- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2003

California gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger has alienated a key constituency in the state’s Hispanics, community activists say, while Gov. Gray Davis has not fared much better with the ethnic group during his five years in office.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s blunders are twofold: his acknowledged backing of a successful 1994 measure, called Proposition 187, to deny social services to illegal immigrants and securing former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson as campaign chairman.

Mr. Wilson is forever tainted in the immigrant community for his support of Proposition 187 and perceived animosity for illegal immigrants.

“He is not a friend of our community, and we will have an effort to make sure everybody knows that,” said Mickie Luna, president of the state chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“Arnold coming out and admitting his support for 187 was bad enough … but to call on Pete Wilson for help, well, that will make sure we get out the vote.”

At the same time, Mr. Schwarzenegger could also capitalize on his status as a legal immigrant, one of 66,000 Austrian-born in the United States. And there is the much-disputed figure that showed one-third of the state’s Hispanics voting in favor of Propsition 187.

The Oct. 7 election, in which voters will decide whether Mr. Davis should remain governor and, if not, who should replace him, puts a spotlight on the state’s 2.5 million registered Hispanic voters, who can make or break a candidate.

“You cannot speak to California without speaking to Hispanics,” said Marcelo Gaete, senior director of programs with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “They are inextricably intertwined. And whoever wants to win this will have to address that.”

Mr. Davis has endured the wrath of the state’s Hispanic population for twice vetoing a statehouse bill that would enable some illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Mr. Davis has reversed his position on the bill, after seeing his Hispanic support dwindle in last fall’s re-election, from 83 percent when he was first elected in 1998 to 70 percent last year.

“It’s my intention to sign a bill this year that allows hard-working immigrants who contribute to our economy the opportunity to drive,” he said at a recent appearance in a Hispanic neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Activist groups have begun to organize as early polls show the constituency slow to embrace the recall.

On Sept. 4, the Mexican American Political Association will hold a forum with all of the leading candidates for the purposes of an endorsement.

The national group’s 500 state delegates will vote on who will be their candidate. “They are already fortifying the political network, and our group will be absolutely engaged once the endorsement occurs,” said Nativo Vigil Lopez, the group’s president.

Hispanics make up almost a third of the state’s population, and census figures project that the group will become a majority in California within the next two decades. But Hispanic voter turnout has been historically small — 30 percent to 40 percent.

Nearly 50 percent of the state’s Hispanics are immigrants, including many who never obtained citizenship and therefore cannot legally vote.

When they do, though, they tend to support Democrats.

“Pandering for the Latino vote will be at an all-time high,” said Luis Arteaga, executive director of the Latino Issues Forum, a San Francisco-based policy and advocacy institute. “There is the potential for a record-high or a record-low turnout, and the Latino vote will be the major player.”

Miss Luna, of LULAC, has received calls from her membership vowing to support Mr. Davis at the polls.

Also at issue is Proposition 54, a measure that is intended to eradicate the collection of race data in many taxpayer-funded offices, including college admissions.

That, too, could draw the Hispanic vote.

“We’re already getting ready for a get-out-the-vote drive to fight the initiative,” Miss Luna said. “We will be in the trenches making sure voters get to the polls.”

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