Guest Commentary

Candidates need to earn the Latino vote to get the Latino vote

Much has been written lately about the mysterious "Latino vote" and how to capture it. Pundits all want to know how to nab the highly prized and coveted Latino vote, especially in Arizona.

Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel recently linked to a Washington Post article about the importance of the Latino vote in Arizona ("Waking the Latino Vote: What Does It Take in AZ?" The Range, March 13). The answer to that question is staring us in the face, and I will get to it later.

But we must first ask the question: "What, exactly, is the 'Latino vote?'" Latinos are a diverse people. We are also critical thinkers, just like everybody else. Therefore, we vet our candidates based on the issues that we care about.

In addition to the issues of jobs, education and health care, many of us are concerned about the anti-Latino legislation that has been passed by our state Legislature, such as SB 1070 and HB 2281 (aka the Ethnic Studies ban).

How many "establishment" candidates, in either party, have truly addressed these concerns? The Republican Party has made it de facto policy to attack Latinos. In 2010, many Democratic candidates turned their backs on Latinos and refused to stand up against SB 1070 and attacks on the education of our children. We returned the favor by not coming out to vote for them. The lesson to be learned: Latinos will not come out to vote for candidates who refuse to stand behind us; it is insulting to think we would give our vote away for free.

Many pundits speculate that Dr. Richard Carmona's campaign for U.S. Senate will help to get out the Latino vote. Why? Is it because he has a Spanish last name? Carmona does not have any real connection to the Latino community, and his effect on the Latino vote will be negligible. He has only minimal Latino support, and one of his most public endorsers is former Democratic U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who endorsed Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as recently as 2008 and sits on the board of the Corrections Corporation of America, a private-prison company that is making millions of dollars from the incarceration of undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, in our own backyard, we have some amazing candidates. Pima County has the opportunity to help elect the first Native American woman to ever serve in Congress. Wenona Benally Baldenegro is a Harvard-educated attorney from the Navajo Nation with deep ties to Tucson and Pima County. She is running for Congressional District 1, which extends into Pima County and the Tucson metropolitan area. Her historic run has galvanized Latino and Native American communities, both statewide and across the country. She has endorsements and support that Carmona would do anything for.

It is candidates like her, with legitimate and longstanding ties to our communities, who will energize and engage the Latino vote. It is also candidates such as Macario Saldate (Legislative District 3), Sally Ann Gonzales (LD 3) and Sal Baldenegro Jr. (LD 2) who will engage the Latino community of Tucson and Pima County. Saldate is a bilingual-education pioneer and one of Arizona's most-accomplished educators. Gonzales is a lifetime educator and member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and may have the most-impressive résumé in the entire Arizona Legislature. Sal Baldenegro Jr. is the son of a civil rights hero, and he is one of the up-and-coming leaders of the Tucson community.

Why are officials in the Democratic Party not promoting these candidates more extensively? These candidates, and candidates like them, are the answer to engaging communities of color, young people and women to get out and vote. Last year's successful recall of state Sen. Russell Pearce showed that when the proper outreach is done, Latino voters will get involved, and they will make a difference.

If either party is serious about engaging the Latino vote, it must reject those "establishment" and "blue dog" candidates who turned their backs on us in 2010. Latinos will get behind candidates who stand up for our issues and reflect our communities. If either political party expects to win the Latino vote, it must do what is required to earn it.