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Change Should Strengthen Minority Voices

Last week, I trekked over to the Kennedy School in immense cold to hear a well-accomplished panel discuss the changing dynamics of Black and Latino politics. What I ended up hearing was a very entertaining slugfest, in which the majority of the panel, tried their best to talk about everything but the topic.

From the latest census, Blacks and Latinos together represent about 70 of the 270 million individuals in the United States, which is roughly 26%. Latino growth, however, has grown an incredible 58% since the 1990 census, while Blacks have grown 26% over the same time period. The Census Bureau has published its expectations for America to have a “minority-majority” in the next half-century. This set the tone for most of the discussion.

Bush media consultant, Lionel Sosa, made some interesting points about the Latino community, but the Republican pollster, Matthew Dowd, put forth that the Latino population will be the new swing vote in American politics, calling this segment the new “soccer moms” of upcoming elections. He also stated that while African-Americans continue to vote Democrat with rising income levels, Latinos transition to Republican as they become more affluent.

This may partially explain the fact that in the last Presidential election, 45% of registered Latino voters were Democrat, 30% were Independent and 25% were Republican, yet President Bush received 6000 more Hispanic votes than Democratic Candidate, Al Gore.

Dowd also outlined that the fastest growing unions are minority-focused which will make it harder for political candidates to separate race from labor issues in the future.

Harvard Law Professor, Lani Guiner, separated herself from her fellow panelists, when she voiced that the whole U.S. political system is flawed, since it was set-up by and for rich, property-owning white men. She went on to express that elected officials and other politicians will follow if the grassroots activists mobilize and force accountability from legislators.

She believes that we need to move from our “winner-takes-all” Electoral College system to one of proportional representation, which would force politicians to pay attention to all of its constituents.

In a similar vein, Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile, laid out a very forceful argument steered towards a collaborative agenda between Blacks and Latinos. She encouraged the groups to collectively push for campaign finance reform in order to level the playing field for Black and Latino candidates running for office. She cited the fact that of over 1800 U.S. senators since 1776, only 15 have been of non-white descent.

But Professor Guinier was the only person on the panel who was not trying to spin party-related propaganda, and probably would’ve been better off giving an individual lecture on the idea of proportional representation in the U.S. political process. The U.S. political system is not changing anytime soon, but America’s complexion is getting darker.

The key lesson of the panel was that Blacks and Latinos are becoming much more powerful players in the American political system and aspiring politicians would be well-served, to not only speak to and become familiar with the issues affecting these groups, but to actually address them.

February 24, 2003
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