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Latino Voter Turnout More Than Doubles

By Bill Schneider/CNN


LOS ANGELES (AllPolitics, Nov. 21) -- Two years ago, California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson campaigned hard for Proposition 187, the measure cutting off public services to illegal immigrants. The measure passed easily and helped Wilson get re-elected. Ever since then, Republicans have claimed the anti-immigration issue. And sure enough, it had a big payoff this year -- for the Democrats.

November 5th saw one of the worst voter turnouts in modern American history. But what was a bad year for overall turnout was a terrific year for Hispanic turnout. The Hispanic share of the national electorate more than doubled.

Hispanics grew to 11 percent of California voters, up from 8 percent in 1992. They went from 10 to 16 percent of Texas voters, and from 5 to 12 percent of Florida voters.

Why the sudden surge of Hispanic turnout? Anger and fear had a lot to do with it. In California, anger and fear over Proposition 187 drove Hispanic registration up almost 50 percent. Add to that fear generated by the new welfare reform bill, which cuts off federal benefits to legal immigrants.


Said Teresa Castelianos, a Latino activist in San Jose: "I think the majority of people are afraid of the welfare reform law, I mean, because it's not only welfare reform, it's any government aid that there exists, from college scholarships and grants and loans to Head Start programs."

Anxiety over the new law caused applications for citizenship to surge this year, with the Clinton Administration's full encouragement.

Vice President Al Gore's "Citizenship USA" program aimed at clearing the backlog of citizenship applications from legal aliens. The result was that more than 1 million new citizens were naturalized in 1996, twice as many as in any year in the nation's history. Republicans saw a partisan motive behind it, and Bob Dole lambasted it during the campaign.

"Rush them through so they could be ready for the election even if they had criminal records," Dole said. "Don't do any background checks. That is an outrage. That is an outrage."


Not only were there more Hispanic voters, but they voted more Democratic than ever. Ronald Reagan won almost 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1984. That dropped to just over 20 percent for Dole this year.

In Texas, Clinton got 58 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1992, jumping to 75 percent this year. Florida Hispanics include a lot of Cuban Americans, a strongly Republican constituency. In 1992, Florida Hispanics voted almost 2 to 1 for George Bush over Clinton.

But this year, they split their vote almost equally between Clinton (42 percent) and Dole (46 percent) and helped make Florida one of only two states that switched from Bush in '92 to Clinton in '96.

Hispanic voters also helped deliver Arizona to the Democrats. But the big payoff came in California, where they helped Democrats gain congressional seats and take back control of the state Assembly.

The payoff for Hispanics came when Democratic legislators chose the state's first Hispanic assembly speaker, Cruz Bustamante.


But nowhere was the new power of the Hispanic felt more keenly than in Orange County, where conservative icon Bob Dornan was defeated by a heavy Hispanic turnout. It was perhaps too heavy, in Dornan's view.

"You can't have non-citizens voting into office someone who gives them welfare benefits, or raises the taxes on the rest of us, and they were voted in by non-Americans," Dornan said.

His opponent, Loretta Sanchez, claims victory in the name of a new movement in American politics.

"It's about people here and people who wanted a voice for a very, very long time," she said. "Thanks to the Latino community, for coming out, for becoming citizens, for becoming a part of our society here in the true sense."

Low Hispanic turnout has long been a fact of life in American politics. But it turns out, what Latinos needed was a powerful motivation to become citizens, to register and to vote. That's exactly what they got this year -- from the GOP.

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