Hispanics Saving Texas Democrats: A Perpetual Mirage?

The quixotically optimistic Texas Democrats -- who haven't won a statewide election since 1994 -- bellowed a lot of things at the Texas Democratic Convention last weekend, but, really, most of it seemed to translate to one refrain.

All together now: The Hispanics are going to save us! The Hispanics are going to save us!

Gawd, this again? They've been rapping this for a decade now while amid the political wilds, pointing to charts, delivering diatribes en español and citing statistics which, admittedly, are staggering: Hispanics account for 38 percent of the Texas population, 44 percent of Houston's -- and nearly 4 million Latinos across the state can vote. By 2040, Hispanics will account for an absolute majority in Texas. This shift of tectonic proportion may remake Texas politics -- but there's just one teensie-weensie problem. For Democrats, for Republicans, for Latino issues in general. Hispanics don't vote.

Democrats may presage the looming Hispanic vote, but the percentage of residents in this demographic who actually do so has, in fact, dropped. In 2004, roughly 42 percent of Latinos went to the polls. Then, in 2008, that number deflated to 38 percent. Two years ago, even lower: around 22 percent. Across the nation, the population of registered Hispanic voters shriveled from 11.6 million in 2008 to 10.9 million in 2010.

So what's going to make this year any different?

We asked that question to our local Democrats and, after some stuttering and hesitation, we got an answer on the Hispanic vote. "It's not going to happen this election," said Lane Lewis, Harris County Democratic chairman. "We're still waiting for it." He added: "Texas is already blue." Awkward pause. "In our hearts. People just aren't voting."

But wait! he said. Next election -- that's when Hispanics will rise. Hmmm. Sure.

Meanwhile, Republicans at their convention did something that, for them, was totally cray: They said a mass deportation of 11 million undocumented workers wasn't practical. Or, for that matter, "equitable." (Quick, someone pinch a migrant worker.) State Republicans went on to propose a national temporary worker program for times when no U.S. workers would be available.

This is a sharp departure from a stance that's defined the Republican party for the last decade, and became more pronounced in 2010 when even John McCain -- who once championed open immigration policies -- became borderline xenophobic. What's more, it worked that year. The party of white old dudes got a bunch of other old white dudes to vote for them, and won handily. Roughly 62 percent of votes Republicans got were cast by whites.

Predictably, Lewis perceived nefariousness in the Texas Republicans' about-face. "This platform, this olive branch, is just a tool," he said. "Not to serve the people or the individuals."

Or, more to the point, local Republicans have figured out what Karl Rove did in 2008 when he wrote, "An anti-Hispanic attitude is suicidal."

But the question is, if Hispanics remain mired in political apathy, how slow of a suicide will it be?

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Terrence McCoy
Contact: Terrence McCoy