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From Tea Party to Tequila Party?

Latinos are getting restless.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

March 26, 2011 - 12:00 am

In the 2012 presidential election, Latinos might be so disgruntled with both parties that they could wind up craving a shot of tequila.

Inspired by how the Tea Party shook up the Republican establishment from the right, Latino activists are threatening to form a “Tequila Party” to challenge President Obama and the Democratic establishment from the left.

Right now, the idea exists only in theory. It’s been mentioned in articles and speeches, but there is no formal apparatus. Yet, among Latinos, there is a palpable amount of disillusionment with both political parties and especially with Democrats.

About 10 million Latino voters cast ballots in 2008. And with 500,000 new voters joining the rolls every year, as many as 12 million Latinos are expected to vote in 2012.

In every presidential election since 1960, the Democrat has won the majority of the Latino vote. But there’s more to the story. If Republicans get 35 percent or more, it’s usually enough to win the White House. Below 25 percent, they usually lose.

In the 2008 election, Obama was given a whopping 67 percent of the Latino vote. Yet, while in office, as far as many Latinos are concerned, he has fallen short of expectations.

According to a recent poll by ImpreMedia and Latino Decisions, President Obama’s job approval rating among Latinos is still at 70 percent. Yet only 43 percent of Latino voters are sure they will vote for him next year. One reason they give is Obama’s broken promise to pursue comprehensive immigration reform. This doesn’t translate into support for the GOP; only 9 percent said they would definitely vote for a Republican candidate, and another 8 percent said they might.

The question isn’t whether Latinos are going to defect to the GOP. It’s whether Latinos are so disappointed in Obama and the Democrats that they don’t vote at all. The White House can’t afford to let that happen.

For the first time in years, Latinos are in play because of a genuine anger at how both parties mistreat those voters.

Just listen to Robert DePosada, a Washington-based GOP political strategist. I asked him what he thought about the idea of Latinos forming a Tequila Party.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said DePosada. “Both parties are just playing with us. And unless we send a message to these people, they’re going to continue going as they are.”

Or listen to Arnoldo Torres, a Sacramento CA-based Democratic strategist.

“Latinos are starting to realize that Democrats are not responsive to their concerns,” Torres said. “In fact, there is phenomenal ignorance in both parties. Latinos have got to change the paradigm by demanding more.”

There has long been a frustration among Latinos that Democrats were taking their support for granted. But the straw that broke the donkey’s back was the immigration debate, which Democrats have badly mismanaged.

In 2006 and 2007, Senate Democrats -– including a freshman Illinois senator named Barack Obama –- proposed “poison pill” amendments to kill, at the behest of organized labor, a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included guest workers. In 2009 and 2010, Democrats — in control of both the White House and Congress –- put immigration reform on the back burner to concentrate on health care, trade, global warming, education, and other matters. And finally, during last year’s lame duck session, five Senate Democrats  – Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kay Hagen of North Carolina, and Jon Tester and Max Baucus of Montana  – voted against cloture on the DREAM Act and prevented the bill from moving to a final vote.

And yet, as bad as Democrats have been on immigration, Republicans have been worse by making the issue one of “us” vs “them” — and putting Latinos squarely in the “them” category.

Tequila might not be on the menu for Latinos in 2012, but it could be more appetizing in 2014 or 2016. After all, as long as Latino voters feel undervalued by both parties, they’re going to be up for grabs in ways that could shake up the political system.

That’s a good thing. Loyalty is an admirable trait. But, in politics, it can be debilitating. Latinos need to give their loyalty to the Democratic Party a rest. They need to flex their muscle, express their concerns, spell out their issues, and hold both parties accountable with equal enthusiasm.

It’s true that a third party insurrection could help them do that. But this is a tall order. There is an easier way. Latino voters should simply become more engaged with the process and more demanding of the parties they have now. If they’re tired of being ignored, then they must make themselves heard.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.
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