Hispanic vote critical to local elections

Arguably the biggest question plaguing the mind of any politician during an election year is: Who can I get to the polls?

State Sen. Gwendolyn Moore (D-Milwaukee) is working on at least one answer: Hispanics. The Latinos for Moore Committee, supporting Moore's attempt for Congress, was established Thursday by community activists. The committee is targeting Hispanics.

"Our intention is going to get Latino members of this community to vote Democratic and elect Senator Moore to Congress," said Juan Carlos Ruiz, community activist and spokesman for the committee. Ruiz said he thinks Hispanics will "play a crucial role in this race."

U.S. Rep. Jerry Kleczka (D-Wis.), who represents the fourth congressional district including Milwaukee and five suburbs, announced in January he would not seek re-election. The 10-year veteran's decision has sparked considerable interest in the seat.

Ruiz said Moore faces three strong Democrat opponents, including state Sen. Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee, state Rep. Shirley Krug of Milwaukee and Matt Flynn, former state Democratic chair. He said this variety of people could split the Hispanic vote, so the committee was established to prevent that from happening.

But Republicans are putting their own candidate into the mix, according to Chris Lato, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Lato said the Hispanic vote, more nationally than specific to this election, is an important vote the party is working to secure.

Hispanics have traditionally been perceived as a Democratic voting bloc. Professor of political science John McAdams said this could be the result of historical trends.

"It seems to be the case (that Hispanic voters) may be following in the footsteps of early immigrant groups like the Irish or the Italians" in initially supporting Democrats, but eventually moving more toward the center, McAdams said.

For example, an exit poll in California following a referendum to ban gay marriage showed Latinos heavily supported the referendum, McAdams said.

Lato said values among Hispanic voters are, according to polls, more in line with Republican ideals. Also, he said "there is a growing unrest among African-Americans and (Hispanic Americans) that they're being taken for granted" as Democratic voters.

"One could make a very strong case that the Democratic party has been taking these constituencies for granted and sleeping on the job," Lato said. He said the Hispanic population in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is growing so it will become increasingly important in the years to come.

This year Democrats are concerned with winning back control in either house of congress as well as the White House, and are working hard to bring in the votes.

"The Latino vote in Milwaukee especially is a very vital part of what we're going to be doing" until November, said Seth Boffeli, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

"The Latino vote played a very big role in 2000 in delivering the state for Al Gore," Boffeli said. "Traditionally the Latino community has voted Democratic but at the same time they're the fastest-growing minority population."

According to 2000 U.S. Census Bureau data, persons of Latino or Hispanic origin make up 12.5 percent of the population, while the second largest minority group, black persons, makes up 12.3 percent of the population.

These numbers can be deceiving in relation to voting impact, however.

Janet Boles, professor of political science, said the Hispanic community is a disproportionately young group, with many members under the age of 18.

Further, census data includes everyone, including people who are not U.S. citizens, she said. Also, the Hispanic community is split into three main groups, she said.

A majority of those classified as Hispanic are of Mexican origin, Boles said. They tend to be more Democratic, but "you couldn't call them a swing vote." She said Mexican-Americans are relatively split, skewing slightly toward the Democratic side.

A second group of Hispanics, Puerto Ricans, is more solidly Democratic, while Cuban Americans are Republican, she said.