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Texas Governor Hopefuls Talk Arizona

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Any Texas politician worth his or her custom cowboy boots is talking Arizona these days. They’re polishing up their Arizona immigration talking points. And whether they disagree or agree with the law says a lot about demographics and the electorate they are trying to appeal to.

That’s my purely cynical view. I honed it during five years of working at the Texas Legislature.

Anyone running a statewide race in Texas would be foolish to alienate 36 percent of the population of the state. In Arizona, Latinos account for 30 percent of the population according to an NPR report, but just 17 percent of the voting population. In Texas, Latinos account for 36 percent of the population and about 22 percent of the voting population. Latino turnout at the polls was unprecedented in Texas in 2008 for the presidential election.

Both Democratic and Republican politicos running statewide are trying to curry the favor of the Latino electorate. Latinos comprised 63 percent of population growth in the last decade. By 2040, the Latino population is expected to triple in metropolitan areas, from 5.9 to 17.2 million. In rural areas, the number of Latinos is expected to double, from 777,000 to 1.6 million, according to the Texas Office of Rural Community Affairs.

In a recent conversation with Jerry Polinard, a political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American, he emphasized that “demographics are destiny.”

“If one party gets two-thirds of the Latino vote, they’ll start winning every statewide election,” says Polinard.

Arizona has actually done a great disservice to Texas GOPers.  Candidates running statewide like Perry need to reassure Latino voters that they won’t rubber stamp Gestapo measures like they did in Arizona.

That’s why Perry is trying to reassure the electorate that he’s not going to throw Latinos under an Arizona bus. At least, that was gist of the message his campaign released late Thursday afternoon:

“Recently, there has been much debate over immigration policy in Washington and what has been implemented in Arizona. I fully recognize and support a state’s right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas.

For example, some aspects of the law turn law enforcement officers into immigration officials by requiring them to determine immigration status during any lawful contact with a suspected alien, taking them away from their existing law enforcement duties, which are critical to keeping citizens safe. Our focus must continue to be on the criminal elements involved with conducting criminal acts against Texans and their property.  I will continue to work with the legislative leadership to develop strategies that are appropriate for Texas.”

Democratic candidate Bill White was also stumping on Arizona yesterday in Lubbock, according to the Avalanche-Journal:

“Texas should welcome all residents who “work hard and play by the rules” and keep law enforcement focused on violent crime, the Democratic hopeful for the governor’s seat told a crowd of about 70 on the Texas Tech campus Thursday.

… White said a new Arizona immigration law that makes lacking immigration documents a state crime for local officers to investigate would be an unwelcome distraction for Texas officers.

Anything that diverts them from that job means the crime rate is going to go up, period.”

No doubt, White is hoping this Arizona mess will not only turn out more Latino voters, but also persuade them to vote for a Democrat. If he gets an unprecedented number of Latino voters, he might get the competitive edge over Perry, according to this Houston Chronicle report:

“If White is to run a competitive race against the GOP incumbent, he needs the Hispanic vote to increase from 11-14 percent to about 15 percent statewide, and he needs about 70 percent of those who vote, says University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray. He also says that White needs about 90 percent of the African-American vote and about 40 percent of the Anglo vote.

Obviously, if White can drive up the minority turnout and his vote share, that drops his needed share of Anglos down toward 35 percent, much more easily reached than 40 percent,” Murray said.”

The GOPers in Arizona have made not only a mean-spirited political move but also a shortsighted one. Because they are alienating a growing demographic of voters. It’s already having a ripple effect both in Washington and here. No wonder Karl Rove sounded so glum about Arizona’s new law.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.