Latino Vote: As elections near, advocates urge Latinos to make their voices heard

With less than a month to go before the presidential elections, advocacy groups are urging Latino voters to make their voices heard at the polls.

On Thursday, Janet Munguia, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza – the largest Hispanic advocacy and civil rights group in the country – will speak at East Austin College Prep about the lack of political outreach to Latino voters.

Later in the month, the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) will hold a “Get out the Latino Vote” breakfast at Angie’s Restaurant on 1307 E. Seventh Street. That event, on Oct. 21 at 8:30 a.m., will be attended by Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who will inform prospective voters on what documents they will need to present to vote in November.

Several Austin business owners launched a ‘Guac the Vote’ campaign this month to use the ubiquitous taco trucks in the city as voter registration locations.

The General Consulate of Mexico in Austin has also been hosting citizenship drives this year to engage Mexicans in the United States who qualify for citizenship in the American electoral process.

Carlos González Gutiérrez, the consul general of Mexico in Austin, has said in the past: “We will aggressively ask people to exercise their rights and the possibilities they acquire by becoming U.S. citizens.”

On Monday, Travis County announced it had registered more than 90 percent of its eligible voters. County officials said they would make a big push Tuesday – the last day to sign up to register to vote in the presidential election in November – to make sure people get registered before the deadline.

The county’s main tax office at 5501 Airport Boulevard will be open until midnight and voter registrars will be signing people up to vote at all Thundercloud Sub and Alamo Drafthouse locations in the county.

Column: On the veep debate, basketball on summer nights and ‘that Mexican thing’

FARMVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 04: Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine (L) and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence (R) debate during the Vice Presidential Debate at Longwood University on October 4, 2016 in Farmville, Virginia. This is the second of four debates during the presidential election season and the only debate between the vice presidential candidates. (Photo by Andrew Gombert - Pool/Getty Images)
FARMVILLE, VA – OCTOBER 04: Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine (L) and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence (R) debate during the Vice Presidential Debate at Longwood University on October 4, 2016 in Farmville, Virginia. This is the second of four debates during the presidential election season and the only debate between the vice presidential candidates. (Photo by Andrew Gombert – Pool/Getty Images)

I didn’t do college right.

I was a first-generation college student and when I came home for summer from my first two years at UCLA, I didn’t head off to an internship like many of my friends. I didn’t know any better. I was just happy to be home.

So what did I do? I read a lot, ran miles upon miles to lose the weight I’d gained in the dining halls and did chores to keep my mother happy. But my favorite part of those summers was playing basketball with my friends almost every day at Philadelphia Park on the south side of Pomona, Calif.

We’d show up at 5 p.m. and not stop until until the dark of the night prevented us from seeing the orange leather sphere anymore. Those hours upon hours spent at the park are some of the best memories of my life.

So why am I telling you this? Well, it was what popped into my mind as I watched the vice presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence.

Now, how did that pop into my head you may ask? Well our pick-up games at the park inevitably attracted a motley crue of characters.

There were little kids who had shown up to the park with their families and gravitated toward the ball courts, old Mexican guys who had unexpected Dirk Nowitzki-like skills to sink 15-foot jump shots, gangsters who had traveled from the next block over and guys who were completely uninterested in doing anything but shooting three-pointers every time they got the ball.

There was also a recurring character. A scrappy guy with average build. Nice enough, but nothing special on the court. If you had him on your team you were guaranteed that he wouldn’t really hurt you as long as he stuck to his script and didn’t try to do anything fancy. But if you were playing against him, he could annoy the heck out of you with his persistent defense.

That guy was Tim Kaine on the vice presidential debate stage Tuesday night. He came in with a plan: remind the American public about Trump’s tax issues and controversial comments. Stay on that point until you wear yourself out.

There was another recurring character on our basketball court at Philadelphia Park. A fundamentally sound guy with a decent jump shot. He didn’t do anything fancy but he was so smart about the shots he took that, while he didn’t sink every shot, his output resulted in an overall plus for his team. And he was tall enough to play solid defense and make some good blocks on the other team.

That was Mike Pence Tuesday night. No matter how much Kaine prodded him to defend Donald Trump’s controversial comments, Pence wouldn’t take the bait. Showing tremendous restraint and a spotty if not selective memory, Pence deflected point after point from Kaine on Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his suggestion that women who had abortions should be punished and Trump’s remarks against a Mexican-American judge hearing a case against Trump University.

Whatever you want to say about the lack of fact-checking from the moderator in the debate, Pence on Tuesday night was tall enough to play the solid defense the Trump campaign needed from him.

In contrast to Kaine’s strategy of pressing his point until exhaustion (and possibly an undecided voter’s chagrin), Pence took a different approach. The reality of his running partner’s statements notwithstanding, Pence came off for much of the debate as aloof, calm and collected to those who (like much of the American public) do not follow every single turn of the campaign.

He interrupted far less than Kaine and, much like Hillary Clinton in the first debate, he let arguments slide off of him and appeared to take the high road as his opponent stayed on the attack.

But near the end of the debate, I realized that no one had really made any attempt to appeal to Latino voters. The immigration segment of the debate, where most people seem to like to pigeonhole Latino voters, offered no new information on the candidates that would change a person’s mind.

And although either side could have used the issue of refugees (there are plenty of them from Central America) or foreign policy (Colombia just decided against a peace treaty to end a half a century of war with Communist guerrillas, the U.S. has re-opened diplomatic ties with Cuba, and Mexico, our neighbor to the south, offers an ally that is at the same time rich with potential and plagued by drug wars and political corruption), to appeal to Latino voters neither of them even tried.

This again brought me back to the basketball court of my college years. During our hours of revelry on that asphalt, we became so enthralled in the competition, so enraptured by the joy of basketball on summer nights with our friends that we often forgot the world around us.

But right next to our basketball courts there were soccer fields. There, groups of paisanos who came to the park after work ran pick-up soccer games and enjoyed, in their language, the game that they loved. Sometimes, it was our neighbors or tíos and tías who were on the sidelines of that soccer field watching their kids play a middle of the week game.

We didn’t really pay that much attention to them. We were too caught up in our game. But they always noticed when something happened to us, whether it was someone causing trouble, a fight breaking out or somebody getting seriously hurt during a play.

For much of the debate, Pence played brilliant defense. On immigration, he side-stepped and avoided elaborating on Trump’s plan, which could have made his numbers among Latinos even worse.

But near the end of the debate, Pence blurted out: “You whipped out that Mexican thing again” when Kaine brought up Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.

No one had really appealed to Latinos throughout the entire debate, but when Pence said that, you better believe the Latino voters on the soccer field of America started watching the vice presidential basketball court. That’s the line Latinos are going to remember after this debate.

Now Pence and Trump have to walk out of that basketball court and through the soccer fields to get home. On Nov. 8, we’ll see if Latinos let them.

Texas Democrats suggest a Castro brother take over as DNC chair

The Texas Democratic Party have suggested that either Julian or Joaquin Castro should take over as chairman of the Democratic National Party after Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the current chairwoman, announced her resignation Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julián Castro, will visit Austin on Thursday to speak with the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. Photo from November 20, 2014. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julián Castro, will visit Austin on Thursday to speak with the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. Photo from November 20, 2014.
RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“In our humble opinion Texas Democrats believe that both Julian and Joaquin Castro have what it takes to pick up the reins and move the party forward,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “It would be remarkable to have the first Hispanic chair of the Democratic National Committee.”

Julian Castro, the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was considered by many a possible vice presidential candidate before Hillary Clinton announced Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate Friday. Joaquin Castro is a U.S. representative from San Antonio. Both hail from the Alamo city and are popular figures among Texas Democrats.

Wasserman Schultz, who will step down after the completion of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, has faced recent scrutiny after the publication of leaked emails from Democratic National Committee staffers that appear to favor Clinton over her competitor Bernie Sanders during the presidential primaries. She served as chair of the committee since May 2011.

“Texas Democrats thank Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz for her hard work, leadership and commitment to our great party,” Hinojosa said in his statement. “She has fought heart and soul for this party, and we are well-poised to succeed in November because of her efforts.”

Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, will act as interim chairwoman through the end of the presidential election, according to committee spokesman, Luis Miranda.

Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, responded to Wasserman Schultz’s resignation on Twitter.

“The highly neurotic Debbie Wasserman Schultz is angry that, after stealing and cheating her way to a Crooked Hillary victory, she’s out!”

New campaign aims to turn Trump’s message on its head

From the beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump made headlines instantly after negative comments about Mexican immigrants. He said Mexicans crossing the border brought drugs, brought crime, were rapists, and some, he assumed, were good people.

In the 10 months since, Trump has doubled down on negative comments about Latinos and also made negative comments about other groups of people, including Muslims and women. And despite vocal opposition from Democrats, Republicans, pundits and civics rights groups, Trump has continued making negative (and often egregious and erroneous) statements about minority groups, seemingly without hurting his standing as the front-runner for the presidential nomination.

Now, an immigrant rights group from Los Angeles has started a new campaign to turn Trump’s message on its head. Through the Turn Ignorance Around campaign, the Coalition for Humane Rights of Immigrants of Los Angeles uses the insinuations Trump made in his campaign announcement speech – that immigrants were criminals – and uses it to make its own point about the contributions the group thinks immigrants, and Latinos in general, make to the United States.

The campaign’s video starts with various Latinos looking into the camera and saying: “I’m a dealer,” “I’m a killer,” “I’m a murderer,” “I’m an attacker,” and then turns the concept around when one man says “I’m a trafficker” then turns around to reveal a shirt that says “A trafficker of stories. I’m a director and I’m Latino.”

The “murderer” says he’s a murderer of boredom: “I’m a comedian.”

One of the “dealers” says she’s a “dealer of care”: a nanny.

The “attacker” says he’s an “attacker of ignorance”: a student.

One by one, each person who introduced themselves as some sort of criminal turns around and reveals the back of their shirt which has their profession (actress, firefighter, attorney, etc.) followed by the words “And I’m Latino.”

“It’s time to turn ignorance around,” they say and the video goes off into a montage of Latino faces. The video ends with the social media campaigns two hashtags #TurnIgnoranceAround and #DumpTrump. The video has been watched more than 885,000 times.

A campaign by the Coalition for Humane Rights of Immigrants of Los Angeles launched a new campaign that flip Donald Trump's comments on immigrants and Latinos on its head.
A campaign by the Coalition for Humane Rights of Immigrants of Los Angeles launched a new campaign that flip Donald Trump’s comments on immigrants and Latinos on its head.

Full transcript: Javier Palomarez interview with American-Statesman

Javier Palomarez is the President and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), America's largest Hispanic business association.
Javier Palomarez is the president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, America’s largest Hispanic business association.

Javier Palomarez, the president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses, visited Austin this week. In an interview with the American-Statesman, Palomarez spoke candidly about the chamber’s campaign to make the U.S. Senate vote on a hearing to confirm Roberta Jacobson to the role of ambassador to Mexico, Marco Rubio’s opposition to that nomination, Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and the importance of Austin to the future of Latino businesses in America.

Not everything in the wide-ranging interview made it into our newspaper Saturday, but here at Somos Austin, we decided to give you a full transcript of the conversation. For reference, Jacobson was nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the role of ambassador to Mexico last year. The career diplomat who speaks fluent Spanish and is an expert in Latin American politics has yet to be confirmed. The United States has not had an ambassador to Mexico, one of its most important allies, since August.

Here, in full, is our conversation with Palomarez:

American-Statesman: I heard that you’ve been speaking with Roberta Jacobson, let’s start off with that because you wrote a pretty strong op-ed in our paper and I wanted to get more of your thoughts. Why is the USHCC pushing so hard? Why do you think this is so important?

Javier Palomarez: First of all, I want to thank the Austin American-Statesman for running the op-ed in the first place because we think it’s important that we call light to this issue.

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce represents 4.1 million Hispanic-owned firms in this country that collectively contribute over $661 billion to the American economy,and as a business association, we recognize clearly the importance of commercial and economic relations that exist between Mexico and the United States. I’ve spoken to the president personally on this issue. The reality of it is… in Mexico we have had a crucially important commercial partner, economic ally as well as a national security ally, I won’t even touch on that. But the reality of it is that Mexico does more business and is a better and stronger commercial and economic partner to the United States, we do more business, we do more trade with Mexico than we do with Great Britain, than we do with Germany, than we do with France, India, Brazil, with Japan and the list goes on. We need the top diplomat in that country. We’ve been waiting for nine months now.

Sadly, there are three members of the Senate that have been blocking her vote, that have refused to vote. Have blocked the vote. And one of those is Marco Rubio. We’re happy that very recently, maybe about two weeks ago, Sen. (Bob) Menendez (of New Jersey) after eight months finally conceded the point and has called for the vote. We’re now looking at Marco Rubio and asking him to do the same thing. The reality of it is… Marco Rubio has missed 129 of the 243 votes that he was called upon since he decided to run for the presidency.

He is no longer running for president. He no longer has an excuse. It’s time to put good policy in front of politics. He needs to get down there and cast his vote and allow this woman to have her day in court. Roberta Jacobson is a life-long diplomat, has a stellar record. She is more than prepared to do this job and the USHCC and all of our constituents (are) firmly behind her.

There have been some amazing members of the Senate on both sides. (Tom) Udall on the Democratic side, Martin Heinrich, Amy Klobuchar that have been very supportive of this effort that I’m trying to lead. On the Republican side you’ve got John Cornyn, you’ve got John McCain, specifically you’ve got Jeff Flake, who’s been a real champion of this and I want to commend those senators for putting politics aside and doing the right thing. America needs to honor the relationship we have with Mexico. This should not be politicized. There is no reason why this woman has been put on hold for almost nine months now. This is an important commercial issue. This is not political, it is not racial, it’s about commerce, it’s about the economy, it’s about the continued well-being of both our economies and we need to get on with the business of getting on with it.

Statesman: I want to ask you specifically about Marco Rubio and politicizing this issue on Jacobson because, as I understand it, he kept putting off meeting with you at USHCC for your presidential chats, and now that he’s not running for it, do you think he’s likely to change his mind on it?

Palomarez: Well, I sure hope so. I can understand that running for the presidency is very, it’s a trying effort. It’s not an endeavor that one takes on lightly and I understand the strains on his calendar, but that’s behind us now. It’s time to get to work, to do what you were hired to do. You’re a senator. Go cast your vote. We’re not asking him to vote for Roberta Jacobson, we’re asking you to remove the hold and get on with the business of voting, and to politicize this, I think, is at best bad for our economy and, frankly, I think puts us at risk of offending a crucial commercial ally that is Mexico, that has been that kind of an ally for almost two centuries now. We should honor that relationship. We need to place the top diplomat on behalf of the United States in Mexico and Roberta Jacobson is that woman.

Statesman: Do you think that was a political move by Marco Rubio?

Palomarez:: Clearly. Marco Rubio I think has politicized this thing. I think this has more to do with what the president decided to do to normalize relationships with Cuba. He is, I think utilizing that as a (inaudible)… and regardless of what he said, listen if you don’t think the woman’s prepared, then vote and vote against her, it’s just that simple. But vote. You’ve missed 129 of the 243 votes you were called upon, you have the worst track record of any senator in America. It’s time to get to work, Marco. This is serious and we’ve been asking.

Statesman: If you have nothing else to add on that one….

Palomarez: We better stop (laughter)… Ya me enoje (I’m upset now)  (laughter).

Statesman: I want to ask you about the presidential chats that you have had with candidates. As I understand it, you’ve met, I think with all of them, the ones that are in there, except Donald Trump, who very publicly pulled out of a conversation with you. Has there been any talk of bringing him back in for one of those chats.

Palomarez: Yeah, we continue a dialogue with Donald Trump’s campaign. You’re right. We met with Ted Cruz, with Bernie Sanders, with Martin O’Malley, with John Kasich, with Jeb Bush, with Hillary Clinton. Marco agreed when he and I spoke personally he thought it was a great idea, I did too, and unfortunately, calendars being what they are and schedules being what they are, and again, when you’re running to be the president of the United States it’s a trying endeavor and so we were never able to make that happen.

And of course, famously, Donald Trump 48 hours or so before the actual date of the Q&A backed out, but the door is open. We are not a partisan organization, we’re not even a political organization, we just believe that anybody who’s running for the presidency of the United States should avail themselves of the opportunity to sit in front of our constituency, again that represents 4.1 million-owned firms, $661 billion in economic contribution and represents this amazingly rapidly growing community called the Hispanic community. Every 30 seconds a Latino turns age 18 in this country and becomes an eligible voter. That’s 60,000 brand new votes every single month and that’ll be the case in the next 21 years in a row. So, if you’re running for an elected office, whether that’s dog catcher or president of the United States, you’d do well to avail yourself of an opportunity to come and state your case in the presence of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and talk to our constituency of Hispanic business owners.

Statesman: Do you think his comments that he has made, some of which are racial or anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican, do you think those statements hurt him with the 4.1 million firms that make up your constituency?

Palomarez: Clearly it has hurt him with the Hispanic community. Clearly it has hurt him with Americans. This is beyond being a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue… and in my opinion someone running for the American presidency should be an individual who tries to convene and coalesce and bring people together and heal the nation, not be divisive and speak from a position of bigotry and hatred and fear-mongering. I don’t want to speak for Donald Trump, he needs to state his own case, but certainly, the reaction that I’m seeing and the language and the rhetoric that he’s used, to me really has put him in a place where he’s got a lot of making up to do, not only with the Hispanic community, with common good-hearted, loyal Americans. I think the entirety of the Hispanic community and a good portion of the rest of America is very disappointed and appalled at some of the language coming out of that campaign.

Statesman: Do you think he’s scared of some of the questions you might ask? It’s not an easy conversation. I saw the one where you were speaking with Bernie Sanders and he said something like “your people” and you sort of corrected him. Do you think he’s scared of the questions you might ask?

Palomarez: I think he’s a little bit worried about the kind of questions he’s going to have to deal with. Certainly when they pulled out they wanted some concessions that we’re not willing to make. I have to say that in his private conversations with me he has been a gentleman. And I can’t speak for him. I can tell you that of all of the candidates, he’s the one who didn’t come.

Statesman: And famously, you said after he pulled out that there’s no way he wins the White House.

Palomarez: No. No.

Statesman: I saw that in a Fox News Latino article.

Palomarez: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s not going to happen.

Statesman: Do you still believe that even as far along as we are right now?

Palomarez: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it plays well in certain pockets. It plays well in certain arenas. The polls look good. But even then, he was making an argument in Nevada that quote-unquote “the Hispanics love me. I won the Hispanic vote in Nevada, I had 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.” There again, once you dig below the surface, that poll was an entrance poll, it polled 1,573 people that were Republican. Of those 1,573, 8 percent of them were Hispanic, so that’s (125), and 44 percent of those (125) voted for Donald Trump. So in essence, he got 55 votes.

(Editor’s note: Palomarez was speaking of the top of his head, so we had to double check the numbers after the interview and changed it accordingly in this transcript. For a similar breakdown of those numbers, click on this Somos Austin post from February, Trump’s numbers with Latinos in Nevada.)

From that, he extrapolated the “Hispanics love me, I got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.” That’s absolutely inaccurate and that’s classic Donald Trump. Once you dig even one layer below the verbiage and the rhetoric and you start to look at the facts, you know, it all falls apart. But it’s going to be fun to see. I’m waiting for the general election for when the Hispanic community coalesces.

If anything, Donald Trump has done a great service to the Hispanic community in that I have never seen the Hispanic community so engaged, I’ve never seen it so coalesced around an issue. It’s less about who they’re voting for than who they’re voting against, and they are 100 percent concrete and coalesced around this notion of voting against Donald Trump. Again, we don’t pick sides. We are an organization that is about business, we are about commerce. We’re not s political organization and we’re not a partisan organization, but my read of the tea leaves and what I’m hearing from other Hispanics and other Hispanic leaders in the nation, that’s kind of where that sentiment that I’m sharing with you now is coming from. The door remains open to Donald Trump to come to our organization and be treated as fairly as everyone else was, but with no preferential treatment either. We will not pull any punches, but we’re not looking to debate him, we’re simply giving him an opportunity to state his case in front of our community and the conversation continues, it’s been very civil and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Statesman: Let’s talk about the importance of Austin to USHCC. You’ve got a strong chapter here, obviously.

Palomarez: We have an amazing leader here. Mark Madrid who runs the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has really hit the market strong. You see that crowd out there, that’s indicative of the excitement around our organization and what we continue to do. You know, we advocate on behalf of 4.1 million business owners who happen to be of Hispanic descent, but we never forget that we’re first and foremost American business owners. Every tax bill we pay, every job we create, every product we manufacture, every service we provide goes to benefit the American economy. And in that context, we believe that our business group of American business owners is important to the continued growth of any city in America, but certainly the continued growth of Austin.

I believe by the year 2020, Austin is projected to have something like 52,000 Hispanic-owned firms here, driving something like $12.8 billion of economic contributions. That’s significant and I think that the entrepreneurial spirit, the DNA, the ethos of Austin is perfect not only for a Hispanic entrepreneur but for any entrepreneur and certainly to include Hispanic entrepreneurs. This is a city that welcomes diversity of thought, that embraces innovation and creativity, and those are some of the basic elements that you need when you’re building your own enterprise, your own business and certainly we’re looking to do everything we can to spur the growth of Hispanic-owned businesses in this city. I just met with the mayor. I think Mayor Adler is the right man for the job, he recognizes the potential in the Hispanic market and certainly the Hispanic entrepreneurial and business community, and so we’re thrilled to be here to celebrate the continued growth of our organization, the continued growth of our Hispanic-owned businesses in this country, which by the way, are growing at a rate of 3-to-1 when compared to the general market. So this is an asset to the American people, to the American society that can be harnessed, and if there’s a city that I think can illustrate how to do it best, it certainly is Austin, Texas.

Statesman: Final thing, going back to Jacobson, do you think the vote for her appointment is going to come soon?

Palomarez: We’re very hopeful. I think if Marco Rubio will do as Sen. Menendez did, if he will put politics aside, if he’ll put policy ahead of politics, and at least go do his job and vote, I think that they’ll be calling for a vote soon and we remain hopeful. We want to work with anybody who sees this issue as we see it: as an important commercial and economic issue that is critically important to the well-being of the relationship between these two commercial allies. And so we’re hopeful that we’ll be seeing a vote here very soon.

Statesman: So it doesn’t sound like you think the presidential election weighs in on this anymore.

Palomarez: I can’t imagine that it would. It’s time for Marco to get back to work. Right now, missing 53 percent of your votes, having the worst voting record in the Senate, missing 129 of the 243 votes that you were hired to vote upon. That’s inconceivable, it’s not acceptable and I think the excuse of saying I’m running for the presidency, I’m busy campaigning, that’s gone and it’s time to get back to work. We’re hopeful he’ll do the right thing.