By James Rufus Koren Staff Writer
Created: 03/10/2011 03:58:06 PM PST
Within the next few years, Latinos will likely become San Bernardino County’s new majority – a milestone that has some Republicans concerned.
As the county’s white population shrinks and its Latino population continues to grow, Republicans will have to either compete for Latino votes – something the Republican Party hasn’t done well – or become an even smaller part of California’s political landscape, said Jim Brulte, a political consultant and former state legislator.
“If Republicans are not careful, the number of decline-to-state voters will be greater than the number of registered Republican voters by the end of this next decade,” he said. “They are becoming increasingly alienated in communities that are the fastest growing.”
That is, in Latino and Asian communities.
New U.S. Census numbers released this week show that, in San Bernardino County, the Latino population grew by just shy of 50 percent and the Asian population grew by nearly 59 percent. Statewide, Latinos grew by 28 percent and Asians by 31 percent. And among Asians and Latinos, Republicans have not done well in California.
“If I were a Republican, I would be running scared,” quipped Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino.
Last year, more than 60 percent of Latino and Asian voters chose Democrat Jerry Brown over Republican Meg Whitman in California’s gubernatorial election. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer won similarly large margins among Latinos and Asians in her race against Republican Carly Fiorina.
“It’s not just a regional phenomenon here in the Inland Empire,” Brulte said. “It’s statewide. Meg Whitman carried the white vote, but the white vote is an ever-shrinking component of the electorate.”
Brulte said the disconnect between Latinos and the Republican Party is thanks in large part to the Republicans’ increasingly hard-line stance on illegal immigration.
“However right and principled Republicans think their position on legal and illegal immigration is, the articulation of that position comes off as insensitive and uncaring to the fastest growing voter group in the state of California,” Brulte said.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Claremont, a former minuteman whose campaign featured plenty of tough talk on illegal immigration, said that’s not true and that plenty of Latinos are against illegal immigration.
“I don’t think the fundamental human yearning for freedom knows any color, I don’t think it knows any ethnicity,” Donnelly said.
But the fact is that Latinos mostly vote for Democrats. And as the Latino population continues to grow, Republicans appear to be reinforcing rather than backing away from their position on illegal immigration.
That could alienate a generation of Latino voters, said Ben Bishin, a political science professor at UC Riverside.
“The risk they face, particularly with some of the rhetoric of the tea party, is that they’ll put themselves in the same position they’ve put themselves in with African Americans,” Bishin said. “African Americans, they vote nine out of 10 for the Democratic Party because they view (Republicans) as demonizing them.”
He said that’s not the case for Latinos yet, but it could be if Republicans aren’t careful.
“If they get into that position, it will be a 20-year process of trying to bring them back,” he said. “You’ll have to wait a generation.”
Brulte said Republicans’ immigration stance could soften as lawmakers compete in the state’s new open primary system.
Under the state’s old primary system, Republicans voted for Republican candidates and Democrats voted for Democratic candidates, with the winner from each party facing off in the general election.
The new system will let any voter pick any candidate, with the top to vote-getters moving on – a system that could pit two Republicans or two Democrats against each other in a general election.
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