Group aims to leverage growing Hispanic clout
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 07/17/2010 07:14:46 AM PDT
Hoping to harness the clout of the Inland Empire’s burgeoning Latino community, a new political action committee is mounting a push to increase the number of Latinos elected to local school boards, city councils, water boards, special districts and other posts.
The Latino Caucus of the Inland Empire aims to boost Latino voter turnout and back candidates who support issues important to Latinos.
“If you want things to change in city government, on school boards, you’ve got to get our people elected,” said Gil Navarro, a San Bernardino County Board of Education trustee and founder of the group.
The effort is partly a sign of Navarro’s personal frustration with the county Democratic Party – which he said has not done enough to reach out to Latino voters and potential candidates.
Experts say the move also illustrates a common dynamic in U.S. history, where a growing ethnic group begins to assert its political power.
“This is a long American story about rising ethnic groups coming into tension with the political establishment,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “In many cities, 60 or 70 years ago, you would have heard an Italian-American political figure making the same comments.”
When Navarro was elected to the Democratic Central Committee in 2002, he said he saw “inequities” in the party.
“I didn’t see a lot of brown faces,” Navarro said.
Even now, with more Latinos on the committee than in the past, Navarro said the local Democratic Party has not sufficiently addressed Latino issues – specifically immigration reform.
“The Congressman (Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino) has come forward on immigration reform,” Navarro said. “But has the central committee ever brought it up?
“The reason I’m starting this caucus is that the San Bernardino (County) Democratic Party is not effective in outreach to the Latino community.”
Mark Alvarez, acting chairman of the central committee, disagreed that the local party is ignoring Latino issues but conceded more could be done to reach out to Latinos.
He also acknowledged some disagreement among local Democrats over how to engage Latinos.
“There were some people who didn’t support Gil,” Alvarez said. “We’ve removed at least five of those people. All they did was hinder what was going on.”
Pitney said Latino activists were likely fighting an identical battle in Los Angeles County decades ago.
“And now, Latinos occupy many of the high positions in government and party politics,” he said.
But that kind of change does not come without consequence. Joe Olague, president of the Inland Empire chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said a push for more Latino candidates and more Latino political involvement is important, but it could lead to a backlash from non-Latino voters.
“The problem is how Anglos will perceive this in their particular areas,” Olague said. “They’ve held political leadership for so many decades, and are they willing to work with us and do they feel this is going to benefit our whole society? People are going to misperceive this.”
Raymond Herrera, one of Navarro’s most vocal critics, said Navarro is promoting a “racist political agenda.”
“We have one culture,” said Herrera, founder of the anti-illegal-immigration group We the People, California’s Crusader. “Ethnicity plays a very minute part in our overall social structure in America. … Gil Navarro is out to destroy the American melting pot.”
Navarro doesn’t think he’s advocating anything racist, though part of his frustration does seem to boil down to racial politics.
He said he is irked at twice losing to Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter in the Democratic primary for the 62nd State Assembly District – a district whose residents are mostly Latino. Carter, D-Rialto, is black.
“Sure, it bothers me,” Navarro said of his losses to Carter in 2008 and 2010.
Those losses, Navarro speculated, might not have happened if more Latino voters had cast ballots. He doesn’t have figures, but he suspects Latino voter turnout in the district was low for both elections.
“Our people are not voting,” he said. “That’s an example of how this PAC could be more effective” than the Democratic party.
Carter said the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee reflects the diversity of the community and that members reach out to all constituencies.
“I was endorsed by the Central Committee and California Democratic Party because I represent all the residents of the 62nd, not just one group,” Carter said in a statement. “The 62nd Assembly District is not a monolithic Latino community, or a monolithic African-American community, or monolithic white community, etc …
“Residents of the 62nd Assembly District are a diverse group of individuals who care about job creation, education, health care, clean drinking water, and creating a sustainable community. This is why they voted for me.”
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