LatinaLista — Something happened in yesterday’s governor elections in New Jersey and Virginia that everyone was afraid would happen.
No, it’s not the fact that a Republican won in each race. It’s the fact that voters of color and young people could have cared less about who would win.
There’s no denying that the 2008 presidential election was unlike any other and it awakened the proverbial sleeping giant of young and multicultural voters. Yet, there were many who worried that once the presidential election was over if the same momentum could be sustained with each “lesser” election.
It’s obvious now that it can’t with some voters, but with Latino voters it’s a different story.
Republican Gov-elect Bob McDonnell smiles at a news conference with transition members, Phil Cox, left, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, right, in Richmond Nov. 4. (AP Photo)
For the Latino constituency, participation in local elections, for now, hinges on what role that elected official has in passing immigration reform or the DREAM Act. It’s a safe bet that any candidate running for Congress will get close scrutiny from Latino voters in their districts and states and will see a resurge of Latino voters at the polls.
While not all Latinos identify with the immigration issue, and some actually feel detached from it, there is still a “community sense of responsibility” when it comes to the issue because of reports still coming in that some Latinos are being persecuted because of a lack of a definitive bill coupled with the lack of action from congressmen and women speaking out against the assaults on Hispanic immigrants.
As long as immigration reform is on the table, it’s the carrot that energizes this voting bloc to come out.
But the real problem lies in elections for local and state candidates, as was seen in yesterday’s election turnouts.
Latino voters are no different in wondering what difference their vote makes for a candidate who isn’t seen as a “people’s candidate” in their community and other communities of color.
The fact that both candidates for governor who won were Anglo already illustrates that what was gained from the presidential campaigns has slipped away — the inclusiveness of candidates of color which, in turn, generated enthusiasm, not just among voters of color, but young people who rightly see candidates of color as bringing change to a staid political system.
In the days after Obama won, there was a lot of buzz within the national Latino community of setting up organizations to help identify, groom and support tomorrow’s Latino political candidates.
The hope is that more people of color join in aspiring to serve this nation in public office and that both political parties welcome this participation. Until these candidates materialize, who have the ability to excite a new generation of voters, along with, a segment for whom politics has had little meaning, turnout will be less than what it’s known it can be.
(Update Nov. 5, 2009 — If there’s any doubt that a candidate of color can re-energize civic participation among youth and voters of color, just check out what happened in the mayoral elections of Lawrence, Mass. this week.
The city elected the first Latino mayor of the state but what’s even more remarkable is that Lawrence became the first city in the state where registered Latino voters outnumbered white voters.)