Simmering frustration among Latino voters has prompted a tea party-style endeavor that’s intended to boost the political influence of America’s fastest-growing minority group.
“We want to motivate Latinos to vote,” says Belinda “DeeDee” Blase, spokeswoman for the fledgling National Tequila Party Movement, which has adopted a nonpartisan stance. “[Democrats and Republicans] don’t take us seriously because we don’t vote consistently.”
Through rallies and concerts in at least 20 states, the group wants to mobilize Latinos to vote in record-breaking numbers in the 2012 election. The idea is to issue a wake-up call to both parties – Democrats for taking the Latino vote for granted and Republicans for pushing policies that adversely affect the Hispanic community.
The number of Latinos eligible to vote went from 13 million in 2000 to 21 million in 2010. But just 31 percent of Latinos cast a ballot in the recent midterm elections, compared with nearly 49 percent of whites and 44 percent of blacks, according to a Pew Hispanic Center survey.
The tequila party wants to change that equation and make Latinos an attention-getting voting bloc, says Ms. Blase, who is also president of Somos Republicans, a national advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
To expand the tequila party effort in various states, Blase plans to tap into the existing structure of Somos Republicans. And some Somos Republicans representatives have already formed alliances with Democrats and Hispanic political activists that could help advance the tequila party's goals, she adds.
The effort comes amid diminished enthusiasm for President Obama among Latinos even as he renews his courtship of this group, which political analysts say is crucial to his reelection. Polls show that Latinos, who vote mostly Democratic, have grown weary of the president’s lack of progress in securing immigration reforms. The record number of deportations under the Obama administration is another sore point.
“Even Latino Democrats are really dismayed and frustrated with Obama,” says Alex Gonzalez, a California representative for Somos Republicans, who is helping with the logistics of expanding the tequila party effort in the Bay Area. “That frustration is shared across party lines: We are frustrated, too.”
So disillusioned was Democrat Fernando Romero of Nevada that late last year, he started talking with colleagues across the country about the potential for an independent grass-roots group that might emulate the tea party’s success – not in substance, but in effectively mobilizing Hispanics to bring attention to Latino concerns. Although it was Blase and not Mr. Romero who officially launched the tequila party, Romero says it appears to be headed in the direction he envisioned. Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, a nonpartisan Nevada group, will lead the tequila party in his state.
In southern California, Democrat Kevin Solis is promoting the tequila party with area grass-roots groups "as a kind of good old-fashioned get-out-the-vote campaign and tying it with a celebration of our culture, of our music.”
The political activist hopes the undertaking will translate into lasting voting power, including in the primary elections, which many Latinos overlook.
Given the rapid growth of the Latino population, which rose from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010, the Latino vote is significant, says Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
“It’s a voting group that’s up for grabs,” she says. “It’s really important for the Republicans to figure out what is it they need to do to attract, to take away these Democratic Latinos to their camp.”
Whether the tequila party can become a political force remains to be seen, the professor says.
“That cross-party message is very valuable and assuming that they do more than just register, that they follow through and then do the mobilization – go door to door, send mailings, and make phone calls – that nudge is critical to getting new voters to the polls,” Professor Atkeson says.
The Latino vote will be “unbelievably crucial” in 2012, says Gary Segura, a political scientist at Stanford University in California. Given that Hispanic voters helped propel Mr. Obama to victory in 2008, “the absence of the Latino enthusiasm [now], it’s a much tougher circumstance.”
In his May 10 speech in Texas, Obama’s call for immigration reform was a direct appeal to Latino voters, Mr. Segura adds. “There was no policy proposal, there’s no piece of legislation, he’s not engaged in any active negotiations. The speech in front of El Paso was a campaign speech,” he says.
The federal government’s lack of progress on comprehensive immigration reform has resulted in piecemeal legislation in Arizona and other states that hurts the Hispanic population, activists say.
Still, unlike the tea party, the tequila party will exclude antigovernment rhetoric and finger-pointing, Blase maintains. Instead, it will focus on drawing potential voters to celebrations in states with sizable Hispanic populations.
“We can blame Obama and Republicans and Democrats all we want, but the only way that the Latino community is going to get respect is if we become consistent primary-election voters as well as general-election voters,” she says. “So our respect comes from our vote, and that’s what we have to do still.”