IT IS A FUNDAMENTALLY radical proposition. That is, to register as many eligible voters as can be included on county clerks’ rolls. It is not a very romantic fight. In this issue we remember Willie Velasquez, the founder of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education project, who died last month in San Antonio. In the pages that follow, a half-dozen voices of some of those who knew Willie Velasquez consider his life and what he was about. Federal policy is fairly hostile to voter registration. State legislators hire staff contortionists to draft legislation that provides for state-employee-assisted registration but does not violate the ironclad proscription of use of federal funds. The U.S. is the only Western democracy where the national government spends no money on voter registration, according to Lafe Larson, Texas director of Human SERVE, a nation-wide voter reform organization. And, Larson said, it is the only Western Democracy without a universal voter registration system. “Consequently, we rank last in voter turnout among the 20 Western democracies.” And state governments are not always open to reform. Two bills were vetoed by Governor Clements last session. One would have allowed state employees to serve as deputy voter registrars. Another would have delayed the purging of voters’ names from rolls until after elections, thus allowing people who have moved, particularly within the same precincts, to change their address when they vote. The centerpiece of voter registration, however, never made it to the floor last session. Rep. Ernestine Glossbrenner’s motor-voter bill made the logical connection between voting rolls and Department of Public Safety’s issuance of licenses, identification cards, and address changes. It also would have provided for voter registration in the Department of Human Resources. The bill was opposed by Secretary of State Jack Rains who argued that the costs of printing registration cards and of postage for return mailing were too high. Rains presented the House Elections Committee with an inflated fiscal note that seemed designed to discourage fiscal conservatives. Even after the fiscal note was lowered and the language of the bill altered to accommodate DPS and DHR directors, the bill was opposed by committee Republicans. The motor-voter concept is currently under consideration by an interim committee chaired by Rep. Bobby Aiken, D-Corn merce. According to Glossbrenner, it is likely that it will come before the Legislature next session. “If the Secretary of State will just remain neutral, we feel that it will have a good chance of passing,” Glossbrenner said. At the federal level, a bill sponsored by California Senator Alan Cranston would provide for a simplified, universal system of registration for federal elections. Cranston’s commitment to voter registration was strengthened by his close victory in 1986 over Republican Ed Zschau. The story of Cranston’s recent feud with the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project is only beginning to unfold. Some public policy activists have suggested that Cranston sees voter registration as a prelude to an election and is inclined to spend large amounts of money on registration drives in election years. This contrasts with the SVREP approach of institution building, litigation, registration, and education. Cranston’s focus on statewide and federal elections also differs from the SVREP grassroots approach to local elections. According to Andy Hernandez of SVREP, in 1986 Cranston approached the San Antonio-based organization and offered to raise money for registration projects. Cranston then said he would work with existing groups, including the SVREP where projected expenditures were based on funds the Senator had promised to deliver. Money that Cranston raised, however, was provided to a group that he established in Los Angeles: the Center for Participation in Democracy. Southwest Voter was left with a $110,000 deficit. The California group has planned voter registration drives in cities where the SVREP is already working, Hernandez said. According to Hernandez, he questioned Cranston about the duplication of effort in voter registration and was told “A little competition is good for everyone.” Hernandez describes the California group’s approach as typical of the old patron system: “Voters are registered every fouf years but the streets don’t get paved, the schools don’t get any better. “This is not a question of turf,” Hernandez said, “it’s a question of principle. . .a question of in whose hands the future of Hispanic politics lies.” A spokesman in Senator Cranston’s office said he was vaguely familiar with the story but wanted to look at initial press accounts before responding. The story was first reported by Dave McNeely of the Austin i r,,,,,, THE TEXAS 110 server JULY .29, 1988 VOLUME 80, No. 15 FEATURES The Velasquez Legacy By Larry Hufford 6 On Willie Velasquez By Ernesto Cortes, Jr., James C. Harrington, Jose Angel Gutierrez, Malcolm Greenstein, Juan Sepulveda, Ramiro R. Casso 8 Who Will Lead SW Voter Project? By Kathryn Kase 13 The Hispanic Agenda By Henry Cisneros DEPARTMENTS 14 Dialogue 2 Editorials 3 Political Intelligence 16 Books and the Culture America and Her Children By Louis Dubose Afterword Sabat’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame By Debbie Nathan 18 22 American Statesman. Cranston’s office had not responded to Observer questions at press time. The California group founded by Cranston has a $3 million budget and designs on registration of one million voters. But it is hard to argue with the success of the institution founded by Willie Velasquez. In California, the state with the largest Hispanic population in the U.S., there are 466 elected Hispanic officials. In Texas, where the SVREP has worked longest, 1,500 Hispanics now hold elected office. Some of the Texas increase might be explained by demographics; most of it can be attributed to the work of Southwest Voter. The San Antonio-based group has 100 campaigns scheduled this year 40 in Texas and others divided among California, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Adelante! L.D. EDITORIALS Electoral Empowerment THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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