Nearly two decades after its controversial passage, Gov. Pete Wilson’s Proposition 187 continues to haunt the Republican Party in California and the U.S.
A new report from Latino Decisions, a firm that analyzes demographics and voting trends, argues California could have remained a presidential battleground state – with Democrats and Republicans vying for more congressional and legislative seats here – were it not for Proposition 187 and later measures that frustrated and ultimately mobilized Latino voters.
Proposition 187, most of which has been invalidated, would have denied various public services to undocumented immigrants. The Latino vote became significantly more Democratic since Wilson's measure. Democrats in 1992 won 65 percent of the Latino vote. Four years later, the party won 75 percent of Latinos, and by 2012 they were winning 78 percent of the vote.
The massive shifts could have broad impacts on the nation, with Latinos nationally poised to swing 24 GOP-held congressional seats in 2014 and 2016 in states such as Nevada, Florida, Colorado and North Carolina, said Gary M. Segura, a politics professor at Stanford University who worked on the study.
Within the 24 districts, the firm identified 14 that are the most likely to flip Democratic because of the sizable Latino electorate and close election results.
The dynamics are even more acute in the state Legislature, where Democrats already control near-supermajorities in both houses, Segura said. Five seats – Assembly districts 40, 42, 44 and 60 and Senate District 4 – remain competitive due mostly to the Latino vote, Segura said.
Republicans in California and several other states recently mounted a multimillion-dollar effort to improve the party’s standing among Latinos. The state GOP under new Chairman Jim Brulte also has embraced an aggressive effort to recruit Latino Republicans for elected office. Brulte routinely reflects on the axiom that in an election the candidate that looks, sounds like and has shared values and experiences with a majority of the electorate tends to come out ahead.
That could be tested next year when Abel Maldonado, a former state senator and lieutenant governor, campaigns for the right to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown.
In response to the report, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said that despite the registration advantages, turnout among Latinos remains comparatively low. “We are trying to as a Democratic Party and Senate leadership see what strategies we could use to increase the Latino turnout,” Lara said.
Another partner on the study suggested that the GOP tone down some of the rhetoric from within the party and take an active role in national immigration reform to begin making inroads with Latinos. “The very least the GOP can do is to say ‘We want to start fresh,’” said Stephen Nuño, a professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.