This Time Magazine cover story focuses on the most inane political event I`ve ever seen as a cover story in a national magazine: a city council election in Phoenix!
Back in 2005, Newsweek put Antonio Villaraigosa on the cover when he was elected mayor of Los Angeles as representative of the Hispanic Electoral Tidal Wave, and, indeed, mayor of Los Angeles is a fairly big deal. Then a couple of years ago the NYT Magazine put the Hispanic mayor of San Antonio on the cover as the Latino Obama, but they were mostly having their leg pulled by Zev Chafets, who is a cynical, funny Israeli. It turned out that San Antonio has a city manager form of government and the mayor`s job pays $3,000 per year.
But to devote this much space to a city council election …
Monday, Mar. 05, 2012
By Michael Scherer / Phoenix
Arizona has a history of offering up extravagant political characters who sweep into the national conversation and proceed to upend it–from “Mr. Conservative” Barry Goldwater to Joe Arpaio, the sheriff who reinstituted chain gangs, to Jan Brewer, the sitting governor, who championed the most incendiary immigration law in the country. But when it comes to understanding what is about to happen in Arizona and a host of other crucial states in the coming campaign, you have to meet a barrel-chested Phoenix firefighter named Daniel Valenzuela and hear how he won a seat on the city council representing this city`s mostly Latino west side.
This is a remarkably inane single election to hang a cover story on.
In a season when Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have courted a Latino backlash with nativist appeals, the source and shape of Valenzuela`s victory explain why Latino voters may choose the next President.
His story is a cautionary tale for a party that claimed 44% of Latino votes as recently as 2004, when George W. Bush led the ticket.
C’mon, the exit poll company apologized for that initial 44% figure and said the real number was more like 40%. If you are going to write a cover story on the subject, you are just embarrassing yourself by using 44%.
Unless Republicans quickly change their tone and direction, they will be lucky to approach the percentage Bush won, much less match it. In the balance hangs the White House.
Valenzuela, 36, began his campaign last spring with a pitch to five Latino students at a local college. “It`s not just to win a city-council seat,” he told them. “The idea is to get people registered to vote.” The students needed no encouragement. They had already seen their friends and families detained by Arpaio`s deputies in routine roundups. They had faced state-college tuition hikes for not having proper immigration papers. Within weeks, the five students recruited nearly 100 others, almost all under the age of 30. They called themselves Team Awesome, and they walked the streets of west Phoenix five or six days a week last summer, when temperatures topped 118F. By Election Day in 2011, the group had made about 72,000 visits door to door, returning four or five times to many homes. Even so, the results stunned the experts:
I can’t find anything online suggesting that experts were stunned or even surprised or even paying attention to this city council race. In fact, I can’t find much online discussion of this race at all. One comment I found asserted the Democrats enjoyed a 3 to 1 advantage in registration in Phoenix’s city council District 5.
What little mention of this election I find online comes from Tea Party-leaning commentators frustrated that a moderate Republican had made it to the runoff. Their concern about Valenzuela was not that he was Hispanic but his strong union ties would make him a pushover in negotiating with public employees unions. (He’s a public information officer [i.e., PR guy] for the suburban Glendale fire department.)
If this election was really being fought out as a race war, it appears to have escaped the attention of just about everybody on the Internet discussing in English. For example, in the lead up to the runoff election, the Arizona Republic headlined “Sperduti, Valenzuela Share Philosophies.”
I don`t see anything in the English language press before the election to suggest this was seen as an epic ethnic struggle. For example, Valenzuela`s website emphasized that he was a 4th generation Phoenician.
Valenzuela beat his Republican opponent by a ratio of nearly 3 to 2, with nearly 14,000 votes cast.
Nearly 14,000 votes cast!!!
Here are the official results: there were only 13,888 votes cast across both candidates, and the Hispanic fireman beat the Italian lobbyist lady 8,040 to 5,848.
That`s not even a lot of votes by the standards of Phoenix city council elections.
Total turnout in Phoenix runoff election last fall was 169,085 across eight city council districts. So, the 14,000 votes cast in District 5 were about one-third under the average per district.
Latino turnout in his district increased 480% from the previous off-year election,
The reason the Hispanic vote went up so much was that in the last election in 2007, both the city councilman and the mayor were incumbents and ran unopposed, so few people bothered to turn out to vote. This time, both the incumbent councilman and the incumbent mayor were term limited out, so a lot of people ran for the two jobs, and there was a big increase in turnout. But we`re still talking about piddling numbers: Daniel Valenzuela beat Sperduti 8,000 to 6,000 in the runoff for the District 5 city council seat.
giving Phoenix two Latino members of the city council for the first time.
The first Latino city councilman is Michael Nowakowski (huh?).
In general, this Time cover story appears to be based on an article in the alternative newspaper Phoenix New Times article from January: How Undocumented Immigrants Helped Change Phoenix`s City Council Race, By Monica Alonzo, January 19,2012
Having watched for years as both parties ignored what are known as “low-propensity Latino voters,” Valenzuela, a political independent, had rewritten Arizona`s political textbook overnight.
Hyperbole. See CNN: “Big let down” for Latinos in Nevada
Aides to Barack Obama, who had been watching the Valenzuela race closely, quickly dispatched Katherine Archuleta, a Latina voting activist from Colorado who now serves as Obama`s political director, to win Valenzuela over. They didn`t want only his support; they also wanted his network and his blueprint for changing the politics of this reliably Republican state and others like it. Their premise: demography is political destiny. For the better part of two decades, social scientists have been predicting that a Latino population boom would one day transform national politics. Latinos now account for more than half of U.S. population growth and one in four American newborns. They make up about 16% of the country today and will account for 30% by 2050. But Obama`s aides care little about the out-year projections. They believe that Latino votes could be decisive in 2012, and they have been quietly building a national strategy to make that happen. Arizona, of all places, is the testing ground.
The battle lines were drawn decades ago. In every presidential contest since 1992, Republicans have won, at minimum, about a quarter of the Latino vote, and Democrats have won at least half. Up for grabs in most years is the remaining 25%. If Obama gets the vast majority of it in November, that could put him over the top in closely fought Colorado, Nevada, Florida and Arizona, potentially delivering an electoral-college victory even if he loses Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. Republicans by contrast, seem to have done everything in their power to alienate these voters, concentrating instead on wooing the more anti-immigration wing of their party. Herman Cain excited crowds with jokes about electrifying a fence on the Mexican border and guarding it with alligators. Michele Bachmann signed a “double fence” pledge. Mitt Romney scored points by opposing in-state tuition breaks for undocumented students and advocating “self-deportation” for those 11 million people currently living in the country illegally. In early-voting states like South Carolina, where nativist sentiment runs high in the GOP base, tough talk was the easiest political move. As the campaign continues, the Republican candidates hope to appeal to Latinos on bread-and-butter economic issues. The question is whether it`s already too late.
The White House, meanwhile, having stumbled with Latinos during Obama`s first two years in office, swiveled back to immigration policy late last year. Under pressure from Hispanic leaders, it suddenly slowed its push for deportations and amped up the constituent service, making certain, for instance, that Valenzuela got to meet Obama on his latest visit to Arizona, the sixth in three years. “If we do our grassroots stuff right on the ground in all these Western states, which we will, because it`s something we are good at,” says Obama`s campaign manager Jim Messina, “we could seriously change the outcome.”
How the West Was Lost
The first rule for winning the Latino vote is to realize it`s a voter bloc in name only. There is a common ancestral language that binds nationalities, family histories and geographic allegiances. But that`s about it. A recently naturalized Mexican in Los Angeles is more likely to vote Democratic than a fourth-generation immigrant in New Mexico, who is more likely to be liberal than a 65-year-old Miami Cuban, whose 23-year-old daughter is more likely than her father to have voted for Obama in 2008. Last year, when Democrats ran Spanish-language TV ads pushing the President`s jobs plan, they hired two actors: a South American to read the script for Florida and a Mexican for Nevada and Colorado.
Local differences matter, but so do those things that distinguish Latinos from other ethnic groups. Latinos tend to be younger–their median age is just 27–and more socially conservative on issues like marriage and abortion, and they are less politically active than non-Latino whites and blacks. They have also been hit harder by the recession, with median household net worth dropping 66% from 2005 to 2009, according to the Pew Research Center. When it comes to voting, one issue obscures all the others: respect. “Once any group senses that you really don`t like them and you really don`t want their support,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres says of Latinos, “it really doesn`t matter what you say after that.”
The 1994 campaign ad that turned California from a purple to a blue state began with grainy black-and-white footage of Latino migrants sprinting the wrong way down a six-lane freeway near San Diego. “They keep coming,” the narrator announced over an ominously thumping soundtrack. The ad helped re-elect GOP governor Pete Wilson and pass a ballot measure, later tossed by the courts, that barred undocumented immigrants from nonemergency public health care, education and social services. The California GOP, however, has yet to recover from that double win. “It absolutely damaged the Republican brand,” says Jennifer Korn, who led George W. Bush`s Latino-outreach effort in 2004. “Conservatives have not realized how their tone and rhetoric has turned people off.” Over the next six years, the chances that California Latinos would identify as Republican dropped from 34% to 12%, while the odds they would identify as Democratic rose from 38% to 63%. At the same time, Latino voter registration boomed as unions and community groups mounted citizenship and registration drives. Richard Nixon won California three times, Ronald Reagan won it twice, and George H.W. Bush won it once. Since Wilson, no Republican other than Arnold Schwarzenegger has won a top statewide office.
No, this misstates the history of Presidential elections in California. The big change happened two years before Proposition 187 in 1994. The GOP had won 9 out of 10 presidential elections in California from 1952-1988, but their losing streak started with a bang in 1992, when George H.W. Bush lost California to Clinton by 13.4 points.
Indeed, the GOP candidate did better in California in the Presidential election of 1996 than in 1992, both in absolute terms and relative to the whole country. Bush lost the U.S. in 1992 by 5.5 points and California by 13.3 points, while Dole lost the country in 1996 by 8.5 points and California by only 12.9 points. So, relative to their dire performance in the whole country, the GOP Presidential candidate closed the gap in California by 3.5 points from 1992 to 1996. In contrast, Bush’s performance in California relative to the whole country got 3.6 points worse from 1988 to 1992.
Here are some rough, back of the envelope, figures:
1988 nation 53.4 – 45.6 diff = 7.8
1988 Cal 51.1-47.6 diff = 3.5
Cal v. Nat = -4.3
1992 37.5 – 43.0 diff = -5.5 chg -13.3
1992 Cal 32.6-46.0 diff = -13.4 chg = -16.9
Cal v. Nat = -7.9
Chg in Cal v. Nat = -3.6
1996 40.7 -49.2 diff = -8.5 chg = 3.0
1996 Cal 38.2 – 51.1 diff = -12.9 chg = 0.5
Cal v. Nat = -4.4
Chg in Cal v. Nat +3.5
But instead of learning the Wilson lesson, Republicans have repeated the error across the Mountain West. In 2010 the Nevada GOP`s Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, ran ads that reprised the black-and-white images of menacing Latinos crossing the border. (“The best friend an illegal alien ever had” was her tagline for Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who won overwhelming support from Latino voters.) Arpaio, the Republican sheriff in Phoenix, has been chastened by the Justice Department for unlawfully profiling, detaining and arresting Latino residents. And the 2012 Republican campaign trail has more often than not echoed Wilson`s approach. Romney named Wilson as honorary chair of his campaign in California and toured South Carolina with the Kansas secretary of state who helped write the Arizona law that pushed Valenzuela and Team Awesome into action in the first place. “You look at what Pete Wilson did in California 15 years ago,” says Messina, “and that is what this primary is doing with Latino voters.”
Within months, the damage to Republicans among Latinos was measurable. In a January survey for the Spanish-language network Univision, pollster Matt Barreto found that 27% of Latinos felt the Republican Party was hostile toward Hispanics, while an additional 45% believed Republicans “don`t care much” about them–a total of 72% who don`t feel welcomed by the party. (And the numbers are getting worse: back in April 2011, just 20% sensed hostility from the Republicans.) The GOP`s nativist drift led Newt Gingrich, who takes slightly more centrist positions on immigration, to call Romney “anti-immigrant.”
If you’ll recall the MSM’s narrative, Romney was going to get his come-uppance in the Florida primary at the hands of outraged Latino Republicans. That didn’t happen. It didn’t happen in Arizona either.
It has rallied a group of party elders, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and strategist Karl Rove, to appeal for a more moderate tone. “We know that this is the fastest-growing segment and that we have to increase our share,” warns Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican Party, who recently spoke to a gathering of conservative Latinos in Florida. “In 2020, if the Republican nominee for President gets the same percentage of the white, Hispanic, African American and Asian vote that John McCain got in 2008, a Democrat will be elected to the White House by 14 percentage points.”
The man best positioned to improve his party`s standing among Latinos keeps a handmade rosary in his desk, a gift from an undocumented immigrant. Marco Rubio, Florida`s freshman Republican Senator, helped the Colombian woman in Miami gain legal residency after her visa expired because a lawyer she hired never filed her paperwork. A Cuban-American darling of the Tea Party and a potential vice-presidential nominee, Rubio talks about immigration less as a law-and-order matter than as a complex problem with a prevailing “human element.” His party, he says, is too focused on the ills of illegal immigration. “What`s the Republican legal-immigration plan?” he asks rhetorically. “And that`s a problem, when all they hear from you is what you`re against, not what you`re for.”
Pollsters in both parties believe that just softening the tone could move GOP numbers dramatically. Most Latinos still point to bread-and-butter issues like jobs and the economy as chief concerns, and on the specifics of how immigration policies should be reformed, there is a diversity of Latino opinion.
In other words, immigration is not a decisive issue to registered Hispanic voters. It is a big issue to the Hispanic activists who promptly return reporters phone calls.
Innumeracy note: Scherer`s own spectacular page-height chart shows Latino voters soaring in 2012 to a projected…8.7%, if you actually look at the number spotted on the peak. In contrast, the white share of the electorate is still some 72%.
And Scherer thinks Hispanics are going to pick the next president?