The notion that Latinos in the West should make their political home in the GOP has long fascinated me. Now comes what might be dubbed the Houston Hoax--the notion that the oil city has somehow displaced Los Angeles as the leading edge of American opportunity cities--and thus the seemingly rational notion that its policies might lead the party to the Latino vote.
But such notions illustrate a fundamental ignorance about L.A., Latinos and the future.
I got my first tutorial on the subject more than 20 years ago, when I interviewed Dr. Tirso del Junco, then an up-and-coming star in the state GOP and, in 1984, the mover behind "Viva Duke!," an attempt to get Latinos to vote for George Deukmejian. Del Junco's was an elegant mien, but behind it were red knuckles; he had served as a medic for the failed liberators of the Bay of Pigs, and, when I met him, he had taken up the cause of fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua via a series of fundraisers dubbed "Cocktails for Contras." He was high on the little blip his Duke campaign had conjured from Hispanic voters, but he was hard headed and honest about the prospects--ever--for a Latino line up behind his party. "Let's face it, this is not Miami. The border is porous. We have a renewing cycle of young migrants who need help, and the first place they will turn is to the government. They aren't exactly free market, you know. You can't be when you are struggling, let's face it."
Such wisdom has held now for two and a half decades. That, of course, hasn't stopped some of our brightest homegrown political pundits from floating the "incipient Latino GOP" notion yet again. A month before the election came a long article in Forbes and New Geography by Joel Kotkin, a onetime independent California booster turned anti-California conservative. According to Kotkin, a founding editor of New Geo, "Latino Dems Should Rethink Their Loyalty." Why? Because the Dems were job-killing greenies; global warming is a plot by (his words) "socialist scientists" and not important to hardworking Latinos, he reasoned, so they should vote GOP. They'd rather be in place like Houston.
But a new poll out shows that California Latinos--and Asians and blacks--completely rejected that proposition. As the L.A. Times put it: "50% of Latinos and 46% of Asians who responded to the poll said they personally worry a great deal about global warming, compared with 27% of whites. Two-thirds of Latinos and 51% of Asians polled said they worry a great deal about air pollution, compared with 31% of whites." They also rejected the Houston belief system: the notion that job growth and climate regulation are mutually exclusive.
Other facts gleaned from the election also shows something the GOP can't even begin to fathom: California--and other western-state Latinos--are much more mainstream than the increasingly extreme GOP base. They rejected Nevada's GOP "front runner," the teabagglady Sharron Angle, and gave good ol' Harry Reid a handy win. They elected a Democrat in Colorado, where polls had predicted a win by the Republican. In fact, in all races where Latinos represented a large voting base, Democrats did far better than advance polls showed. And that was during a mid-term GOP "rout."
Latino voters also think (and admit, in contrast to Anglo conservos) that government should play a sizable role in our economic life. And they likely view as demented a notion finding growing subscription among white conservatives today: that "whites now face as much discrimination as minorities." An amazing 52 percent of "mainstream" Republicans believe that, along with 62 percent of diagnosed tea party meshuggas.
What about the "entrepreneurial elite" theory, which holds that the real economic players in the Latino community often shun government, and so should be Republicans? One example often held out as an example is Jose Legaspi, an L.A. real estate developer. Legaspi recently bemoaned the "fact" that one always has to "kiss the ring" of city hall in order to get permission to do business. But a look at Legaspi's own web site shows he is spinning his "maverick" status out of pure government cooperation. Over the past two decades he has been highly successful at building a number of high-priced downtown developments, proving that it is not so hard to kiss something down there at City Hall.
Finally, the endurance of the modern western Latino Democrat drives a nail through another fashionable concept: the bizarre idea that the leading edge of American life now resides in Texas, specifically Houston, that land of low taxes and low regulation. But Texas is also the land of anti-science, anti-evolution oil addicts riding a temporary bubble of state-engineered prosperity. It is a land that takes its growth by giving tax breaks to companies from out of state--in other words, companies on their way down rather than on their way up. The talk show-inebriated governor, Rick Perry, loves to go on talk shows to proclaim his as the new future of the American city.
Yet by all measures--especially the most troubling--it is not a place where young Latino families and other populations of new Americans are comfortable: 47 percent of kids in Houston now live below the poverty line. One in eight are on food stamps. Guess which west coast city does better? All of them.
If the GOP is ever to truly capture the Hispanic political imagination, it will have to look to the civilizing, pro-science, 21st century political values of LA's Latino Democrats.
Who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, "rethinking" their loyalty any time soon.
Greg Critser's latest book is "Eternity Soup: Inside the Quest to End Aging." He's working on a book about the science of modern city life.