Latino Groups Try To Mobilize Voters

Mitt Romney addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this week. While Texas is not a battleground state, Hispanic leaders here are ramping up their efforts to turn out the Latino vote.

Thousands of Hispanic small business owners, corporate executives and Latino Leaders are at the annual convention for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. At the convention in LA, Mitt Romney talked about immigration reform, education and boosting trade.

“We can jump start our economy by expanding trade to Latin America and our nation’s three million Hispanic Businesses will have the most to gain.”

Laura Murillo with the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was in the audience. She says there are certain issues that her group is concerned with.

“Well specifically the economy, job creation, specifics as it relates to that, and for Latinos the subject of immigration is of utmost importance.”

Murillo doesn’t want to share who she’s voting for or even if she’s a decided voter yet. But that’s not the case at least in some voter registration drives here in Houston. Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota Ben Monterroso says while they’re not a partisan group, he feels one party is speaking to the Latino electorate.

“We have a clear choice in who is running and whether or not in one hand, we have healthcare or we don’t, whether or not we’re going to have access to DREAMers have to have legalized status or not, whether or not the education for our kids are going to be strong or not.”

Mi Familia Vota and other Latino advocacy organizations organized a voter mobilization caravan that went across six states. Texas was the final stop. They’re aiming nationally to get 12 million Latinos to the polls, a more than 25 percent jump from 2008. 

Here in Texas, about 1 in 4 eligible voters are Latino, according to the political research firm, Latino Decisions. And a lot of them are not registered to vote. 

University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghouse say it’d be wise for candidates to tap the Latino vote in this state.

“Latinos in Texas lag significantly behind compatriots in California and other states.  So I think that there’s a sense that if a certain kind of issue or a certain kind of person could awake these votes, then it would be richly profitable for a political party.”

Rottinghouse says courting the Latino vote is nothing new. It’s been a mantra in other presidential elections past. 

Agnes Rivera Garza agrees. She’s with the League of United Latin American Citizens, commonly known as LULAC.  Garza isn’t so sure that the community has found its electoral power.

listening to speeches “Not yet. I would like to say of course, but not yet.  People get busy, everyday is complicated.  The economy is very harsh. If people have to choose between going to work or going to vote, what are they going to choose?”

It’s that reluctance, that difficulty with day-to-day issues that canvassers are encountering.  Zulema Perez is with the Texas Organizing Project. She and about 100 other canvassers have been knocking on the doors of people who don’t traditionally vote.

“They’re saying basically, ‘Why am I going to vote if our streets are still flooded, dogs in the street. We don’t have insurance, and all of this.”

Perez tries to tell the people that voting is one way that their voice can be heard. She says daily canvassers like her fill out about 500 commitment cards — cards where people say they’ll vote come November.