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“The most alarming thing about this election was, not only did Latinos not turn out to vote despite the fact that there were huge voter-registration campaigns going on,” says San Antonio ExpressNews columnist Jan Jarboe Russell, “but the gains were made in the Republican Party. We have to give [Hispanics] a reason to vote. We have to give them a public agenda to vote on.” This Nov. 2, Bexar County swung almost entirely Republican. Voters contributed to the defeat of U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and unseated Democratic state Rep. David Leibowitz in a race almost no one thought was competitive. All 10 of the contested state district court races went to the Republicans. The county Democratic Party is a shambles, burdened with prior debts. But the shining stars from San Antonio still have their seats, and many speculate that given the Democratic power vacuum, folks like Villarreal and Martinez-Fischer will take on even more visible roles in Austin. Whether these politicians can create a reliable Democratic base in San Antonio remains to be seen. Their success or failure will say a lot about the chances for statewide Democratic success in the future. SAN ANTONIO’S CURRENT SET of young Latino leaders emerged from a city with a relatively large Hispanic middle class and a long history of Hispanic political leadership. With four military bases in the city and two more close by, it was easier for San Antonians to find well-paying jobs in the defense industry. The now-closed “Kelly Air Force base was probably the biggest higher-education program that San Antonio ever got,” says San Antonio activist and author Carlos Guerra, who sometimes reports for the Observer. “There were a lot of middle-class people.” Villarreal’s father procured one such job and moved his family to the north side, out of the working-class downtown. Villarreal was the first in his family to graduate from college, at Texas A&M; he then went on to Harvard for graduate school. “You can’t discount the power of a growing middle class,” says Villarreal. “It is a big explainer for political participation. Can you do it without it? I wouldn’t say never. But where we’ve seen the most emerging political leadership, it’s in communities where there’s a solid middle class.” Social and economic mobility also came out of earlier wide-scale political movements in the city. “Until the ’70s,” says Russell, “even though the city was predominately Latino, all the power was in the hands of the Anglos.” The shift to Latino power happened, she says, because three men began to take on leadership roles. The first two she credits are Willie Velasquez, who started the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, and Ernie Cortez, who began the city’s Communities Organized for Public Service, known as COPS. The third is former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who emerged as a Latino leader from San Antonio with widespread support. “We had somebody to register people to vote, and that was Willie,” Russell says. “We had somebody to organize people around a public agenda, and that was Ernie. And we had somebody to vote for and who could build a bridge to moderates and progressive Anglos.” In addition to COPS and the voter registration project, groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sprang up. “These young people that are now serving they’re standing on the shoulders of people who have been involved for many years,” says Maria Berriozabal. She is surely one of those people. 661-you can’t 1 discount the power of a growing middle class:’ State representative Mike Villarreal of San Antonio talks with other representatives at the State Capitol. PHOTO BY JOHN DAVENPORT/ SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS/ ZUMA PRESS THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21 DECEMBER 10, 2010