GOP Woes Go Beyond Poll Questions

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Despite
all the complaining California
Republicans are doing
about the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll on
taxes and the state budget, they might want to take a look at a small question
near the end of the survey to see where their real problem lies.

That’s
the part where 40 percent of the Latino voters surveyed identify themselves as
conservatives. You know, the same political identification that dominates the
state GOP.

Yet
a March
survey
done by a GOP pollster and a Republican consultant found that only
26 percent of Latinos surveyed had a favorable opinion of the Republican Party,
compared to 62 percent who thought the Democrats were just swell.

About
a third of those likely Latino voters told pollsters they would never vote for
a Republican, which suggests that the GOP survey’s title, "Not All Hope Is
Lost: Latinos and California Republicans," represents more than a bit of
whistling past the political graveyard.

Unless
the state GOP can find a way to convince those Latino conservatives that they
have a welcoming home in the Republican Party, party leaders better get
prepared for a lot of election nights like last November’s, when two well-known
and well-funded candidates, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, were steamrolled and
Democrats swept to victory in every statewide race.

The
new Census figures show the GOP’s problem is a simple numbers game.

From
2000 to 2010, the state’s Latino population grew by 28 percent, while the
number of non-Hispanic whites – also known as likely Republicans – dropped by 5
percent.

In
recent years, the Inland Empire has become a major GOP stronghold. Yet Latinos
now make up 49 percent of the population in San Bernardino County and 46
percent in Riverside County.

It’s
the same story in the Republican-leaning Central Valley, where Latinos make up
61 percent of the population of Tulare County, 55 percent in Merced County, 54
percent of Madera County and 54 percent of Fresno County.

Want
some more cause for GOP concern? Estimates reported by the Public
Policy Institute of California
last September suggest that Latinos will
outnumber non-Hispanic whites by in California by 2016 and could become a
majority of California’s residents by around 2042.

And
as that those two surveys of registered Latino voters showed, they don’t much
like Republicans.

The
Grim Reaper also gets into the game. That Times/USC poll found that 17 percent
of Latino voters were younger than 25, compared to 10 percent of white voters.
But 26 percent of voters 65 and older were white, while only 13 percent were
Latino. That means the newspaper obituary pages will be painful reading for GOP
leaders.

Sure,
a lot of Latinos can’t vote – yet – because they are non-citizens or illegal
immigrants. But thanks in large part to Gov. Pete Wilson and his decision to
ride Prop. 187 and his "They
Keep Coming"
rhetoric to re-election in 1994, growing numbers of angry
Latinos have been becoming citizens and walking right out of the naturalization
ceremony to register as Democrats.

It’s
not that Republicans don’t recognize that their Latino problem will only get
worse, election after election, unless something is done and done quickly.
Almost the first thing that new GOP chairman Tom Del Beccaro did after being
elected earlier this year was to start talking about the need to reach out to Latinos.

But
California Latinos have heard that talk before and haven’t seen the action to
back it up.

"I
really think that California serves as a very important case study in what
happens when Republicans alienate Latinos with aggressive rhetoric," said Adam
Mendelsohn
, who was a consultant for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We
lost every statewide race because we lost Latino voters."

Unfortunately
for the GOP, not everyone got the memo. That’s why you have rookie Assemblyman
Tim "Send a Minuteman to Sacramento" Donnelly, a Tea Party sort from San
Bernardino County, holding a rally on the Capitol steps to brag about his bill
to bring an Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill to California.

Never
mind that the bill had no hope of becoming law. That won’t stop Democrats from
waving it around Latino communities come election times as a purported example
of how Republicans really think.

Then
there’s AB 63, another no-chance bill by Donnelly that would have barred
undocumented graduates of California high schools from paying in-state tuition
at state colleges and universities.

Eric
Hogue, a conservative Sacramento talk show host, slammed the effort as
corrosive to GOP interests.

"These
Latino students graduate," he wrote on
his blog
. "They eventually work, pay taxes, fall in love and get married,
raise a family and live in California – representing a similar social outlook
as the California Republican Party’s most conservative core."

For
many Republicans, any effort to appeal to Latinos by turning down the
anti-immigration vitriol, working toward a "pathway to citizenship" for current
illegals and maybe showing a bit of sympathy for those undocumented children
who have never know a home other than the United States would be an impossible
compromise with wrongdoing. They’d rather be right than relevant to the future
of California politics.

Ronald
Reagan long ago recognized the conservative tilt of the Hispanic community.
"Latinos are Republican," he said during his 1980 presidential campaign. "They
just don’t recognize it yet."

Those
Latino conservatives are still out there, ready to be convinced that they’re
Republicans. But that won’t happen unless GOP leaders are willing to replace
the usual smarmy come-ons with concrete action on issues important to Latino
voters. Like immigration.

If
not, Republicans will only be able to watch from the sidelines as the growing
number of Latinos translates into more and more power for California Democrats.

John Wildermuth is a
longtime writer on California politics.  

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