Latino leaders share strategies to win in battleground states

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On Aug. 17, the first day of the Democratic National Convention, the AFT partnered with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and the League of United Latin American Citizens to host a discussion on the Latino vote in 2020. Latino leaders across the country joined an enthusiastic discussion about mobilizing and engaging Latino voters in the key battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

Latino couple votingPhoto credit: adamkaz

With more than 13 percent of the vote, it’s critical to reach Latino voters and their families in this election cycle, said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. We must “push out that vote and make it really clear what it means to vote for Vice President Biden, who's got a Latino policy initiative that … [includes] making sure that working families are getting the investments and the support so that they can realize the American dream,” she said. “This is an effort to equalize our opportunities across the country.”

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and one-time presidential candidate Julian Castro said the Latino community is hurting from this pandemic, noting that Latinos have experienced COVID-19-related illnesses and deaths at high rates and have been hit hard economically. “Latino small businesses have been absolutely rocked by the economic downturn, and Latino employees have been disproportionately laid off,” said Castro, adding that Latinos “have also been the ones—as farm workers in the fields, as meat packing plant workers, as grocery store workers, fast food workers, healthcare workers—who have stepped up as essential during this time.”

Castro urged listeners to help elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in November. “I know that Joe Biden will be a president that has a strong vision for Latino prosperity, to invest in healthcare for everybody in our country, to ensure that all of our children get things like pre-K so that they get off to a strong start in their educational journey.”

AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus told listeners that our union is mobilizing our members, their households and their communities like never before. “Everyone knows the road to the White House runs through the Latino community. More than 14 million of us are going to vote this fall and influence congressional, state and local elections throughout this country, but only if we can vote in the face of COVID-19, in the face of voter suppression, and now in the face of administration efforts to destroy the post office and vote-by-mail.”

DeJesus touted the AFT’s efforts to work with community partners on voter education and voter access, including language accessibility, one-on-one member outreach, and the AFT Votes program. She also pointed to the AFT’s relief and advocacy work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. “I don't have to tell you what's on this ballot this year. It's not just the future of the Dreamers, our economy, the pandemic and racial justice. It's also the future of American democracy itself. Working together, we will accomplish what we could never achieve on our own as Latinos. We must make our vote count.”

The first panel of legislators featured Wisconsin state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, Michigan state Rep. Alex Garza and Pennsylvania state Rep. Danilo Burgos.

“Latinos are a little over 6 percent of the statewide population, and yet we have the fastest-growing constituency in Wisconsin, much like Latinos are across the country,” said Zamarripa, who noted the importance of getting them to the polls in November. She also said that a large number of voters in her district voted by mail during the primaries because of the pandemic. “I think that means we need to get out there sooner to spread the word … because we want them to sign up for that absentee ballot by mail.”

Garza of Michigan said that Latinos are the fasting-growing population in his state as well, yet “half of eligible Latino voters did not cast a ballot in 2016. And we know that this year is one year that we cannot slouch when we're talking about voting and voter turnout for our Latino population.”

Michigan has issued absentee voter applications to all registered voters, and, Garza said, voters are being cautioned “to make sure that they mail in their ballots weeks in advance of the general election, because we know that there's new threats coming from the White House. … We're doing our best to turn out our populations and our state,” said Garza.

On another panel, Arizona legislators were asked to share why it’s important for the Latino community to turn out to vote, with a focus on mail-in ballots.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego said that Latinos in his state are used to voting by mail. “It's something that we have been doing for decades here,” he said. As a result, Gallego feels that Latinos are prepared to vote by mail. “I think Latinos are going to adapt by getting their ballots early [and] dropping them off at a polling place or a site,” he said.

Arizona has seen a huge increase in voting and Latinos make up 18 percent of that vote, said state Sen. Tony Navarrete, noting that they are becoming more engaged in the political process. “This doesn't happen by accident,” he said, “this happened by sweat and hard work.”

Arizona state Rep. Lorenzo Sierra agreed. “It's all about our community coming together and making sure that we get those votes out.”

When asked if Texas will turn blue in this election, Rebecca Acuña, the Texas state director for Biden for President, said the state will not only send its 38 electoral votes to Biden and Harris, it will also send more Democrats to Congress.

“We have got to get out there and be disciplined about voting all the way down the ballot,” said Texas state Sen. Jose Menendez. “Yes, it's important for us to take over the White House, but it's also important to be represented in the school boards, at city hall, and in the county courthouses.”

U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida stressed the importance of the Latino vote in their state. The state’s Latino population is diverse, including “the largest diaspora of Puerto Ricans of any state in the union,” said Soto. Among the biggest challenges are “making sure that we meet the bread-and-butter issues that our families face, get COVID-19 under control and fix the recession,” he said. “I think, overall, the key is [that] we help out not only with this group but with all the Hispanics across Central Florida and across Florida. We are five different major Hispanic groups, all of which can swing an election.”

Mucarsel-Powell said that Latinos in Florida—many of whom have been living in the United States for years—are independent voters who are just beginning to understand the dynamics and values of different political parties. “I think it's incredibly important for us as Democrats to reach our voters by explaining and telling them what our agenda is, because a lot of the issues that we're advocating for in the Democratic Party are the issues that are most important to the Latino voters here in our state of Florida and across America,” she said.

Follow the conversation on social media: #SiSeVota

[Adrienne Coles]