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There is growing doubt today whether our political system is able to deal with the realities that confront us and significantly impact our futures. U.S. voters were uneasy with the two presidential candidates they had before them. The turnout, lower than in 2008, reflects this disconnect.
In the country where newscasts and networks speak daily about democracy and its greatness and candidates are compelled to wear a U.S. flag pin on their lapels, 93 million eligible citizens did not vote: 57.5 percent of all eligible voters turned out this month, compared with 62.3 percent in 2008 and 60.4 percent in 2004.
I have been involved in Latino politics and public policy since 1975. I have participated in, and observed, national elections since 1976. I have been through the "sleeping giant" claims about Latino political power, the so- called "Decade of the Hispanic" in the 1980s, the steady ascendance to elected office by Latinos in the 1990s, and the recognition that both political parties are committed to the attainment and maintenance of power at the expense of Latinos.
Throughout this time, the liberal and conservative media controlled and set the narrative for Latino political growth. We were talked about and analyzed but seldom were we part of that discussion on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, CSPAN or MSNBC.
Now, for the very first time, I believe Latino voters have arrived at a point where we can claim political power. The role we played in the election outcomes in key swing states of Nevada, Colorado and Florida are proof that we have arrived. The facts allow me to reach that conclusion. We went out and voted probably for the lesser of two damaged products.
While our turnout efficiency was less in 2012 (78 percent) than in 2008 (84 percent), we now comprise 10 percent of the national electorate. This is consistent with the constant increase since 2004 at 8 percent and 2008 at 9 percent. Nationally, as demonstrated in these three key states, Latinos made up a growing share of voters.
We have spent better than four decades working to get to this position. Many of our political mentors have been in the Democratic and Republican parties. We have run for office on the platform that to be fair and democratic, politics needs more Latinos. Seldom have we pressed political visions of specific policies we would introduce to remedy the problems we have talked about for the last 40 years. I believe we have not prepared to get to this point. We spent entirely too much time talking about our desire to get here.
Now that we have arrived, what will we do?
Think about it. We have three Latinos in the U.S. Senate, all of Cuban heritage. One each from Florida and New Jersey and now one born in Canada representing Texas. We have 28 in the House of Representatives, a net gain of four in an institution that has little support or respect from the public. It has been phenomenally dysfunctional during times when it needed to be at its best.
Few of the newly elected Latino members have spoken yet about how they would help change these serious structural problems in Congress. Their campaigns were standard fare as campaigns go. In other words, they were not campaigns of new ideas, vision and specifics. With the exception of the Texas U.S. Senate race, most of these campaigns hit Republican incumbents hard or criticized the Republican position and philosophy. The campaigns were not about competing ideas, solutions or philosophies. The Texas race hardly addressed any of the main issues of concern to Latinos or the fact that the Republican and Democratic strategies had excluded the reality of Latinos that "one size does not fit all."
Before the ink was dry on President Obama's victory speech, the liberal left in D.C. was orchestrating Latino immigrant groups to call out the president to move on immigration now that Latinos had "elected him." This is so very disconcerting. Once again rather than initiate, we demand, we complain, we request - we react. Rather than propose our version of what should be done on the issues of the day, we demand payment.
This history-making contingency of Latino members of Congress should begin a serious and inclusive dialogue within our own large and complex Latino community on the economic issues that have historically hamstrung our future. Since we argue that the political establishment does not take such interest, our Latino politicos should demonstrate how to do it. While we are at it, we should include the issues of education, health and crime in our communities.
We should not allow Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsay Graham to lead the way on immigration reform legislation. They are not solution-driven, they are elements of appeasement! Both members are very far removed from the realities that are necessary to reach reasonable and practical solutions. We cannot afford to approach this challenge from an ideological or political angle.
It is imperative that Latinos lead this debate with ideas that solve the human suffering, dilemmas and conflicts, unintended consequences that undocumented flows from various countries to the United States cause in this nation as well as in the countries of origin. Since we have bitterly pointed out the poor leadership this issue has received from both parties, since we have long been troubled by the separation of families, abuse of workers and discriminatory treatment of immigrants, we must set the standard for approaching this complex issue and not forget that it impacts all of society in one form or another. We cannot be myopic!
We should be proud of what everyday Latinos and Latinas did this month. We all participated in a process that can lead to change. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is simply the first step followed by the responsibility to govern. The hard part is making things happen, bringing about the policies that benefit a nation, not one group. Remember the saying, "Be careful what you wish for!"
Our wish has come true and we better perform a lot better than those we have been criticizing for decades.
Sacramento-based public policy consultant Arnoldo Torres served as the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in D.C. from 1979 to 1985. He testified more than 100 times on immigration legislation and wrote several provisions of the 1986 reform bill signed by President Ronald Reagan. He has served as an expert on Latino issues for Univisión network over the last 12 years. Reach him at email@example.com.
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