Report missed rapid growth of Hispanics
Community is still trying to build its political clout
A dramatic rise in the Hispanic population of the Phoenix metro area was a factor barely considered by the Neal Peirce Report on the Valley 15 years ago.
"We had a little sense of the question of the future demography, whether you were going to grow to be more heavily Hispanic, but we didn't have a sense of the velocity," Peirce said recently.
But that increase has occurred, with ripple effects on Valley life now and in the years to come.
The 2000 U.S. Census noted that about 25 percent of Maricopa County's population was of Hispanic or Latino origin. In 1980, it was 13 percent.
The effect of the increase on local politics is not clear cut, Valley observers say, because the Hispanic community is fragmented and doesn't wield political clout in proportion to its size.
"The number of Hispanics in political office is simply not keeping pace with the growing Hispanic population," said Ruben Ramos, former chairman of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a first vice president at Bank One.
To wield economic power, Hispanics need the political power that comes from having their own candidates in office, Ramos said.
Edmundo Hidalgo, chief operating officer for Chicanos por la Causa, agrees.
"As we analyze the various elections and see the Latino voter turnouts, we see a level of apathy with the whole process," said Hidalgo.
"The one thing that all of us recognize is that the giant can't sleep, that . . . it should be, if not a force, then at least an influence in political decision making."
Though Latino residents make up a third of the population of Phoenix, and have a majority in three City Council districts, their turnout in elections has lagged, and few Latinos have run for the council.
Furthermore, the Hispanic community doesn't vote as a bloc.
"The Hispanic community today is a whole bunch of communities and it has different voices," said Earl de Berge, head of Behavior Research Center, which does extensive market research on Hispanics.
First-generation immigrants, many of whom do manual labor and speak mostly Spanish, for instance, are far less politically involved than second- or third-generation white-collar Hispanics, observers say.
Undocumented Hispanics probably make up 6 to 8 percent of the population of the Phoenix area, said Tom Rex, research manager for the Center for Business Research at Arizona State University.
"They're likely to keep a fairly low profile," said Rex.
At the same time, Arizona's Hispanic population overall is becoming more involved, said de Berge. In 1990, 40 percent were registered to vote. Now 62 percent are.
And, de Berge said, the state's Hispanics are wealthier, better educated, more likely to be homeowners and business operators - and more conservative.
Of those who identified their political philosophy in 1990, 25 percent said they were liberal and 38 percent conservative. Today, 18 percent say they are liberal and 41 percent say they are conservative.
"Everybody thinks that the Latino community is homogeneous, that all of us think the same, that all of us should vote the same," said Hidalgo. "That's not the case."
Whatever the makeup of the Latino electorate, it eventually will have a striking impact on the Valley, said Curtis Johnson, a partner in Peirce's consulting operation.
"It would seem that the Valley, along with metropolitan southern California and south Florida, really are (staging areas) for the nation's dress rehearsal for the demographic future," Johnson said. "You are the laboratory for seeing what happens when you do get this surging Hispanic population. And it will eventually completely alter your politics."
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