The Fronteras Vote 2012 Election Special
May 23, 2012 2:06 p.m.
The Fronteras Vote 2012 linked seven public radio stations and their listeners across the Southwest for an in-depth, two hour live call-in program exploring the issues surrounding the upcoming election and the role of voters in the region.
CAVANAUGH: Voters in the southwest could hold the key to this year's presidential election. Welcome to frontiers on vote, 2012. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh what is Fronteras? On one level, it's a collaboration of seven public radio stations with the goal of covering the issues and the stories important to the southwest. Those stations are KJZZ Phoenix, KNAW, KNAU in Flagstaff.
Fronteras is also the new frontier. We'll discuss jobs, and the economy, education, redistricting, immigration, social issues, the Dream Act, and the political awakening of the emerging southwest. Join us and participate. From the Fronteras Desk in Phoenix, Peter O'Dowd takes a look.
O'DOWD: The west is more diverse than ever. It's also more urban. The brookings institution says those characters air departure for states like Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. David deMore is a political scientist at the university of Nevada Las Vegas.
NEW SPEAKER: The big issue is the traditional view of the mountain west states as these overwhelmingly white rural states. The reality is you have the most demographically diverse states, and some of the most densely populated states in the whole country.
O'DOWD: Brookings is calling the midwest America's new swing region. That will make the area more hospitable to Democrats this season and beyond. They will struggle to have their voices increasingly heard in states across the region.
(End Audio Recording)
CAVANAUGH: I'd like to welcome David DeMore, to coauthor of the brookings report. Hi, David.
DEMORE: Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And here in KPBS in San Diego I'm joined by Alisa Barba, senior editor for the Fronteras Desk. Welcome.
BARBA: Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: David, talk to us more about how the southwest has been understood politically in the past. You mentioned in that report, it's traditionally thought of as white and rural. Was it mean as important politically?
DEMORE: Traditionally not. This was largely an area where the Republicans had done quite well. Nevada probably had a tendency to swing more as did New Mexico but certainly Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Idaho were strong Republican states there. So there wasn't much competition out here. The other part was, until the last couple of decades, when the growth boom hit this part of the country, you didn't have a lot of electoral votes in stake. There wasn't a lot of incentive to go out there, you got to travel between the urban areas here. It takes a lot of time to campaign here. Now the demographics have changed, the region has grown, you have more electoral colleges at state, at least three swing states, Colorado, New Mexico, and potentially Arizona. There's much more interest here, and much more at stake given how close the expectations are for the presidential race.
CAVANAUGH: Right. What areas of the southwest can we really see a change from, as you call it white and rural to urban and diverse?
DEMORE: Well, it's actually happened everywhere. If you look at all of the metros in the region, they've all become a bigger share of the population, and even a state like Utah that now has a population that's 20% nonwhite. But where I live in Nevada is probably the case study there. Because you have about 3/4 of the population resides in one county, Clark county or Las Vegas, then another 12% in Reno and Washington counties. You have 87% of the population in two geographic spaces here. You certainly see that change there, and then of course with that has come the changing demo graphics in just the last decade, Nevada went the nonwhite -- the nonwhite population increased. We will become a majority nonwhite state. Arizona is also close to that.
CAVANAUGH: Alisa, how does this brookings report match up to the stories you've been involved with?
BARBA: Well, which is exactly what we're covering. Part of our mandate is to cover the changing America. And of course you can see these fascinating change, especially how this changing demo graphic is affecting culture, politic, in places like Las Vegas, in Phoenix, in Albuquerque to a certain extent. But all across the southwest.
CAVANAUGH: On the line, Joey calling from San Antonio Texas public radio. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello. Good to talk to you. My concern is that we have too many people coming over here from Mexico. They don't speak our language. They come over here and they want to recreate another Mexico. They want to recreate a new country. They have no intention of assimilation, and they're demanding rights that only citizens deserve. I believe in being compassionate and working with and helping people who come here and want to assimilate and live in the country like everybody else.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. And let me go to you, David, about the fact that there are immigrants from Mexico in the southwest, I think we all can agree on that. But we've also heard lately that we have a net zero immigration in the United States now. So you say David that the southwest is growing, but what is fuelling the growth?
DEMORE: Well, traditionally here it was the building boom. The notion of growth brought all these people here. And in respect to the illegal immigration issue, you had a lot of those folks coming in to work in the trade and construction industry. And in Nevada, and to a lesser degree perhaps in Arizona, the economic downturn has largely resolved some immigration issues in that we have a net loss in Nevada here. That was a part of it. And I also think you see more of a general shift in the country moving from the cold parts of the country to the warmer parts of the country. Texas grew tremendously, but also throughout the southeast as well. So I think there's a general shift in people's mindset, hey, why do you want to live in the cold? The industry is up there, the traditional rust belt industries are not coming back here, and there's new opportunities out here in the southwest.
CAVANAUGH: David DeMore, time magazine had a cover last March with an article about why Latinos will decide the next election. In the southwest, will Latinos be casting deciding votes?
DEMORE: Potentially. The big reason for that is because they're still a relatively untapped block of voters. So the data I'm most familiar with is obviously Nevada. They make up about 15% of the vote in 2010 in the midterm there. But the voting age that Latino voting age eligible is about 22%. You still have a tremendous amount of voters who can be brought in the electorate here. And I think that's sort of the same story you see across the region. The other part is because there are a lot of Latino voters relatively new to the political process, they don't have the strong party ties. And across the region, you don't have strong party regions here.
CAVANAUGH: What do you see as far as momentum for the Latino community compared to the 2008 reaction?
BARBA: I think the concern for some of the parties in this election is that there's a certain amount of apathy or resignation on the part of registered Latino voters who did come out in higher numbers to vote for President Obama in 2008. But there's a concern that the economy has not significantly improved, and President Obama's promises in terms of immigration reform, and other things that he promised have not really come through. There's a sense, a concern about voter apathy, that the voter numbers will not be there. There's big drives going on, a lot of people trying to get more people registered, trying to get people to the elections. But it depends upon what the election is, it depends upon if there's a local election that can galvanize the people. There's an interesting example in Phoenix where a bunch of young mostly undocumented immigrant students got out the vote for a local Latino candidate and improved the voting numbers like 500%. It was an extraordinary example. But it worked probably because it was a local election.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, both of you, starting with you, David, this report makes the southwest sound like an area of conflicting populations, rather than a melting pot. Can you tell us about the political landscape of the southwest?
DEMORE: Well, it's one that's in flux. Obviously here. And the way you see the region is it's got the home of the two battling narratives of the 2012 election, that being the demographic shift that we're seeing across the country. And then of course also the economic issues here. Nevada, Arizona, Colorado to some degree have been particularly hard-hit by the economy, and that's obviously a theme the Republicans are going to play up here. That's how I see the landscape here, these two macro narratives driving the election.
BARBA: I think that's a really good point. I think the reason these are swing states, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona mostly in our region is because they could literally swing either way. We have as you put it, the huge economic downturn especially in Nevada and Arizona that impacted everybody, Latino, every group of course. But then you also have kind of what is considered to be right now a huge advantage for the Democrats in terms of Latinos' allegiance to the Democratic Party. In terms of the political landscape, and these combating cultures, this is a new wave of immigration that we are absorbing. Probably 100 years ago in New Jersey or New York, you would have seen the same thing with Irish immigrants or Puerto Ricans. Within the first 50 years of this kind of a shift, there does seem to be competing agendas. Perhaps the melting pot just needs to take some time.
CAVANAUGH: Alisa, this is the Fronteras vote 2012, as we begin on this journey of exploration, various issues in the southwest, do you get the sense that western voters, especially Latino voters are feeling a new sense of political power?
BARBA: The pundits are saying they ought to. A lot of people in the press are saying this is the year of the Latino voter. It's -- I think it's unclear at this point whether there's an actual empowerment within those communities.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with David DeMore, political scientist at the university of Nevada, Las Vegas. And Alisa barber. Thank you both.
DEMORE: Thank you.
BARBA: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back to the Fronteras vote, 2012. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. This special broadcast is coming to you from the stations of public radios Fronteras Desk, located in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and here in San Diego California. The Fronteras vote is about the political clout the southwest could have in the 2012 elections. The region has many of its own concerns and priorities, but one concern southwestern voters share with voters across the nation is the state of the U.S. economy. States hike Arizona and Nevada grew more than most during the boom year, but that growth coming out of the recession has lagged. Arizona has only regained a quarter of the jobs it lost during the bust. Devin Browne takes a look.
BROWNE: If there is a bright spot in Arizona's recovery, it's the leisure and hospitality industry. The state's largest job creator right now. This news makes 24 year-old Graham Doyle very happy.
NEW SPEAKER: The hospitality industry out here seems to always be booming, they're always building new bar, new hotels, stuff like that, new casinos. Hopefully that'll be an option for me always.
BROWNE: There are a few drawbacks with the industry. One, the jobs don't require a lot of education or skill, and two, they generally don't pay very much. But economist say the bigger concern is when the state's industries grow too fast and create the expectation that they'll grow that fast forever, like Arizona's construction industry, for example. Economist Steven brown says Arizona's rate of growth during the boom fueled by the construction industry was about five times what it is now. And that's partly why the state's economy collapsed.
NEW SPEAKER: Because you can't have a region of the country that forever grows a lot faster than the country as a whole.
BROWNE: Arizona is now trailing the country as a whole in terms of job recovery. That might seem disappointing, but brown says the state's current rate of job growth is much closer to what economist see as sustainable in the long-term.
(End Audio Recording)
CAVANAUGH: And I'm joined by Devin Browne at KJZZ in Arizona, and welcome to the program.
BROWNE: Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: And here at KPBS, Dan Seiver, finance professor at San Diego state university. Welcome back.
CAVANAUGH: Is the southwest having a harder time recovering from the economic downturn than other regions of the country?
SEIVER: I would say it is, because the housing boom and bust was more intense here. That collapse has caused the economies of this area to be sicker, and they will recover more slowly until the housing sector is healthy again.
CAVANAUGH: And within the southwest, are there some states that are struggling with that housing collapse more than others?
SEIVER: Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California were ground zero for the housing insanity. And they had the greatest trouble coming back. Even places like San Diego are showing more signs of life, I would think. Arizona and Nevada are still two of the worst hit.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And as you track these things, how does that trickle down to the job market? Obviously construction jobs are lost. But what is the impact of that kind of a collapse?
SEIVER: Construction jobs are lost, and the funds those workers would have spend are not spend. So it spans out through the whole economy in the service sector and elsewhere. And the collapse also spread to commercial real estate. So this affected construction in malls and you can go anywhere and see malls that have many empty stores. So it's been a great difficulty in retailing and retail construction that's also tied to the collapse that we had. So it does spread out through the whole economy. And then of course it affects government revenue, which in turn states have to cut back on their spending, which has further effects on the economy.
CAVANAUGH: Devin, you pointed out that the leisure and hospitality fields as areas where job growth is rebounding. There are any other areas that are coming back?
BROWNE: Well, are that's interesting you should say that, because what the southwest wants or at least southwestern politicians want are higher paying jobs, jobs that employ workers that have more education and more skills. But the connection between a growing, you know, leisure and hospitality sector and a future with higher wage jobs is not great. What happens when a place fills its workforce with largely uneducated, unskilled workers, other industries who think of relocating to Arizona look at the workforce and say no thank you. What I found surprising is that the cry for higher wage jobs is coming more from politicians than some economist. Historically to attract these kind of job, Arizona has subsidized or given tax breaks to the higher paying industries like biotech. So in the end, you're taxing lower wage workers because more highly paid professionals can move here. And a lot of economist I talked to don't think this makes sense.
CAVANAUGH: Here in San Diego, one of the problems that we have is that the cost of living is so high people don't want to come to San Diego and get a job that doesn't pay well. I wonder, is that also a problem throughout Arizona and the southwest?
BROWNE: I think Arizona advertises itself a really affordable place to live, and a place that has a tremendously -- the climate and a high quality of life. I don't think what deters people from moving here is that it's too expensive. There's a sense that there aren't the opportunities and the growth that we experienced during the boom times.
CAVANAUGH: LaVern from San Diego, welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes. I was calling because there's a lot of Mexican children that are brought over here. And they have no right, they're raised here in the United States , they don't know anything, they're brought here when they're kids. And they don't know anything about Mexico. Of then people are telling them to go back to Mexico. They're raised here, they go to school here. And they don't know anything about Mexico. And so they don't know the constitutional right which says that they're also protected under the law, the citizens and those who are in the United States country. And I think President Obama would have done something about the immigration problem if he wasn't blocked every chance he got by the Republican party.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for the call. I just have to stop you because we are going to be talking about immigration in the next hour of this broadcast. Right now, we're talking about jobs and the economy. So we're asking people if they have a concern about jobs and the economy, if that's what's going to get you to go to the polls this November, give us a call. Dan Seiver, when asked, considering all the issues that are surrounding our lives in the southwest, when asked, many people did say that the economy and jobs are their No.†1 issue. Does that surprise you?
SEIVER: No, it's not surprising, and a lot of Americans vote their pocketbook in elections. And that means the economic conditions in the southwest, several of those states are swing states, will be very important for this fall's election.
CAVANAUGH: Could the issue of jobs and the economy lead to some do you think swing votes in the southwest?
SEIVER: Sure. There are states that are, you know, Arizona is still a very red state, and California is a very blue state. But a state like New Mexico and a state like Nevada are both swing states. And if economic conditions there do improve some, that will help President Obama, and if they don't, it will certainly help governor Romney.
CAVANAUGH: It's that cut and dry?
SEIVER: Well, there are many other factors. But in those few states that are swing states, there are a limited number of independent voters. And for them, economic conditions will be important.
CAVANAUGH: David is calling us from Scottsdale Arizona. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello there. Yes, two things I'm a registered Democrat, live in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is a red state. I would say I'm a moderate. I did vote for Obama in 2008. However, there are some issues with him that are not done. Came here to the states in 1986, lived in New York for a while. I am a citizen. I did it the right know. I know you're catching a lot of comments regarding illegal immigration. I'm against it. There is a way to do it. There's a right way, I did it, and my did family did it to. I'm just putting this out there. You don't have to cross the border, you don't have to do -- commit a crime to get here.
CAVANAUGH: David, let me ask you something. What's going to get you to the polls this November? Is it immigration or is it the economy?
NEW SPEAKER: Probably the economy. Regarding politics, I am going to vote for Obama again. But I do it like I say, I am a moderate. I believe in the second amendment. I think if Obama goes after the freedoms of people, I'm not just talking gun rights here, I'm a member of the NRA, and also gold's gym. But I'm just saying basically I'm going to vote for him again. It's the economy. I'm in the trade. I do see enough swing in work going on. I work with builders, construction people every day. And it is slowly picking up. So I do think there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much for your call. I really do appreciate it. There you have it. A man who calls in and talks about the immigration and yet he's going to go to the polls and the economy is going to drive him there. Devin, what are you hearing from residents in Arizona about their concerns about jobs and the economy?
BROWNE: There's a strong sense among voters in Arizona that the government at various levels is really choking the state's attempts at getting out of the crisis. And this is a change. Up until recently, the resounding frustration was directed at unauthorized immigrants who voters felt were burning the economy and using too many social services. But membership in groups and volunteer militia that focus on illegal immigration is way down. I'm surprised on this hour about the economy, we're setting so many phone calls about immigration. In this state, there's been a sense of immigration fatigue almost. Where people can't talk about that as the front and center issue anymore. While these groups have gone down, are the number of so-called patriotic or antigovernment groups has exploded. When I talk to these people, they tell me they're there because of their frustrations over the economy.
CAVANAUGH: Edward from Point Loma, welcome.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. I just had a quick question for your panelists. We have two different types of candidates running for president. And one is a businessman, but really with a background in investing and speculation. And I wonder if that background is really what your panelists feel is needed for job creation. It seems like loading a company with debt and walk away with a profit isn't the same as creating jobs.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call, Edward. Dan?
SEIVER: I think the caller has pretty much decided what he's going to do in November. But my feeling is that being a business person does not disqualify you to run for president any more than being a military general or being a community organizer. So I don't think that really is the issue. The question is I think which one of those candidates is going to do a better job running the United States in the next four years in all areas of a president's responsibilities. And I think that's what voters need to make their mind up about.
CAVANAUGH: Dan, it occurs to me, when candidates talk about the economy and jobs, we usually see them as a factory town in the east, you know? They're usually at some sort of big factory in what we would refer to as a rust belt state. Do you think either party has a good enough idea about the problems playing the southwest economy?
SEIVER: Well, I think they will pay a lot of attention to the problems in those states that are up for grabs in November. The thing about the rust belt is Ohio and Pennsylvania are absolutely crucial to both Romney and Obama in this election am I think the candidates will spend a lot of time in those states, as well as Florida and states like Nevada and New Mexico.
CAVANAUGH: Which only emphasizes what we're talking about in this program and the fact that the southwest has become politically important with its potential swing votes.
SEIVER: Right. In those states. We won't see them much in California. That's just the reality of the politics like the reality is also massive spending by outside interests on both sides.
CAVANAUGH: Now we've been told that the U.S. economy is improving. Dan, do you think that's really the impression people will have as they go to the polls in November?
SEIVER: That's a tough call. I think that all the evidence shows that the economy is improving, we've come back a long away from this disaster, but we're still not back at the conditions we had before the economic collapse of the and that's going to take a long time. Credit collapses take a long time to fix. That's a concern. And voters may punish the incumbent in this case, Obama, because they don't see as much improvement as there really is. Of that's what happened to bush the elder when he lost his reelection bid. The economy really was recovering, but voters didn't feel like that. And so he was defeated. And so Obama I think fears that same outcome, which could happen. On the other hand, if enough voters thought that enough progress had been made, they may decide to reelect him, but I think it's going to be an incredibly close election.
CAVANAUGH: Liz is calling us from JKZZ in Phoenix. Hi.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I'm calling from Phoenix. And we here in Phoenix think that opening up the green jobs market with so many solutions in solar power, possibilities for growing hemp, industrial hemp, that would open up the economy, that would make any incumbent stay in office, and it would certainly bring the voters out. So that's one thing. Green jobs and solutions for Phoenix Arizona being the solar capital, that's not happened yet. That would open up the spectrum of people interested in voting, and it would certainly add to the economics of this state.
CAVANAUGH: Liz, thank you for the call. James also listening to us on KJZZ, calling from Glendale. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello, this is James. I just had a quick comment about the economy. I'm seeing signs around Arizona as far as building of houses and businesses are starting to advertise that they have jobs available. And just real quick about the Obama thing, I just think that he's been given a bag of goods when he was elected. This whole economy thing was unprecedented, and I think when these economist come out with these numbers, the economy not recovering as fast as it should be, there's really no scale to speak to that because it is unprecedented, how this downturn has happened. But I have seen improvements in my state, at least, as far as jobs coming back.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you, and I want to thank my guests.
SEIVER: Thank you.
BROWNE: Thanks for having us.
CAVANAUGH: We're joined by our six sister stations that make up the Fronteras Desk, in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. And we invite listeners from across the southwest to join the conversation. What issues matter to you as we move into the election season? So far we've discussed how changing demographics and an increasing population may result in the southwest playing a more important role than ever in the upcoming election. And we've heard the story of the struggling U.S. economy from a southwestern vantage point. Now we take a look at the important role of education, are and the promise of the Dream Act for many in the southwest and America. The Mars den institute reported there hasn't been much progress in closing the education achievement gap in Arizona. First Jill Replogle tells us some educators in San Diego believe dual education teaching may be the key.
REPLOGLE: The playground at Los Altos elementary is on a hilltop. To the south, you can see across the border fence that separates Mexico from the U.S. in the other direction, you can make out the skyscrapers of downtown San Diego through the morning haze. Many of the kids here are familiar with both of these worlds, and some will grow up fully fluent in the languages of both. This year, they started a dual-language emersion program. The first grade students spend half of their day learning in Spanish. And the other half in English. It's not exactly a radical concept. Bilingual education has been around probably forever. But emersion programs are distinctive. Students take classes in two languages throughout their grade school year, and sometimes into junior high and high school. The aim is to strengthen the first language while teaching a second. Other California public school programs aimed at English language learners have a different goal.
NEW SPEAKER: To get students into English as quickly as possible.
REPLOGLE: Christina is a dual-language literacy professor at San Diego state.
NEW SPEAKER: Never allowing children to fully develop their primary language, and then they are pretty much just put into English, and you go back into the sink or swim.
REPLOGLE: Many students sink. California Department of Education statistics show that English learners score lower on standardized tests than their peers. Fewer graduate from high school and go on to college, but recent research shows students in dual language emersion programs tend to thrive, often surpassing the test scores of their peers. Some educators think these programs can help bridge the Latino education gap, and they say the world has changed since California voters decided to virtually eliminate bilingual education in 1998.
NEW SPEAKER: What do we want these children to be? To be able to continue competing in a global market? Then it makes sense to let them continue their language.
(End Audio Recording)
CAVANAUGH: Joining us from Phoenix, my guest, CJ Eisenbarth Hager, senior policy analyst at the Morrison institute. Welcome to the show.
EISENBARTH HAGER: Thanks Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And here at KPBS, I'm joined by Jose Luis Jimenez, social media editor for the Fronteras Desk. Hello.
JIMENEZ: Hello, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: The subject, education in the southwest, and the dream contact. The Mars den institute issued a report on the Latino educational achievement gap in Arizona. What are we talking about when we refer to an achievement gap? Are these lower test scores? Fewer student who is finish high school or go onto college?
EISENBARTH HAGER: All of the above, Maureen. What we've seen over time is that there is a gap in test scores as you said, but also the graduation rate from high school and going onto a postsecondary education. And this gap, at least in Arizona, has not subsided over the past decade, which is worrisome.
CAVANAUGH: What are the factors that drive this gap, this low performance?
EISENBARTH HAGER: There's a number of factors. One as your story just talked about was speaking another language at home, and then getting into the K-12 system, and not having English as their primary language. Also what you find with the average Latino family is, at least in Arizona, more than twice as many families who are Latino live in poverty than are white. So you end up with a combination of issues. You end up with children not speaking English as their first language, low incomes, but then also their parents often don't have what's called education capital to help the children navigate their way through the public education system.
CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls. Adriana is on the line in Chula Vista. Welcome to the show.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you for taking my call. I had a couple of different topics, especially since my little one will be joining kindergarten very soon. But something that I want to point out with your guest, just said, my dad has probably the reading level of a third grader, and he didn't really finish high school. And my mom did finish high school while they were both born in the U.S., they actually grew up in Mexico till their teens. So it was very important for them to get my education, and I graduated from USC in Los Angeles in 2004. And I never looked back. But let's say my mom wasn't around, and I was just being raised by my dad, he wouldn't have any sense of what the school system is supposed to function like or any way to empower me. If it wasn't for my mom, I wouldn't have been empowered to focus on school. And I think there are a lot of students especially newly immigrated parents where people school education in Mexico, it's not required, people drop out in second grade.
CAVANAUGH: Adriana, thank you for the call. I just want Jose, he wants to comment on what you've been saying.
JIMENEZ: What Adriana talked about is something we explored in the series called the Latino education gap. And several school districts have come up with programs precisely to address this. In Las Vegas, there's a whole club that mentors Latino students. And the focus is to encourage them to stay in school and to move on, and go onto college. And then there's also some programs I believe one is at ASU that brings parents in with their daughters to learn about college and to basically instill in the parents the importance of college, and encourages them to go into college. This is it an issue that educators are aware of, but like a lot of things with education these days, it comes down to money too.
CAVANAUGH: Another hot issue revolving around education in the southwest is the Dream Act.
JIMENEZ: It's a bipartisan bill that was introduced in Congress several years ago that would allow undocumented youth a path to citizenship as long as they completed a college degree or two years of military service. Like I mentioned, it never got out of Congress, I think it got reintroduced. It's dwelling there. On the other side, a Republican version has come out of the Dream Act, very similar to the bipartisan one, but it would not grant citizenship. It would basically grant residence.
CAVANAUGH: Now, CJ, what do you think the Dream Act could do to increase educational achievement in Arizona and throughout the southwest?
EISENBARTH HAGER: Well, I think whatever we can do to encourage children to finish high school and pursue a postsecondary education, be it an apprenticeship, training, or community college or university, I think whatever we can do to encourage that pathway strengthens our economy of the future. And the Dream Act is certainly one strategy to do that. But I think it's also important to note that at least in Arizona, most of our children, most of the Latino children are in fact U.S. citizens. Under 20, Latinos under 20, 88% are citizens. And for children who are under 5 who are Latino, 97% are citizens.
CAVANAUGH: Kent is calling us. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, I appreciate my call being answered. I taught 36 years, and 26 years, children in Arizona. And what happened is Arizona had a big deficit. And the man recently mentioned a lot of money, and that's what I'm talking about. The legislators balanced the budget by drastically cutting, and education was drastically cut. And we have always been 47th or lower on funding for students. And the science scores recently came out, we're 49th on, on the bottom. Only one state worse than us in science scores. And so the conclusion I draw from this is Arizona's view on education has been poor, they feel it's not important and too darn expensive.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much for your call. Is the amount of money being spent on education part of the problem?
EISENBARTH HAGER: We identified that as one of the overarching policy issues that we need to look at, that we need to fund education at a proper level. You can't have a return on investment if you have no investment. I want to add a little bit to what the caller said. While some are frustrated with the legislature, I think the people of Arizona have consistently placed education very high as far as priorities go. Two years ago, there was a ballot measure to defund the early childhood education department here in Arizona, are and the voters rejected that. Also at the same time, there was a measure to increase our sales tax by $0.01 to help fund education, and the voters voted to that that should be the case. So voters definitely support public education here in Arizona. It just sometimes feels like there's a disconnect between the voters and the legislature and the decision makers.
JIMENEZ: That's what I was going to mention. Also here in November in California, it's going to be on the ballot too. Basically funding education through raising taxes. So that is definitely one of the most important issues heading into the election in November.
CAVANAUGH: California passed its own version of the Dream Act. What does it do? Obviously it cannot make citizens of kids who go to college or enter the military right?
JIMENEZ: Of course. It basically allows them financial aid both on a private level through scholarship, and also through the public level, through grants or scholarships granted by the government, and allows undocumented students access to public education accident universities, and colleges.
CAVANAUGH: Apparently as we heard in the very beginning of our talk here from jill's report, educators find that many kids from Latino families learn better when they're taught in both English and Spanish. Why is this teaching method so often sort of a political hot potato?
JIMENEZ: Well, it's because of the languages, basically. People feel if you're in the U.S., you should be taught in English. And the focus should be squarely on English. And basically the programs the way they have been set up previously, it is just to simply get these speakers of other languages, primarily Spanish, to learn English as quickly as possible and assimilate into the schools. But they have found that they are having trouble assimilating. And so many dual language programs where half of the day you learn in one language, and half the day you learn in another, and although initially the test scores are low, in the long run, they are doing much better with their test scores, and learning with the dual language programs as opposed to just trying to have somebody learn in English only when it's not their native language.
CAVANAUGH: We have a caller, Lester calling us from Arizona, Litchfield park. Welcome.
NEW SPEAKER: As a retired community college teacher over in Texas Actually, in the occupational area, I saw the value of college-level education to all kinds of students who were -- many of them employed already, but it enhanced their skills. And the Dream Act is one way to get young people into that same partnership. I know there's a dichotomy of youth against public funds being utilized for immigrants or so-called illegal alien, and obviously adult people that are in their later stages of life that don't go back to school and don't want to learn English seems to color the whole issue.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for your phone call. In about 30 seconds that we have left, CJ, if we don't address this education gap, what happens?
EISENBARTH HAGER: We took a look at that. We looked at if immigration stays the way it is, if education attainment of Latinos says the way it is, what will Arizona look like in 30 years? And what we found is that there will be an increasing amount of poverty, which will in turn put stresses on the social safety network through increased food stamp and Medicaid issues. Then also the average incomes for all Arizonans regardless of ethnicity or race will either stagnate or drop. And that's looking at it in constant dollars. Everyone will be worse off as a result of us not addressing this issue.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you both.
JIMENEZ: Thank you Maureen.
EISENBARTH HAGER: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: A special live broadcast presented across the southwest continues this hour. Will it be immigration laws that bring southwestern voters to the polls this year or concerns over jobs and the economy? And who will show up to vote? Will 2012 will be the year Latinos and other minorities in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California see their growing numbers reflected in voter turnout? We're asking you to weigh in on those issues. Get ready to call, tweet, and access our web page.
Voters in the southwest have strong opinions about immigration, but will beliefs about social issues have a bigger influence on their votes? Welcome as we continue this special broadcast, the fronteras vote, 2012. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The fronteras desk is a class action among seven public radio stations in the southwest. Their goal is to cover the issues and stories important to the people who live in this vital and growing region of the country. Those stations are KJZZ Phoenix, KANU in Flagstaff, KUAZ in Tucson, KNPR in Las Vegas, KWRG in Las Cruces, and here we are proud to be hosting this program. This hour, we'll focus on some of the hottest issues this election year, including voter reaction to Arizona's SB1070, and the president's recent turnaround on the issue of same-sex marriage. And then a more low-key but crucial aspect, redistricting and voter registration. Join us, participate, we want to hear what you think about the fronteras vote 2012. You can call our toll free line. 1-888-895-5727. Or go online. We start this hour with a discussion on the social and moral issues that could sway votes this election year. Fronteras reporter Adrian Florido takes a look at whether the president's stance on same-sex marriage will affect his popularity with voters in the southwest.
FLORIDO: Latinos are a religious bunch, and religious conservatism is the driving force against same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception. But recent polling by Latino decisions, a national firm, found that most think politics and religion should not mix, and an overwhelming majority of Latinos, 75%, in fact, say politics should be more about economic issues like jobs than about moral ones. Though moral issues are important to many Latinos, Latino decisions cofounder and political scientist Matt Baretto says:
NEW SPEAKER: We don't find they're salient to their vote choice. I would suspect the Obama announcement is not going to hurt him among Latino voters. If anything, we're finding that Latinos are themselves changing and becoming more open and supportive on the issue of same-sex marriage.
FLORIDO: A recent survey by the national council of la raza found that more than half of Latinos support marriage. Not all Latinos agree. Older ones tend to be more conservative. But on the whole, the data suggests that the president's same-sex marriage decision is unlikely to chip away at his overwhelming support within the Latino community.
(End Audio Recording)
CAVANAUGH: Joining me to discuss social conservatism and the southwest vote is Tibi Ellis, a political and healthcare advocate and a consultant for international presidential elections. She joins us from KNPR in Las Vegas. Welcome to the show.
ELLIS: Thank you Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And I'm joined by fronteras reporter, Adrian Florido.
FLORIDO: Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Tibi, the piece pointed out that President Obama's announcement on same-sex marriage might not have a big effect on Latino voters. Do you agree?
ELLIS: Well, today there was a report out on the Florida primary, and I think this may be an indication of where the social vote is leaning. Yes, indeed 59% of Latinos are actually in the majority of accepting homeo sexuality in society, but only 43% support same gender marriage. So there is a disparity between acceptance and between the acceptance of a marriage or a matrimony for people of the same gender. And Latinos are very converse. In fact, a lot of them resent the fact that religious leaders should tell them which way to vote and vice versa, that our legislators or leaders in the nation should tell us what our moral issues should be.
ELLIS: So I think that for Latinos, there is a distinct separation between what the state's responsibilities and their duties is in telling us things that are important and impact our life versus what our moral teachings should come from. And 85% of the Latino population is Christian.
ELLIS: Over 60% attend mass or churches or Temples on a weekly basis. And the distinction between civil union or a religious matrimony is very important for the Latino community because most of us immigrant Hispanics that come for first generation come from countries where there are two distinct matrimony ceremonies. One that is done civil by the Courts and the other one that is done in our corresponding Temples. And I think Latinoses understand that difference.
CAVANAUGH: Excuse me, I didn't mean to interrupt you, but I'm just wondering, when it comes down to all you've explained about how these various contradictions are involved when someone votes, when someone goes to the voting booth, will an issue like same-sex marriage for the Latino voter, will that make a difference in who they cast their ballots for?
ELLIS: I really don't think so. 70% of the people still think the economy is the most important issue the day of the vote. Only 7% think same gender marriage is an issue for them am for the Latino voter, if they can't put food on the table, and send their kids to have education, and pay for healthcare, those are the main issues.
CAVANAUGH: Does religion play any role politically for any Latino voters?
ELLIS: There is a portion that it is important. Not all Latinos are." There is a percentage where faith issues, life, same gender marriage, all those issues are important, and they will tend to vote based on those principles but for the majority of Latinos, I think it goes back to the economy.
CAVANAUGH: Adrian, you recently did a story about how some San Diego Catholics reacted to a letter from the church opposing President Obama's mandate that health plans include contraceptive coverage. Tell us what you heard.
FLORIDO: Well, I went to churches around San Diego and talked to a lot of Latinas, women at churches, and people who go to church, just about every week, and asked them what they thought about this fact that the bishop of San Diego had written a scathing letter condemning the Obama administration for this requirement. This letter was published in the church bulletin, and a lot of women who I spoke with had just finished reading it. And the vast majority of the women I spoke with said they thought the church was wrong on this issue, they had no qualms not heeding the Catholic church's guidance on this. And that seems to be in line with what the national polling has found, and to what Tibi has just mentioned, while religion is important in the daily lives of a lot of Latinos, they tend to think according to national polling that it really shouldn't mix with politics. And that politics should be more about economic issues, about jobs, about the quality of life issues that just about all Americans face.
CAVANAUGH: Did you get any sense as to why that is? We have heard an awful lot in recent years about voters who are driven to the polls by their religious convictions. So what we're hearing here is that religious convictions are there, but it's not driving people to the polls or changing their vote. Why would that be?
FLORIDO: That's an interesting question. I think sort of fundamentally it is is that issues like the economy, like healthcare, affect Latinos just like they affect anyone. And to a certain extent, affect Latinos more heavily than earlier on in the recession. That's just something that Latino families see on a day to day basis. And that's very important to them.
CAVANAUGH: Tibi Ellis, is there something about being told that you're probably going to vote your religious values that puts Latino voters off?
ELLIS: Well, there is a distinct difference between generations in the Latino vote there is a survey that says that 69% of immigrant Hispanicses, first generation that immigrate, say that religion is very important in their life. That compared to the U.S.-born Hispanic, their children, their second and third generation, were only 49% religion plays an important role, that is where we see that separation of the younger vote is probably going to vote based more on the issues. One thing that is important to distinct is that we come from countries that are pretty anarchists, and they have been dictating down to the population the way they need to run their life, and there's only way, way to go at it. And most of us come to this country for that freedom that we have, for that dream that we can practice whatever our principles are. So I think that what the Latino voter may be resenting at this point is this increasing mandate from the government to the people about what healthcare or what religion or what principles you must comply by. Most of us come to this country for that freedom of religion, for that freedom of independence, and that's something to consider when it comes to the Latino voter. Because the conversation politically has changed this year.
ELLIS: We are seeing more and more violation of religious freedom, and I think that the churches, all Christian churches at large are talking more about that from the pew.
CAVANAUGH: What kinds of social issues could make an impact on Latino voters?
FLORIDO: To the extent that immigration is a social issue, that certainly has proven to impact Latino voters in the past and to be pretty relevant this election as well. Certainly more than moral issues like same-sex marriage or contraception. On immigration, progressive Latinos have few alternatives to the Democratic Party. So that does count for the continued attachment to the Democratic Party that you see among Latinos, even though sort of over time, as the prospect or not of immigration reform, the dream act passing, even though the status fluctuated, you still tend to see overwhelming support for the president with that issue. But that is one where the president has been more careful not to alienate Latinos. Although we had seen a greater amount of immigration enforcement under the Obama administration, and that accounts for some Latino voters dropping out.
CAVANAUGH: I do want to close out this segment with a remark on Facebook from William Terrance of Arizona. He says I had little reason to vote for Obama or Romney before the president came out for same-sex marriage. May now vote Obama. Well, thank you, Tibi Ellis and Adrian Florido for speaking us. Thank you Maureen.
FLORIDO: And I think the question for Romney, not only on immigration, is whether he can move more to the center now that he's won the Republican nomination. And whether he'll be able to portray himself in such a way that he's not seen as that far out there.
CAVANAUGH: And the polls in Arizona show us that SB1070 is very popular in Arizona. I've been speaking with David Kai, a researcher at UC San Diego, and Victoria Lopez, program director with the UCLA of Arizona. Thank you both very much.
FLORIDO: Thank you.
ELLIS: Thanks so much.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Broadcasting from station KPBS in San Diego California. We're joined by our six sister stations that make up public radio's Fronteras Desk in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. And we're inviting listeners across the southwest to join this conversation. What issues matter to you as we move into the election season? What will affect how you vote?
The U.S. Supreme Court expected to issue a ruling on key provisions of Arizona's SB1070 immigration law. The law has been deeply divisive in Arizona and across the southwest. Opponents say it's aimed at intimidating Latinos in Arizona. Supporters say it only serves to support U.S. immigration law. Fronteras reporter Peter O'Dowd tells us both sides might tell us the measure has already achieved part of its goal, forcing some immigrants out of Arizona.
O'DOWD: Here's why one of those workers decided to leave.
NEW SPEAKER: A lot of times when the police was driving behind me, start checking my body, top breathing --
O'DOWD: Josie is still afraid of getting deported so we agreed not to use her last night. When SB1070 became law, she left Arizona with her husband, and two children. The most controversial part of SB1070 would require police to check the immigration status of those they believe are in the country illegally. A federal judge blocked that provision. But Josie was still so nervous driving that she says she once hyperventilated and last consciousness on the road. She moved to New Mexico where illegal immigrants can get driver's licenses. Her husband rekindled his catering business, and she is cleaning houses again.
NEW SPEAKER: New Mexico offer me opportunities, give me a hug. I'm going to do something for New Mexico. I'm going to tell my kids do something good for New Mexico.
O'DOWD: Compare New Mexico to Arizona.
NEW SPEAKER: Big difference!
O'DOWD: Polls show Arizona's immigrant population has fallen by roughly 100,000 since 2009. The agency warns against making year by year comparisons.
NEW SPEAKER: Their a lot of indications that the unauthorized population in Arizona has dropped.
O'DOWD: Jeffrey Pacell is a demographer.
NEW SPEAKER: It's very difficult to say how much it's decreased and why it dropped.
O'DOWD: In the midst of this debate, the state's economy was in a tail spin. It's hard to know what prompted those workers to leave.
(End Audio Recording)
CAVANAUGH: Joining me in San Diego is David Keyes, a researcher at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego. Welcome to the program.
KEYES: Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And Victoria Lopez is coming to us from KJZZ in Phoenix. Program director with the ACLU. Welcome.
LOPEZ: Thanks so much.
CAVANAUGH: We just heard from a woman who said her family left Arizona because of the fear they felt in the wake of SB1070. What are you hearing from community members in Arizona? Are they fearful?
LOPEZ: Yeah, I would start by saying that Josie's story is just heartbreaking. But it shows also that people are leaving Arizona for many, many reason and not necessarily leaving the United States as supporters of this self-deportation idea as SB1070 had hoped. We are hearing stories of people, some of the plaintiffs in our legal challenge against the measure, friendly house, have expressed to us how their communities have changed since the passage of SB1070, whether it's vacant strip malls or neighbors leaving or declining school enrollment. This has had a significant impact in communities across Arizona. But I also think it's really important to point out that many people have stayed and continue to fight against abuse and discrimination here in Arizona and continue to fight the battle against SB1070 and other anti-immigrant laws.
CAVANAUGH: Has there been concerned this atmosphere could lead to hate crimes?
LOPEZ: Yeah, of course. There are definitely organizations across the country, the anti-defamation league, that monitor hate crimes across the country, and no doubt here in Arizona. I think what people are mostly engaged in, mostly fearful of or really concerned about is their interactions with people they may encounter on a regular bases like police, like schools, like hospitals. Those are the interactions that happen in people's daily live, and the impact is being felt certainly at that level.
CAVANAUGH: Does it make undocumented immigrants even more vulnerable to hate crimes or crimes of any nature because they're afraid now to go to the police?
LOPEZ: Right, that's a huge point with the passage of 1070 and other copy-cat laws across the country. These laws push people into the shadows, the idea of pushing undocumented immigrants into the shadows and not allowing them to access services like police services like hospital, medical services, and that's not only a detriment to those families and those communities but certainly to all of us because we do want to have communities that engage at all levels with the police, with hospitals, and all of those types of services.
CAVANAUGH: Before I move to David Keyes, I want to remind everyone we are taking your calls. In that report we just heard, it seems that the goal of SB1070, if it was to get immigrants out of Arizona, it may be succeeding. But what could be the cost?
KEYES: There are really significant economic costs for the state of Arizona. And you've already seen that in terms of conference bookings and things that were scheduled to go to Arizona as a protest move, switching to other states. I think it's also likely to be a factor when the economic downturn starts to end, and things are looking upward because of course a lot of the boom in construction, and that kind of thing that you saw in states like Arizona during the economic boom of the early 2 thousands, are the workers who were responsible for putting up all those houses and apartment bells were majority Latino. I think there could be a particularly strong impact felt for a state like Arizona if they struggle to move out of the economic recession.
CAVANAUGH: Roberto is calling from Clairemont here in San Diego.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very kindly for the opportunity to share in the conversation. I think that it's very -- I think it's incumbent on the Obama administration for him to be seeking the Latino vote. At the same time from the same mouth we see 400,000 deportations, no restraint that the justice department under Eric holder has levelled against the border patrol, I.C.E., homeland security. Continued violations of mas arrests and deportations. I think there's a war against Mexican Americans in particular and Latinos as a whole. And I think the hate crime, the rise of the hate crimes, and the inability of the Obama administration to reign in these police forces and these police agents, as the murder we saw in Juarez of the 9-year-old boy, and the murder we saw of the Mexican that was killed in San Ysidro, I think it's time that people especially Latinos rise up and demand that we have equal justice under this constitution. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for your comments. Let me go to you, Victoria. I think that many people may be surprised even now to learn that the number of people deported since President Obama was elected is higher than under any other president. Is this something that Latino community members in Arizona and the southwest are concerned about?
LOPEZ: Yes, absolutely. And rightly so. And I think it is important in this discussion to engage in those numbers and figures and really critically look at the impact of the Obama administration's immigration detention and enforcement policies across the country. You rightly pointed on out that the number of deportations has increased under this administration. That programs like 287 G have also either increased dramatically or remained at the same levels. And we have at the ACLU documented numerous violations of people's constitutional rights who are in the federal immigration enforcement system. So yes, people are certainly taking note of how the federal government has laid out its enforcement policies, and I think that yes, the Latino community should rightly take to task the Obama administration for those numbers and those policies.
CAVANAUGH: David, this is an election special, are the Fronteras vote 2012, do you think voters, especially in the southwest have made the connection between what President Obama promised about immigration policy in his last campaign and the reality of what the situation has been under his administration?
KEYES: Well, I think the challenge for Obama is that he did put forth many promises in terms of what he would do for immigration reform, and a lot of those promises have not been met. The challenge for him is he's now promising again that he'll address those issues in his second term. Given that he failed to do so after promising in his first term, I think the challenge will be whether that can still motivate people to go out to vote, particularly in the Latino community. If they'll see him saying that yes, the second term I'm going to take care of immigration as an issue, we'll do reform, they might say you told me that before and you didn't do it. Why should I even vote? When it comes down to the election, I think the question will be in terms of turnout, the agree to which people will believe him or not as a result.
CAVANAUGH: And that turnout is exactly what we're going to talk in our next segment. We do have a message from twitter or Facebook of the John from mesa Arizona told us that even though he's here legally, he is still as fearful with SB1070. I'm wondering, Victoria, as we come close to that Supreme Court decision on SB1070, how do you think that might affect the presidential election?
LOPEZ: We've seen that the Obama administration and the Department of Justice has come out against SB1070. They are litigating it, they were in the Supreme Court last month. They have filed lawsuits in some various states that enacted copy-cat measures. On the flip side of the federal enforcement programs that we just finished talking about, are the federal government has made some pretty major steps in objecting to and challenging in the Courts these anti-immigrant measures. Here in Arizona, that's definitely a good thing. But again, it has to be weighed with the discussion we just had about the federal immigration enforcement programs on the federal level.
CAVANAUGH: Jose on the line from Las Vegas. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much for get my phone call. I want to continue with what you guys are talking about, and what you mentioned about the caller, the person on twitter. I'm a U.S. citizen, and I myself am also very scared of all this stuff that's going on in Arizona and several other states because people seem to ignore the fact that this not only targets illegal immigrant, it is affecting all Hispanic people, all people that look brown. If I go to one of those state, I feel like I have to carry proper identification. If not, then I could basically be harassed, be detained, have to go through all these things. And what people -- also I want to mention people don't realize how -- I was not born here. I went through the whole process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Over here, if you state that you have an ID, and you always have that ID with you, but it's not that easy. For three of the five years they was a U.S. resident, I only had a stamp on my pass port, on my Colombian pas port. Let's say I'm driving in Arizona and show that to a cop, he's going to see this pass port, and think it's something fake. The lack of knowledge within government official, it's just so grand, that they just allow something so unconstitutional to pass and allowed to go this far, that now it's spreading through so many states. And no one is doing nothing about it.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for your call. I appreciate it. Victoria, I'd like to get your response.
LOPEZ: Yeah, this is definitely the response that we have heard from folks here in Arizona, whether they are immigrants to this country, whether they're U.S. citizens, whether they're undocumented or have legal status, this is what SB1070 does. It opens the door to racial profiling and allows local police officers to question people, arrest people, and even detain people based on the color of their skin. And that's just not how we operate in this country. And I think the caller was right to point out that people, citizens, and noncitizens alike are fearful that they would be stopped. We have again a number of people who have contacted our office, who are clients in our case, who are U.S. citizens or legal residents or people who are in the process of applying to regularize their immigration status but do not have some form of identification that would be readily recognized by a local police officer, and what would then most likely result in a prolonged detention, possible jail, possible immigration detention while all of those things are sorted out. So yes, we've been hearing very similar stories and fears than that of the caller.
CAVANAUGH: David, you just told us about the disappointment that voters in the southwest might feel about Obama's failure to deliver some of his campaign promises in campaign, it might keep them home. Give us an idea about how far apart the two political parties are on the subject of immigration.
KEYES: Well, I think the issue -- first of all, I'll say they're very far apart. While many people may be disappointing with Obama, there really isn't an alternative. Romney, during the primaries took a very harsh stance on immigration. Was using language similar to that promoted in Arizona's SB1070, and similar strong restrictionist measures. And I think the question for Romney not only on immigration, but in particular on immigration is whether he can move more to the center now that he's won the Republican nomination, and whether he'll be able to portray himself in such a way that he's not seen as that far out there.
CAVANAUGH: And of course always to remember that the polls in Arizona show us that SB1070 is very popular in Arizona. Thank you both very much.
KEYES: Thank you.
LOPEZ: Thanks so much.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back to the fronteras vote, 2012. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. This special broadcast is coming to you from the stations of public radio's fronteras desk, located in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and here in San Diego, California, at KPBS FM. We want to hear what our listeners think about the fronteras vote 2012. And so we are asking you to give us a call. All the issues we've talked about in the last two hours relating to the vote in the southwestern United States may not matter much unless people in the southwest actually come out to vote. And if their votes are given the weight they deserve in political district. The 2010 census has man dated lawmakers and commissions across the country to redraw election boundary lines. In the southwest, some of the new election districts will give Latinos and minorities more political power. Here in San Diego, a longtime Latino activist is running to represent the City of San Diego's new 9th district. Latinos are the majority in the new district. Adrian Florido tells us about a candidate who decided to run in part out of frustration that no Latino candidate emerged.
FLORIDO: Latinos make up almost 30% of San Diego's population, but only 1st†District is considered a safe Latino seat. When the city had to decide where to carve out a new district -- the committee agreed. The new district is centered in the dense community of city height, and Latinos make up a little more than half its population. Until now, the only declared candidate for this year's election was Marti Emerald, who is might. A longtime Latino activist announced plans to run against emerald. His name is Mateo Camarillo. Has the Latino population has exploded across California and the southwest, it's bottom almost impossible not to draw overwhelming Latino districts. But as in San Diego's newest district, that numerical advantage doesn't always translate into a guaranteed Latino win or even a viable candidate. Majority Latino congressional districts in Los Angeles are represented by African American, largely Latino City Council districts in Phoenix have black and white representatives. Doug Johnson is a fellow at the rose institute for state and local government in Los Angeles, also the consultant who redrew San Diego's district boundaries.
NEW SPEAKER: This district was drawn majority Latino by total population, but far from it in voting age population.
NEW SPEAKER: When you look at eligible voters there, things start to look different. While 50% of the population is Latino, only 26% of eligible voters are. For whites, the numbers almost flips. Whites are only 23% of the district's total population, but they're 45% ofs it eligible voters. Those numbers means Camarillo faces quite a challenge.
(End Audio Recording)
CAVANAUGH: And from the American public media studio in Los Angeles, we are joined now by Justin Levitt, law professor at Loyola law school in Los Angeles. Welcome to the program.
LEVITT: Thanks very much, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And here at KPBS in San Diego, fronteras reporter Adrian Florido. Welcome again.
FLORIDO: Hi again.
CAVANAUGH: Justin, what are the legal aims of redistricting? Can ethnicity be the only factor that's considered?
LEVITT: Occasionally. Most cases, the primary responsibility for redistricting comes from the need to have about equal numbers of people in each district, once we know where people live, we have to redraw districts so about the same number of people are in each one. Where there's a responsibility under the voting rights act, and that's only in certain places, yes, race can be the primary consideration, and race and ethnicity is often the primary consideration. Where the voting rights act isn't at play, where it doesn't have a particular mandate, then lots of different factors go into the mix.
CAVANAUGH: As we heard in Adrian's report, redistricting is meant to, of course, redraw districts based on population change, but it comes with some challenges. Has it actually led to more equitable representation of Latino voters across the southwest?
LEF3: I think in parts of the southwest, it certainly has. Other parts of the southwest are still struggling to catch up.
CAVANAUGH: And why is that?
LEVITT: Well, in large part, you've got in much of the southwest incumbents drawing their own lines and the lines for the districts they hope to run in. So sitting state legislators drawing the lines for officer for Congress. And that leads to a lot of incentives that aren't always aligned with the incentives of the population.
CAVANAUGH: Justin, right now, there are legal challenges to now districts created in Arizona and here in California. Both from conservative political parties. What is the complaint that led to these legal challenges?
LEVITT: Well, they're a little bit different in each state. And I should mention there have been legal challenges in if all of the states covered by this broadcast.
CAVANAUGH: Ah, ha.
>> So nobody has escaped unscathed. Arizona and California are still fighting. Texas in some ways is still fighting, and the complaints really run the gamut. And that's fairly typical. After any redistricting, those who feel they've lost out often turn to the Courts to see if they can't get a better deal.
CAVANAUGH: So it's justs simple as that. If you don't like the way the districts are drawn, you basically find some reason to challenge it in court?
LEVITT: That's been the case. And sometimes those challenges are entirely merited, and sometimes they're really problems. Texas has found its way to the Supreme Court and back multiple times in the last couple decades based on the way they've drawn the lines. Other times, as was likely the case here in California, are the challenges are farther afield.
CAVANAUGH: Adrian, why is redistricting important for areas like City Heights?
FLORIDO: Well, over the course of time, City Heights has become one of the -- the most concentrated imgrant hub in the City of San Diego. And in the last decade, the City of San Diego has surged to be about 30% Latino. But there still is only one Latino on the 8-member City Council. When the new 9th district was created, Latino leaders within that community saw it as an opportunity to try to draw a district that would carve out a new district that would give Latinos a better chance at electing a second representative. So that's what happened. They were successful in doing so, and their hope now is that someone that they think is going to represent the interests of the large Latino community within City Heights will be elected.
CAVANAUGH: Let me take a call. Dan from Las Cruces. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, good to talk to you. The subject is very pertinent. I was a volunteer poll watcher in a 2010 election, and there was a challenger at the -- at my precinct. And apparently he had been at meetings at which the Republican party had been telling people like himself that there would be bus loads of undocumented people showing up at the polls to vote illegally, and he felt it was his job to show up and prevent that from happening. He was a big, strapping, exveteran, and so forth. And I explained that my job was to facilitate voting, and that I wasn't going to put up with it. And even though I was half his size, we finally figured out that he was really a good guy, and he had been influenced to take this job, and he was very open about what he had been told.
CAVANAUGH: And Dan --
NEW SPEAKER: And I noticed that people are being brought to court for registering voters in different places. Florida recently massively removed some 80,000 people from voting roles. And they did that in the 200 election, are the hanging Chad one too. These were black Floridians in that particular case. So essentially I think what we've got is a very highly motivated ethnically-oriented program to dissen franchise voters.
CAVANAUGH: Dan, thank you for the call. I want to get a response. Justin, as Dan was saying, it made me think of the voter ID programs that are getting some traction across the southwest, voter ID is required for voters in Texas. I think in Arizona, I think Texas it's an illegal wrangle over a photo ID requirement what. Do we know about how voter ID requirements impact voter turnout?
LEVITT: Well, we know that it does impact turnout, although that may not be the best measure. If you want to find out whether a new lawhas any real impact, you look at the impact on all of the eligible population because exactly as the caller indicated, what most people want and to make sure that the people who are eligible to vote can, and that those who are not eligible to vote can't. And that's a shared commitment. We know that the strictest voter ID rules have a fairly substantial impact on the eligible population. And unfortunately, disproportionate impact, Latinos among other minorities tend not to have the documentation that some states require, that Texas wants to require, but the justice department has blocked, more than others. Getting back to Dan's other point, I think that we have seen this sort of challenger activity in the past. I think he's absolutely right that most people's motivation is good. The real danger is when people go into challenge individuals based on assumptions that don't really hold water, and I think all of us have a responsibility to be very careful about putting up undue barriers to eligible American, whether they look like us, whether they don't look like us, unless the facts are really solid that there are ineligible people showing you, and that happens remarkably rarely.
CAVANAUGH: Adrian, one of the most startling facts in the report that started out our conversation is that even though the district you profiled in San Diego has a majority of Latino residents, it does not have a majority of Latino voters. Did you research the reasons for that?
FLORIDO: A big part of that is very fundamentally, many of them are immigrants who are not yet eligible to vote. They're not citizens yet to be a citizen to vote in the United States. So that presents a very large challenge to the Latino leadership within this community, which is hoping that this new -- the new boundaries within the district will facilitate the election of a second Latino to the City Council. But they have that challenge ahead. So there was kind of a recognition on the part of these leaders early on while they were lobbying for the second district, this wasn't going to be easy even if they succeeded in getting a majority Latino district drawn, then comes the challenge of actually registering people to vote, and mobilizing the Latino community within that district to actually support a Latino candidate. That's what they feel would best gain them sort of appropriate representation on the council.
CAVANAUGH: As we come to the close of this 2-hour program, Adrian, you know, with the census data that emerged last year, it was -- apparently caused a challenge in attitude nationally about the potential power of the southwest in national elections. And as a reporter on the fronteras desk, how have people in the southwest been embracing this new reality?
FLORIDO: Well, I guess it depends on where you look. Because not everyone is embracing this new reality as the caller, Dan, just suggested, and the caller in the earlier program suggested. Many people would argue in places like Arizona where you have SB1070, are the policies of the Maricopa county sheriff's department, those policies are aimed at stemming this reality, the tide of this reality. But in other places like San Diego, you do have a lot of the nonprofit and foundation money flowing to community groups within the communities like City Heights, southeastern San Diego, other large ethnic minority communities to get people to register to vote, to encourage eligible, noncitizen residents to become citizens through citizenship drives. And you also have organizations of coalitions of lawyers and attorneys looking to places where they might be able to challenge the current voting systems under the California voting rights act, and in other places like Arizona where that doesn't apply. You also have groups of attorneys trying to, you know, implement district elections which might help more kind of concentrated communities of ethnic minorities like Latinos to elect people they might not be able to under at-large voting systems. So there are different ways across the region people are trying to either stem this surge or --
CAVANAUGH: Embrace the new reality. In the minute we have left, Justin, can you see a time when the southwest is actually a political pour house in national elections?
LEVITT: I think right now --
CAVANAUGH: Right now.
LEVITT: It's essential a political pourhouse. There are is new question. Adrian has it exactly right. Some recognize it and are trying to face against it, and some recognize it and try to embrace it want
CAVANAUGH: We have to end it there. Justin, thank you so much. And here at KPBS in San Diego, Adrian Florido. Thank you both.
FLORIDO: Thank you.
LEVITT: Thank you.