Los Angeles Times
Thursday, June 4, 1998
Latino Voter Participation Doubled Since '94 Primary
PYLE, PATRICK J. MCDONNELL, HECTOR TOBAR, Times Staff Writers
Latino presence at the polls continued an upward trend Tuesday, amounting
to 12% of all California voters--double the number who voted in the 1994
primary, but not yet enough to determine the outcome of issues crucial
to the state's fastest-growing population group, according to Times exit
On Tuesday, the diminutive size of the Latino
electorate compared to the group's 29.4% share of the California population
led Latino voters to lose the very fight that brought many to the polls.
The issue was the bilingual education abolition
measure, Proposition 227, which the exit poll found was second only to
the governor's race in luring Latinos to vote.
Latinos polled Tuesday said they opposed
the initiative by a margin of 2 to 1, many describing it as discriminatory,
but it passed in an almost mirror image of that vote.
"It leaves you feeling deflated,"
said Francisco Dominguez, an Oxnard school district trustee and executive
director of the Latino advocacy group El Concilio del Condado de Ventura.
"Now we just need to convince voters to become much more active. That's
when we will make a difference."
4 Latinos in Bids for Statewide Office
Still, Latinos' growing potential as an
electoral powerhouse was evident Tuesday. For the first time this century,
the likelihood of an elected Latino statewide official looms near, with
four Latinos winning spots to compete in November for lieutenant governor,
controller, state superintendent of public instruction and insurance commissioner.
Based on Tuesday's results, state Assemblyman
Cruz Bustamante (D-Fresno) will face state Sen. Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City)
for lieutenant governor; Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park)
will face incumbent Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush; and San Mateo
County Supervisor Ruben Barrales, a Republican, will face incumbent Controller
In the nonpartisan race for state superintendent
of public instruction, pro-227 Latina Gloria Matta Tuchman also forced
Supt. Delaine Eastin into a runoff. election.
The one area where Latinos may have made
a difference in Tuesday's vote was the defeat of Proposition 226, which
would have restricted use of union dues. Exit polls showed they voted against
it in larger-than-average numbers, likely in part because of the community's
higher-than-average union membership.
Earlier Times polls had shown Latinos favoring
Proposition 227, albeit by a narrower margin than other voters. Poll Director
Susan Pinkus said that last-minute campaigning by anti-227 groups in Latino
media and the opposition of all four gubernatorial candidates probably
tipped the balance. "Being largely
working-class communities, many Latinos do not start paying attention until
two or three weeks before the actual elections," said Harry Pachon,
president of the Tomas Rivera Center, a Latino think tank. Pachon said
that was precisely when mailers opposing 227 started arriving en masse
and television commercials picked up.
According to the exit poll, Latino voters
were younger, poorer, less-educated, newer to the political process and
primed for change. Two-thirds of Latinos polled were under age 50, 15%
earn less than $20,000 a year, a third have at most a high school education
and nearly a third voted for the first time in a primary election.
Since they are predominantly registered
as Democrats, Latinos were far more likely than non-Latino white voters
polled to advocate for a change from 16 years of Republican occupation
of the governor's seat.
Of course, the notion of a Latino voting
bloc is increasingly disputed in political circles as naive, particularly
as electoral rifts emerge, often between newer and more established immigrants.
For example, Jose Sandoval, a Huntington
Park father of three voting in his first primary, favored Proposition 227
because he felt his children's years in bilingual classes were a waste.
"They couldn't even read English," he said.
By contrast, a mother of four from Bell
said she voted against the measure out of concern for the educational experience
of her youngest daughter who "says some words in English but she's
Still, Tuesday's outcome appeared to follow
other recent elections, where Latinos went against the tide on measures
they took personally: the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 and the
anti-affirmative action Proposition 209. Latinos opposed both measures
passed by state voters.
"Contrary to state voting patterns,
Latinos continue to reject wedge propositions," said Antonio Gonzalez,
president of the Willie Velazquez Institute, which analyzes Latino voting
patterns. "The story here is that Latinos, again contrary to statewide
currents, reject Prop. 227 with a big turnout . . . We're kind of like
Michael Jordan right now: Every time he scores a point in the playoffs
he sets a new record."
Latinos bucked the trends elsewhere as well
on Tuesday, largely without success: They were more than twice as likely
as voters overall to support multimillionaire Al Checchi--liking him almost
as much as they liked Democratic nominee Gray Davis--a nod to Checchi's
attempt to beat a Populist tom-tom over the condition of public education.
And they favored fellow Latino Charles Calderon for attorney general, while
the rest of Democrats whisked Bill Lockyer into the general election slot.
Only Proposition 226 seemed to offer a glimpse
of the shape of things to come in this state, where Latinos are expected
to become the majority in 2040.
Like three in four Latino voters, Jose Montenegro,
a former warehouseman and Teamster from South Gate, voted against the union
initiative. He thought it threatened to diminish the power of working people.
And the way he figures it, from his current vantage point as an independent
truck driver working out of San Pedro, large corporations already trample
truckers' rights at every turn.
"Unions have lost a lot of power,"
said Montenegro, 50, who has lived in California for three decades. "They
need the money to get more active, to start organizing people more."
The measure did lose and by just a few percentage
points. Without Latinos, the exit poll of 5,143 voters showed, the measure
would have been a dead heat.
"Lots of interesting things are going
to start happening in the next couple of years," said assistant professor
Abel Valenzuela of the Cesar Chavez Center at UCLA.
He said that as the impact of Latino voters
grows, so too will their diversity of interest and options.
"You're going to see [Latino] movement
into statewide campaigns, as you did this election, and into Republican
races and into predominantly white areas, too," Valenzuela said.
Welcome News for Latino Politicians
Although they are by no means assured of
Latino support, Latino politicians generally consider this trend good news.
This year, there are more vying for office than ever before.
Barrales' campaign consultant, Kevin Spillane,
said he considers the candidate a "benchmark for the Republican party,"
which lost the confidence of Latinos following Gov. Pete Wilson's advocacy
for Proposition 187.
"Obviously, the perception has developed
that the Republican party is not friendly in the Latino community,"
Spillane said. "We have some work to do."
The Latino Issues Forum in San Francisco
issued a news release detailing those and other gains: of 20 state Senate
seats up for grabs, seven have Latino candidates in the general election;
of the 80 Assembly seats, 25 have Latino candidates.
If November results emerge as expected,
those candidacies could increase Latino representation in both houses to
"The giant is awake!" declared
forum Director Guillermo Rodriguez. "No longer are we just electing
Latinos from East L.A., but from places like San Luis Obispo and Monterey."
In Los Angeles, statewide Latino political
power follows a meandering route through East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel
Valley. Tuesday's election indicates that trail may soon lead to the San
Fernando Valley as well. There, the hotly contested state Senate race,
which remained too close to call Wednesday, also had distinctly Latino
City Councilman Richard Alarcon has repeatedly
downplayed the role of the Latino vote in the race, but election returns
pinpointed his base of support in the heavily Latino northeast Valley,
while competitor and former Assemblyman Richard Katz drew more backers
from the predominantly Jewish, middle-class neighborhoods of the southwest
"I am only hopeful that people in the
Northeast Valley now know they have this ability to impact the process,"
An interesting case study in the pitfalls
of defining Latinos as a monolith can be seen in the sharply contrasting
voting results from from Huntington Park and Montebello, two largely Latino
blue-collar suburbs of Los Angeles with similar population numbers--more
than 60,000 residents each--but widely varying demographic make-ups.
Huntington Park, where 92% of residents
are Latino, is a new-immigrant enclave that is home to growing numbers
of recent arrivals, especially from Mexico. Montebello, with a 68% Latino
majority, is a more middle-class bedroom community, home to many multi-generational
U.S. residents of Mexican ancestry.
In Montebello, residents voted 58%-41% against
227, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. But voters
in Huntington Park weighed in against the anti-bilingual education measure
by 71% to 28%--almost matching the 3-to-1 margins by which Latinos statewide
rejected Proposition 187 four years ago.
The two cities' voting trends also show
the more unified opposition to 226 among Latinos.
In Huntington Park almost 80% voted against
restricting union ability to fund political measures.
Times staff writers Fred Alvarez in Ventura and Hugo Martin in the San
Fernando Valley also contributed to this story.
* * *
The Latino Vote
* * * Proposition 227
* * * Proposition 226
* * * By Candidate:
Source: L.A. Times / CNN exit poll
* * *
Ballot Breakdown (Southland Edition, A1)
63% of Latinos voted no on Prop. 227 (to end bilingual education).
57% of Asians voted yes on Prop. 227.
20% of Democratic women voted for Jane Harman for governor.
49% of Democratic women voted for Gray Davis for governor.
Source: L.A. Times / CNN exit poll