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‘We want to be counted’: Latino residents to be influential in election

Updated September 5, 2022 - 2:28 pm

Las Vegas resident Dandino Garcia, who recently opened his own restaurant where he serves arepas inspired by his home country of Venezuela, has not seen a lot of the change that politicians have promised.

The lack of safety near his store at the Boulevard Mall’s El Mercado has been hurting business, and with his restaurant less than two years old, he had a hard time finding help to keep afloat during the pandemic after he opened in November 2020.

“We don’t have as much help as the old businesses,” Garcia said. “We need a boost of help just to keep going, especially in this time.”

Garcia, who votes more Republican, is planning to vote in the upcoming election in November, and, like many Latinos, could have a decisive part to play in who gets elected.

Importance of Latino vote

The Latino demographic has been at center stage this election cycle; it is the fastest-growing segment of the electorate.

Of 11 battleground states, three — Arizona, Nevada and Colorado — should see a jump in their Hispanic turnout, NBC reported in February. Nevada is expected to see a 5.8 percent jump in Hispanic voter participation.

The NALEO Educational Fund projected that more than 165,000 Latinos will vote in the 2022 midterm elections in Nevada, based on trends in voter turnout over the last five midterm elections, and they will make up 16.6 percent of all Nevada voters.

Latino voter participation has increased since 2014 in part due to anti-Latino political dialogue, the NALEO Educational Fund found.

Latinos in elected offices in Nevada have also increased over the years. In 2001 there were four Latinos in office, according to the NALEO Educational Fund, whereas in 2021 there were 33. Seventy-three percent serve at the local level.

“I think we’re not anywhere near where we need to be,” said Lt. Gov. Lisa Cano Burkhead, who is the second Latina to serve as lieutenant governor. Her predecessor, former Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, was the first Latina to serve in the position. “But I am happy to continue to pave that way for so many others that will come after me,” she said.

Historically, Latinos have voted more for Democratic candidates, but some reports suggest that Republicans are making more inroads with Latinos. In 2020, former President Donald Trump gained more Latino votes than in 2016 because of his economic stances.

Trump’s successes among Latino voters in 2020 was less about those voters converting from Democrat to Republican, but rather Trump and the Republican Party better mobilizing the conservative element of the Latino community that had traditionally gone untapped, according to David Damore, chair of the political science department at UNLV.

“This is just such a fluid electorate here. The issue environment and which party is able to frame the issues best really has an advantage here,” Damore said.

Given the fast growth of the electorate and Nevada’s generally lower election participation, both parties have an opportunity to grow their support in the Latino community, he added.

What Latinos care about

In order to grow that support, parties must appeal with solutions to the issues they are passionate about.

Nevada Latinos want elected officials to address inflation and rising cost of living, crime and gun violence, jobs and the economy, lack of affordable housing and high rents, education and public school quality, health care, abortion and climate change, according to poll conducted on behalf of UnidosUs and Mi Familia Vota between July 20 and Aug 1 of 2,750 Latino eligible voters. It carries a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points.

The survey found more than 81 percent of Latino voters in Nevada believe abortion should remain legal, no matter what their own personal beliefs on the issues are, the poll found, and 77 percent of self-identified conservatives in the survey said they believe abortion should remain legal.

When asked what the best solutions would be to make schools safer, 54 percent answered gun reform, according to the poll.

When asked more specifically about inflation and the rising cost of living, 84 percent said food and basic living expenses have gone up, and 83 said gas prices are too high. On gun violence, 71 percent said guns are too easy to access, and 65 percent said elected officials need to find a way to put an end to school shootings, the poll found.

Sixty-three percent said their job does not pay enough and/or they have to take a second job to make ends meet.

The poll also asked what they believe the government should and shouldn’t do, and 92 percent of Nevada Latinos agree that the government should make sure that everyone can afford health care.

The poll found 94 percent saying experience with different racial and ethnic groups is important, and 90 percent preferred candidates who would work with both parties to get things done. But if a candidate is supported by hate groups and white supremacists, supports a total ban on abortion with no exceptions, opposes raising the minimum wage or opposes immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, Hispanics consider those factors deal breakers.

Fifty-six percent of Nevada’s Latinos said they are certain they will vote, and 21 percent said they are likely to vote. Fifty-three percent said they plan to vote Democrat, 23 percent said they will vote Republican and 17 percent said they are undecided. But political parties aren’t doing enough to reach out to the Latino campaign; the poll found 46 percent of respondents said they haven’t been contacted by anyone.

“It’s a wake up call for both parties,” said Rafael Collazo, executive director of the UnidosUS Action Fund in a press call about the poll.

The UnidosUS and Mi Familia Vota poll tracks with another survey conducted in July by Emerson College of Nevada Hispanics. That poll found 37 percent listed the economy as the most important issue facing the community and another 15 percent identified housing as the most important issue. Social justice issues came in at 6 percent. (That survey has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.)

The Emerson College survey found 34 percent of Hispanics saying the Democratic Party aligns with their views on abortion, while 17 percent chose Republicans. Another 33 percent said neither party aligned with their views.

President Biden had a 33 percent favorability rating, with 34 percent viewing him negatively, while former President Donald Trump had 23 percent favorables and 47 percent negatives. The Democratic Party is seen by Nevada Hispanics as 38 percent positive, 20 percent negative and 42 percent neutral, while the GOP is seen as 20 percent positive, 30 percent negative and 49 percent neutral.

Disappointed in politicians

Politicians in general seem to have disappointed Garcia, but he said he did have a good conversation with Amy Wilson, who is running for judge in Las Vegas Justice Court Department 7 and talked to him about her plans if elected.

Garcia, who has lived in Las Vegas for 20 years and has been a citizen for three years, said U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., came into El Mercado and talked about how she’s going to help the business owners, but he hasn’t seen anything get fixed. He tried calling her office but was told they were busy.

“It looks like (many politicians are) running just for the votes and not for the real problems in the community,” Garcia said. “They say, ‘we help the community, we help the community,’ but I am part of the community … and I don’t see anything.”

Garcia votes more Republican, in part because he sees some similarities between Venezuela and the direction the United States is heading in. In Venezuela during the 1970s, the economy was doing well and had a lot of energy independence with oil reserves, Garcia said, but then its oil outflows declined. The country also opened its borders and people from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador came, leading to more people and lower salaries, he said.

“That’s what’s happening here,” Garcia said.

Christy Rosales, who is also from Venezuela and owns a shop in El Mercado, said the economy, education and safety are her biggest concerns. She is not yet a citizen but is planning to become one. She has a child who is 13 years old, and she doesn’t think the education is good, she said.

“Strengthening education can help the future of the country and the children,” she said in Spanish. While she cannot vote, Rosales hopes to see former Republican President Donald Trump win again because she thinks he is smart and a good businessman who helped the economy. (Focus groups conducted in conjunction with the Emerson College poll found “there is consensus that the economy is worse under Biden’s leadership compared to Trump’s.)

Voting Democrat

Gina Delgado, a postdoctoral scholar at UNLV working for the education department, plans to vote Democrat down the ballot in November.

“Education is my No. 1 (issue),” Delgado said. “My thing is, how are you going to have a society that can function if you don’t have a foundation of a stable society? If you constantly mess with the psyche of kids by not providing teachers with a salary they need, or just the resources they need, how in the world are you going to get a society to continue to grow?”

“Both parties just seem to throw education out the window like it’s disposable,” Delgado said.

Delgado is also concerned about the “criss-cross” between education and homelessness.

Delgado wants to see transparency in political candidates, as well as candidates who will cut their salary and give it to others when in office. (Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, fulfilled a campaign promise by donating his salary to schools around Nevada.)

Oneida Renteria Garcia, a Las Vegas resident since 2004, is currently attending civil classes to prepare to take her citizenship test. She does not follow politics closely, but said that her main concerns are public and personal safety. The professional kitchen worker noted that lighting and other public infrastructure have been neglected in her northeast valley neighborhood, attracting crime to the area.

She has adult children who show no interest in voting because they don’t believe in the government after hearing all the negative things about it, she said.

However, she wants to see positive change and for the Latino vote to matter.

“We’re going to be part of the government of this country, we’re going to be American citizens, God willing, and we want to be counted,” she said in Spanish.

Attracting the Latino vote

With only about two months to go until the midterms, campaigns and political organizations have been pushing out advertisement after advertisement targeting the Hispanic community in hopes of winning support.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a Spanish ad against Cortez Masto entitled “Mintió,” which means “lied,” and Cortez Masto’s campaign recently released a Spanish ad called “Hierro y Acero,” which means “Iron and Steel.”

Josh Marcus-Blank, spokesperson for Cortez Masto’s campaign, said the campaign has been communicating with Latino voters in Spanish since March 15, telling her story and highlighting her support for small businesses and local workers. The campaign has also held different events to engage the Latino community, such as a roundtable with Latino small business owners and a “Gran Fiesta Latina” event with Latino families.

“Our campaign isn’t taking any voters for granted,” Marcus-Blank said. “We know there’s a lot of work to do. … She’s going to continue to fight for Latino community. She’s going to continue to support working families, connect with voters these final few months.”

Marcus-Blank, in response to Latino concerns about safety, said as a former attorney general, Cortez Masto’s top priorities are keeping people safe and public safety. He mentioned her efforts to secure funding for local law enforcement agencies and to help bring more mental health resources to officers.

Laxalt began reaching out to Latino leaders, and then the community, early in his campaign, said Jesus Marquez, a Mexican-American political consultant who’s leading those grassroots “Latinos for Laxalt” efforts.

“Right now, Latinos are hurting because of inflation, because of high prices, and they perceive that … they were much better when Donald Trump was in office, for example,” the 47-year-old said.

Marquez, who served as an advisory board member of the Latinos for Trump group in 2020, said that in previous election cycles, it was common to see the same few Latinos attend Republican events.

He’s seen a shift this time around, he said, noting that it’s now typical seeing dozens of new Latino faces getting involved, some of whom are former Democrats upset with the direction of the country.

“They want solutions,” he said, “real solutions to the real problems.”

The Laxalt campaign has launched ads on Spanish radio and TV, Marquez said.

Marquez said that the voting bloc is not a monolith, and previous Democratic campaign promises on immigration, and recent talk relating to identity politics, such as the use of the inclusive term “Latinx,” are not resonating with the electorate.

“Within our own community, we think in different ways in different directions,” he said. (The UnidosUS/Mi Familia Vota survey found just 12 percent used the term “Latinx” to identify themselves, with the vast majority preferring “Hispanic” — 69 percent — or “Latino” or “Latina” — 55 percent.)

“Democrats have the misconception that we think alike,” Marquez said. “Having said that, there’s always that one issue that concerns every Latino. And right now, at this moment, it’s inflation, high prices and crime, (and) education.”

The Lombardo campaign has two staffers dedicated to Latino outreach across the Las Vegas Valley and prospective Latino volunteers are trained to mobilize and contact other voters through “Lombardo Link Ups,” according to the campaign.

Amanda Sandoval, 31, regional engagement director, who remembers first canvassing as an 11-year-old for a California congressional candidate, is one of those staffers.

A lifelong conservative born in Costa Rica, she said Lombardo’s values most resonates with her. A key to reaching Latino voters, said Sandoval, is asking them about their struggles, listening, and then pitching them Lombardo’s platform.

“People are struggling to pay rent, pay for gas, and get groceries,” she said, adding that education and public safety are also top concerns.

Staffers knock on doors, visit Latino-oriented businesses and hold phone banks. Other likely voters come to them at their east Las Vegas headquarters, asking about what Lombardo is all about, Sandoval said.

“A lot of people are starting to wake up,” said Sandoval about Latinos who in the past might have voted for a Democrat. “Seeing every-day effects” of the Democratic policies.

Sisolak’s campaign says it has spent six figures on radio and print ads in Spanish since the beginning of July, and launched a “Latino Advisory Council” in March. The campaign also noted its staff includes four Latino Nevadans. (In his official office, Sandoval is advised by Yvanna Cancela, a former political director of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 who served in the Nevada state Senate.)

“Governor Sisolak has always advocated for Nevada’s Latino communities — in both his official and campaign capacities. The governor understands that in Nevada our diversity is our strength, which is why he has prioritized building a campaign made of — and made for — all Nevadans,” said campaign spokesperson Reeves Oyster in a statement.

Labor’s role

Unions heavily involved in politics have also been advocating for the Latino community’s concerns.

For the 2020 election, canvassers with the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 knocked on about 650,000 doors across Nevada, according to the 60,000-member organization with 54 percent Latinos among its ranks. Organizers are on track to visit a million homes this cycle to try to counter the gains the minority party typically sees during midterm elections, said Ted Pappageorge, the secretary-treasurer of the union.

Much like the general electorate, the Latino bloc is “quite concerned” about the economy: inflation, gas prices, and increased rents, he said.

“Do they really think Republicans are going to take on corporate landlords? No, of course not,” Pappageorge said. “Do you think they’re really going to take on the oil companies, the price of gas? No.”

The union has endorsed Republicans in the past, such as former Gov. Brian Sandoval. But speaking to likely voters this time around, including Latinos, canvassers are under the impression that the voters view the new crop of Republican candidates as “somewhat extreme” with “moot” messaging.

“Their plan is ‘pick me,’” he said about Republicans, noting that the party is sometimes its “own worst enemy.”

The union is supporting the re-elections of Sisolak, Cortez Masto and Rep. Steven Horsford.

“I think we’re gonna fight very hard for working-class voters to have a real voice,” said Pappageorge, describing the candidates as “common sense” choices.

Damore, the UNLV professor, said Culinary’s increased involvement will play a significant role in the final months of the election. The union’s members know the neighborhoods, which doors to knock on and, in many cases, are part of those communities.

“Political operatives from out of state don’t have the same clout as the neighbor or the person you work with, go to church with. That sort of connection is really significant,” Damore said.

Culinary member and canvasser Carlos Padilla, 53, agrees.

“I support the Democrats because I know they have my back,” he said, citing Sisolak’s pandemic recovery policies and Cortez Masto’s efforts to direct federal funding to Nevada.

Knocking on doors for the union, he said, he’s encountered a plethora of Latinos, many of whom are undecided voters.

The union’s pitch “changes their mind,” he said.

“The majority of the people that we talk to … are pro-Democrat,” he said. “They agree that Sisolak helped support them during the pandemic, and Catherine Cortez Masto, as a Latina senator, did a lot for our state as well.”

The Mexican-American pastry baker, who’s been with the union for nearly three decades, said that one of the main issues he hears about — affordable housing — is something that also affects him, since he recently saw a $400 monthly rent increase.

He also said the Latino voting bloc is not a monolith.

“We’re not one-sided, we just want what’s best for ourselves; that’s gonna help us in the community; to help us stay in our home,” he said.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter. Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites. Review-Journal reporters Colton Lochhead and Taylor Avery contributed to this report.

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