Latinos get up and give your political muscle a good workout
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Ernesto Portillo Jr.
o Arizona, with its fast-growing Latino population, is
poised to become a "majority-minority" state. Our state eventually will join
California, New Mexico, Hawaii and Texas as places where ethnic-minority
populations form the majority.
That's nice. But so what if Arizona, where Latinos make up more than 28
percent of the population, joins a national trend?
Sure, more businesses will try to attract Latino customers. More Spanish
will be spoken in public. And tacos and horchata, a cinnamon-flavored drink,
will be more plentiful in non-Latino neighborhoods.
Latinos in Arizona can increase in number, but unless a greater number vote
and take part in the political process, the demographic changes won't amount
At one time, the Latino vote in Tucson amounted to something big. But you
have to go back more than 100 years.
Here's a quick local civics quiz: Who was Estevan Ochoa?
Come on, now.
A local street and an elementary school carry his name. He served in the
Arizona Legislature and on the local school board.
Ochoa was Tucson's last Latino mayor. It was 1875, when Tucson was a
majority-minority community, with Mexicans and American Indians outnumbering
However, since the 1880s, when transcontinental trains brought new Anglo
residents, no Latino has been elected mayor.
In the 1960s, several Latinos began winning elections to the Tucson City
Council, the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Legislature.
Tucson also began to see Latinos in visible and influential positions within
and outside government - city manager, postmaster, school superintendents,
school-board members, and university and college presidents.
Despite some political gains, the fact that Tucson has not elected a Latino
mayor is significant and symbolic.
In 2003, when Mayor Bob Walkup won re-election over former Mayor Tom Volgy,
the two Latino-heavy wards had the city's lowest voter turnout.
The South Side's Ward 5 had a 29 percent turnout. In Ward 1, on the West
Side, a little less than 34 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
By contrast, a smidgen more than 49 percent voted in Ward 2, on the East
Side. It was nearly 46 percent in Midtown's Ward 6, 40 percent in Ward 4, on
the Southeast Side, and about 38 percent in the North Side Ward 3.
There are a number of credible reasons for low Latino voter turnout.
There are language barriers. The political process and parties have been
ineffective at attracting Latinos. Latinos have less money to contribute to
candidates and parties, which means fewer doors are opened to them. And
immigrant Latinos have been slow to gain citizenship and become eligible to
County Supervisor Richard Elias said the impediments are real and becoming
greater. The challenge is to overcome the obstacles, he said.
Still more Latinos will be elected to political office because of population
growth, said Elias, who can trace his Tucson roots to its Presidio days 230
Granted, Latinos are not a monolithic group. They do not think or act as
one. Latinos are differentiated by income, generations, skin hues, politics
But Latinos do not vote commensurate with their population gains.
Three decades ago, political prognosticators talked about future Latino
It's time to flex it.
● Ernesto Portillo Jr.'s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and
Saturdays. Reach him at 573-4242 or at
appears on "Arizona Illustrated," KUAT-TV Channel 6, at 6:30 p.m. and