As he watched tonight’s broadcast of the Democratic Debate at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), Antonio Gonzalez didn’t much like what he saw and heard. “I’m pissed off at all of them” he said. “I’m mad.”
Like the growing number of Latinos disgusted with increasing discrimination that a majority (54%) say they experience mostly because of anti-immigrant racism, Gonzalez is dismayed at, how, for example, the top candidates responded to the ‘Yes or No’ question about drivers licenses for immigrants: Clinton “No”, Edwards “No” and Obama “Yes, but…”
“They’re all retreating from positions of principle on immigration” he said.
That such dismay exists so early among some Latino voters even in places like the Latino-heavy Democratic citadel of Los Angeles, should concern the candidates and their party. But coming from Gonzalez, whose organization, the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, has launched an unprecedented $10 million, 400 city drive to register and mobilize 500,000 new Latino voters by next year’s election, such dismay should inspire fear of a new voting block: the Angry Brown Voter.
Like the Pentagon, the Democrats need Latinos desperately. And like many a returning Iraq war veteran, Latino veterans of the immigration wars grow impatient with both parties.
If you listened closely tonight, you could hear echoes of the voter bloc that will, in the long term, counterbalance the weakening pull of the angry white voter. The only Nevadan of Latino extraction who got to ask a question, UNLV student, George Ambriz, used his opportunity to finger debate CNN’s Lou Dobbs for “insinuating” a “linkage” between terrorism and security and immigration. “No terrorist threat has come from our southern border” he said before asking, “Are they (terrorism and immigration) “intrinsically related issues”?
Combined with the Democrats’ rightward turn on immigration, such questioning from an Angry Brown Voter bodes ill for a Democratic party that touted its decision to bring the debate –and a much-anticipated early primary- to Nevada as part of its efforts to be more inclusive of Latinos.
And recent developments beyond the UNLV campus also signal the coming of the still very young (the average Latino is 26) Angry Brown Voter. From Washington to local Congressional districts, the candidates and their party are starting to hear loudly and more frequently from a group the Democrats seem to take for granted.
In response to what they perceive as DCCC Chair Rahm Emmanuel’s cowardice on immigration, local groups in his district have taken out English, Spanish and Korean language ads in local media. The ads ask, “Why is Congressman Emanuel Betraying our Friends and Families?”. Last Thursday, Members of the usually pretty loyal (and quiet) Hispanic Caucus held up debate on an important tax bill and engaged in an angry confrontation with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. The Latino legislators were incensed at the support among some 36 of their fellow Democrats for a Republican motion many Hispanic Caucus members found very offensive. Venerated Chicano scholar and activist, Rudy Acuna, has even started circulating email messages across the country in which he asks whether Latinos should consider joining a third party. “They are pandering to Lou Dobbs. Why should we support a party that has sold out our interests?” asks Acuna.
How Latinos answer Acuna’s question has relevance in the age of the slim electoral victory. Latino-heavy swing states like Nevada, Florida, Colorado and others may well determine next year’s election. Not listening to the Angry Brown Voter may mean another Republican Red Congress – and Presidency.