By Bill Lambrecht, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — A year ago, actress Eva Longoria and San Antonio businessman Henry Muñoz formed an organization they hope will propel the fast-growing Latino population into elective office and positions of power across the country.
Those goals proved elusive in the 2014 elections in Texas and elsewhere. But at an anniversary celebration Monday, founders of the Latino Victory Project vowed a sustained effort to parlay demographic changes into a political force.
“Whoever seeks our vote needs to stand at the front of the movement and needs to have more than a (Spanish) surname or give a stump speech in Spanish,” said Muñoz in an apparent reference to GOP presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Muñoz is finance chairman of the national Democratic Party.
“It’s our time,” exhorted Longoria, “and if we don’t get engaged in the process, we’re not going to have a seat at the table.”
Another featured guest, Julián Castro, Housing and Urban Development secretary, added more San Antonio flavor to the Latino Victory Project’s standing-room-only gathering, a blend of politics and culture called “Latino Talks.”
The Longoria-Muñoz project aims to mobilize Latinos to vote, as well as recruit candidates, train them and back them financially. Speakers lamented the abysmal voter turnout rate for Latinos, which has remained largely unchanged since 2006 even though the number of voting-eligible Latinos increased by more than one-third, to 25 million, during that time.
In Texas, Democrats hoped to rely on Latinos in last year’s elections much like President Barack Obama did nationally in 2012, when he captured 71 percent of the Latino vote.
But that did not occur, and exit polls showed Gov. Greg Abbott winning 44 percent of Latinos, an even higher rate than Rick Perry in his 2010 re-election campaign.
Cristobal Alex, an El Paso native who directs the Latino Victory Project, observed in an interview that more than 50,000 Latinos reach the voting age of 18 every month.
“We anticipate record Latino turnout in 2016, and if we are smart about how we approach that, Latinos will not only decide who the next president is but we can also elect a record number of Latinos,” he said.
The Latino Victory Project is focused on developing pipelines of donors, which Muñoz acknowledged with the words: “No peso, no say so.”
The group is modeled in part after EMILY’s List, which supports Democratic women who embrace abortion rights. In 2014, the Latino Victory Project reported more than $327,000 in independent expenditures for and against candidates.
It was a dismal year for Democrats, and most recipients of Latino Victory Project backing lost. Among them was Pete Gallego, a Democrat who was ousted from his San Antonio congressional district by Republican Will Hurd despite the group’s $180,000 in independent expenditures opposing Hurd.
Alex said his organization will continue to focus heavily on Texas, given the state’s untapped potential of more than 2 million unregistered Latino voters.
“Texas for us is always going to be a home state for the organization, and we will invest in Texas and not just because that’s where our leadership comes from,” he said.
The Republican Party nationally is investing heavily in outreach to Latinos, and the billionaire Koch Brothers have given millions of dollars to the Libre Initiative to mobilize Latino voters. The organization is based in Mission in the Rio Grande Valley.
Muñoz warned the audience about “people out there who would buy your vote and say they stand with you when they don’t.”
Some Democrats have trumpeted the party’s “demographic destiny” of gaining an ongoing Electoral College advantage as a result of Latino population gains.
But Muñoz asserted: “Demography is not destiny. You have to work for it.”
Published in the San Antonio Express-News on May 04, 2015