If you’re Latino, especially today in the age of the Hispanic in America, you have to twinge a little when you hear about a predominantly Latino Congressional district in which there apparently are no qualified Hispanics to seek the office.
That happens to be the case in California’s revamped 41st Congressional District, built around the city of Riverside about 50 miles east of Los Angeles where Latinos account for 56 percent of the population.
“One thing about the Latino community,” says Gilberto Esquivel, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ local chapter, “is that we keep growing and growing.”
Still, on Nov. 6, this district with a skyrocketing Latino population will wind up electing either a 72-year-old gay Japanese American Democrat or a 64-year-old rock ’n’ roll band playing Republican.
If it is not the best scenario for Hispanics, Democrats at least are looking at the high Latino voting numbers as the first opportunity to get a Democratic congressman from Riverside County in two decades.
On Tuesday, Democrat Mark Takano—a school teacher and member of the Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees—will get his biggest plug to date when former President Bill Clinton will be in Southern California to endorse him and other Democratic candidates.
Republican John Tavaglione, a longtime Riverside County supervisor, has gotten his own political heavyweight boost in a campaign visit from House Speaker John Boehner and big money support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Still, the race is anybody’s guess. Republicans have a long history in the area, but Democrats with increasing Latino numbers have the advantage in voter registration.
“It’s one of those competitive seats that no one is talking about… and it’s going to be important for deciding control of the House,” says Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan publication that covers congressional campaigns.
And it is a campaign not without its laments and second-guessing by Hispanics who believe a grand opportunity has been missed.
“It’s hard to believe that there isn’t one Hispanic school teacher, accountant, businessman or housewife who couldn’t step up and run for this Congressional seat that had been practically placed on our lap,” says Los Angeles political consultant William Orozco.
“This wasn’t about not having the money to run. There’s no telling how many Hispanic organization would have been tripping over themselves to get involved. “But no one stepped up.”
But then you have to understand that parts of California like Riverside County have little in common with Los Angeles and San Francisco other than the fact they are in the same state.
Latinos in Riverside and the surrounding congressional district are a generation, maybe more, behind their counterparts in Los Angeles in politics, educational levels and acculturation into non-Hispanic society.
Both Hispanics and the Riverside area are just now struggling with the demographic transformation of recent years.
According to U.S Census date, the county’s Latino population experienced a dramatic 78 percent growth between 2000 and 2010 and today account for a million of the Riverside County residents alone.
But analysts agree that it will be a while before the increasing Latino numbers show their clout. Right now many Hispanics in the area can’t vote either because they are underage or not citizens.
Hispanics make up 48 percent of the overall area’s population, but only 29 percent of Latino voters participated in the June 2012 primary election.
That low participation, say experts, is another reason that only two blacks and three Latinos have been elected to the school board since the 1960s.
Latinos, though, blame at-large voting districts for not being able to make any political headway.
“Every time we run somebody, they get rolled over,” says Esquivel. “It is obvious the at-large system has not worked for us.”
Only this summer did the local school board, under threat of a Civil Rights Voting Act lawsuit, finally agreed to allow future elections by trustee areas.
Still, Democrats like Takano are placing their faith on the Latino vote being what carries him to victory over Tavaglione, who by virtue of being a Riverside County supervisor has a much stronger name identification.
In helping Takano, Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan, six-state organization, has registered 4,500 new Latino voters in the congressional since the spring.
Democrats are hoping that is good news, though there remains some question as to the depth of Takano’s support among Latinos.
Takano is openly gay, an issue that has turned away Hispanics in the past, though polls show an increasing acceptance among Latinos for gay rights and same-sex marriage.
Takano, though, has smartly made his campaign about creating jobs—a pressing issue in a county stung with a 12.5 percent unemployment rate.
“The No. 1 focus is on unemployment,” says Takano. “Republicans in the House have not been focused on what’s best for America… including creating jobs.”