The 2012 elections in California are set to be historic ones thanks to recently completed citizen-driven redistricting, the first widespread use of the open primary, and the anticipated impact of a burgeoning Latino electorate.
The CA Fwd Radio Show focused on the third item listed above. The Latino electorate is a large and rapidly expanding political arm of the California population that wields formidable power when organized. Latinos already represent half the populations of Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as significant segments of the Bay Area, Central Valley, Orange County, and Inland Empire.
Antonio Gonzales, president of the Willie Velasquez Institute, has dedicated his life to helping Latinos make their voices heard. He was named one of the 25 most influential Latinos in America by Time Magazine.
“The history of Latino politics and the Latino community in the United States is, for the most part, one of exclusion,” he told the CA Fwd Radio Show.
“Political empowerment is one of the remedies to that historic exclusion.”
When asked why Latinos in California should care about reform, Gonzales said gains have been made, but there are still significant gaps in educational attainment, healthcare access, and wealth acquisition.
“Latinos are now the emerging majority in California, and this is an important change,” he said. “We have to think bigger. We have to think about the environment and infrastructure, in addition to our traditional civil rights agenda. That’s just the responsibilities of being the emerging majority.”
Pete Aguilar, Mayor of Redlands, CA, is a model for the new wave of elected Latino officials in California. He told the CA Fwd Radio Show that much of his focus is on creating “an educated workforce and jobs for our citizens.”
“But, the number one issue is [the lack of] a sustainable budget process,” Aguilar said
“Continually, year after year, the state uses local government as their piggy bank,” and this shifting of funds from out of county coffers must stop.
“The uncertainty that the state brings time and time again by changing the rules and changing the playing field is problematic for all of us as local leaders,” he said.
As for Latinos and their role in government reform, “they’re going to have to make themselves heard at the ballot box – and not just for the sexy issues,” Aguilar said.
“We need everybody to vote for school board members and local ballot initiatives” he said, noting that “that’s where you see quite a bit of change very quickly.”
Aguilar talks the talk but he also walks the walk. He has made efforts to increase transparency and ensure he and his fellow elected officials hold themselves accountable to their community through “Coffee with the Council.”
“Structured meetings of government are often difficult to navigate,” he said “There isn’t a lot of give and take or dialogue.”
To remedy this, he and his colleagues sit down once a monthto meet at a rotating coffee shop in town.
“And we’ll listen, offer solutions, and start to engage people” he said.
“That’s how you start to shift the dynamic,” and build a transparent government that maintains the trust of the people being served.