. 18), Caballero likely would have won in the Senate.
In Monterey County, a lot of attention is being paid to a possible recall effort against Supervisor Fernando Armenta, another of the faces on our cover this week. The recall right now is just a possibility, because two individuals pushing for it – Jose Ibarra and Jose Castañeda – thus far haven’t successfully had a petition certified by the Elections Department to force the recall vote. Armenta, though, also faces an opponent in Salinas City Councilman Tony Barrera, who on June 7 declared his candidacy for next year’s official election.
“I bet some of the people who are now against Fernando walked hard for him,” X says. “But I think he’s the only county supe who fights for his people. He’s effectively served his people and it’s time for those people to stand up and say enough. He doesn’t deserve to be burned at the stake.”
If Latinos can’t come together on candidates, can they come together on issues? Possibly, X says, when the focus is on education, health care and crime prevention. “We can come together and be stronger, in pushing for education funding, to oppose cuts in health care to vulnerable populations and to prison reform.
“Latinos need to remember there’s strength in our numbers,” she says. “People have gotten away from their values, but there’s an empowerment message to be heard here.”
MARY DUAN is the editor of the Weekly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.