California is politically diverse, but one group seems especially intent on rejecting President Obama. Their antipathy stems from many concerns, but a lot of it can be traced to immigration and family values issues. Add into that economic misgivings, particularly the recent collapse of the housing market, and stubbornly high unemployment and you have a recipe for rejection.
That group is, of course, Hispanics.
Not what you were expecting, I’m sure. However, the general incompetence of the Obama administration on the domestic front has led to a historic opportunity for the California Republican Party.
Let’s look at some recent polling. Last week, Gallup reported that nationally Hispanic support for the president collapsed over the past year. Approval of the president by Hispanics is down 75 percent, almost double the decline for all Americans, and it is the largest decline of any sub-group polled. At the same time, Field Research released a poll of California registered voters showing that in their words, “Some of the largest declines in Obama’s job approval rating have come from segments of the California electorate that had been among the President’s strongest supporters,” including a 16 point drop among Hispanic voters.
All of this is good news for Republicans, since Hispanics make up about 24 percent of the California electorate and that share is growing. Here in San Mateo County, eligible Hispanic voters are already at 16 percent of the population.
Into this mix enter former San Mateo County supervisor Ruben Barrales and his organization; GROW Elect, dedicated to electing Hispanic Republicans across California. I first wrote about Barrales’ efforts in October at the Republican Party’s state convention. He seemed to be everywhere that weekend, encouraging integration and inclusion of Hispanics into the party’s electoral strategies.
Unlike ill-fated “outreach” efforts, GROW Elect is about grassroots organizing in Hispanic communities across California. Outreach implies an “us and them” mentality, the idea that “we” are somehow different (better?) than those “others” are and that a little public relations ought to convince those folks to learn what’s best for them and join “us.” That California Republican mindset has led to top-down, last-minute advertising campaigns and candidates who say “buenos dias” now and then. The result is Jerry Brown winning with 64 percent of the Hispanic vote is his latest run for governor.
GROW Elect’s community efforts have paid off. Overthrowing conventional wisdom about Hispanic Republicans, in November it helped elect 15 Hispanics to local offices across the state. These newly elected officials join the more than 30 incumbent officials supported by Barrales’ organization over the last two years.
As Barrales noted, “This has been a terrific year for ... empowering Latino Republicans and strengthening the ties between California’s Latino community and the Republican Party ... we now have almost 50 candidates, Latinos and those with exceptional ties to the Latino community, who we’ve helped to elect. We are proud of our terrific candidates. They will bring leadership and commitment to their communities and new energy to California’s Republican Party.”
That success has already inspired new Hispanic Republicans in the Bay Area. For example, Jamie Patino of Union City is now running for Assembly District 20. That same sort of grassroots success can happen in San Mateo County as well. However, it will take a sustained effort by the county party (full disclosure, I am a member of the GOP Central Committee) rather than the usual (badly) translated brochures and mariachi bands at a local picnic.
One of the first steps is simply to show up. Republican leaders need to make a point of showing up at events in Hispanic neighborhoods, not to make speeches, but to listen and learn and gain a fuller understanding of the needs and concerns of the Hispanic community. Whether at the North Fair Oaks Community Festival or Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Redwood City, San Mateo County Republicans need to be a visible presence. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in recent times.
Only by listening, learning and then helping to meet community concerns can Republicans earn the responsibility of leadership in Hispanic communities. As Republican President Teddy Roosevelt put it, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Republicans in California have a historic opportunity. The collapse of Hispanic support for President Obama provides an opening for reform-minded, Hispanic Republicans to run and win in local elections for special districts, school boards and city councils. In addition, it provides a chance for Republicans not to “reach out,” but to include Hispanics in our efforts to bring responsible, common-sense solutions to all of California and for all Californians.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the second Bush administration.