Republicans risk losing Latinos
Arizona Republic
Feb. 6, 2005
In re-electing President Bush, Republicans narrowly dodged a demographic bullet that threatens to consign them to minority status in the near future.

The greatest challenge facing the party is to expand beyond its dwindling base of Anglo voters. But while Bush succeeded in doing so, increasing his share of Hispanic vote by 9 percentage points from 2000, to 43 percent overall, local Republicans, with a few notable exceptions, seem intent on driving away the very Hispanic voters they need to remain dominant.

Nearly 40 million Americans, 13.7 percent of the population, are Hispanic. Their numbers are projected to grow to 102.6 million and 24 percent of the population by 2050. Arizona has nearly 1.3 million Hispanics, a number expected to increase to 2 million over the next decade.

If Republicans maintain their current proportions of Anglo, Hispanic and Black voters, they quickly will start losing national elections, probably starting four years from now.

Hispanic voters like Bush, who built a strong relationship with Latino voters as governor of Texas and whose views on immigration are moderate. They like Republicans in general less well, however. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans among Hispanics by roughly 40 to 25 percent.

That is unfortunate for Republicans because in many ways Hispanics are kindred spirits in their devotion to traditional values. More than two-thirds of Hispanic families are headed by a married couple, and most are deeply religious.

More than 1 million have served their country in the armed forces. The overwhelming majority who come to America are attracted not by welfare but by the desire to earn an honest living and provide for their families.

Yet to the extent that Arizona Republicans address issues of importance to Hispanics at all, they choose issues that seem calculated to alienate them. Every two years, the GOP trots out an issue designed to galvanize conservative voters by touching on their fears over Hispanic immigration. First it was bilingual education, then Proposition 200 to curtail benefits for undocumented immigrants and now an effort to make Arizona an English-only state.

That's not to say there is no merit in those proposals, and indeed some Hispanics have supported them. But each successive initiative is more symbolic and less substantive. To constantly prioritize such issues is akin to pulling in the welcome mat for people who in many respects are more American than those of us who were lucky enough to have been born here.

Indeed, it seems the easiest way to win a Republican primary, especially against a Latino opponent, is to run a nativist campaign. In 2002, Tom Horne ousted Jaime Molera as the state superintendent of education by running as the anti-bilingual education candidate.

More recently, Andrew Thomas chose to highlight the words "Stop illegal immigration" on his primary campaign signs even though the county attorney position has little to do with immigration. (Personally, I think that if Arizona wants to preserve traditional values, it should wall off its western border, not its southern one.)

As a result, in a state with more than 1 million Hispanics, there are virtually no Hispanic Republicans in elected state offices. How can the party hope to attract Hispanics if they have few leaders with roots in the community?

Far from abandoning core Republican principles, all the party needs to do is to relate those principles to the day-to-day concerns of Hispanic voters. A perfect bridge issue is school choice. Many low-income Hispanic schoolchildren are consigned to substandard public schools.

Providing opportunities for such children to attend private schools would aid minority schoolchildren while forcing public schools to improve. Public opinion polls show strong majorities of Hispanics supporting school choice.

Likewise, efforts to reduce barriers to enterprise and homeownership will have strong appeal among Hispanic voters, as will efforts to reduce crime and to enlist faith-based institutions to provide social services.

Republicans often address those issues in the abstract without making an effort to build support among Hispanic voters. That won't do, especially when the party is working so visibly for its anti-immigration agenda.

The GOP can attempt to wring additional votes from its core constituency only for so long. The Arizona party, in particular, needs to actively develop a base among Hispanics by demonstrating a real commitment to shared values.

If Arizona Republicans want to see the self-destructive results of nativist campaigns, they need only look to the California Republican Party, which traveled down precisely the same road and transformed itself from a competitive party to permanent minority status.

And unlike California Republicans, their Arizona counterparts don't seem to have an Arnold Schwarzenegger waiting in the wings to deliver them from themselves.

Bolick is president and general counsel of the Alliance for School Choice in Phoenix.