Lessons learned? Latinos showcased their voting power in California’s recall election.

Governor Newsom can finish out a full term as governor, thanks in part to the support of Latino voters.

By Esmeralda López, California State Director, UnidosUS

Despite starting late, the governor’s campaign engaged Latino voters and turned them out and beat back a recall effort. The question now is, did political operators, politicians, and would-be candidates for statewide office finally learn the importance of early and meaningful engagement of Latinos in the state?

This election was uniquely important to the Latino community. Although it was widely reported that the recall was the result of dissatisfaction with the governor’s pandemic response, petitions to recall him began well before the pandemic in 2019. The people behind the recall have cited Governor Newsom’s pro-immigrant policies as one of the key reasons for calling for a recall.

Reports of lagging Latino voter enthusiasm in California and a lack of understanding among Latinos about the recall caused widespread concern among Democrats nationwide. It was clear that without the support of Latinos, a pathway to victory was unlikely for the governor in the bluest of blue states. The concern was enough to fire up the campaign’s Latino outreach and education efforts.

Poor outreach to the Latino community by political candidates and campaigns is not a new phenomenon. UnidosUS reported last year that the lack of outreach to the community across the country has been a long-standing shortcoming for candidates of all political parties.

Latinos in California make up 55% of frontline essential workers.  They are risking their lives and their families’ lives to keep California fed, housed, and healthy during this pandemic.

Outreach to California Latinos is also about addressing the most pressing issues impacting the community. According to a 2020 UnidosUS report, the priority issues for Latino voters nationally included the COVID-19 response, unemployment, job creation and wages, health care costs, stopping discrimination against Latinos and immigrants, and protecting immigrant rights.

Latinos cast their ballots in California’s recall election with COVID-19 at top of mind because we have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. We account for 53.6% COVID-19 cases and 45.9% of deaths associated with COVID-19 in California. And the pandemic only exacerbated the inequities and hardships already facing Latinos in California.

For example, housing inequities have hit Latinos especially hard in the state. The CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program provides greatly needed rent relief to California landlords and renters who face financial hardships due to the pandemic. Nearly 40% of applicants are Latinos. But the urgently needed assistance has been slow to reach the hands of those in need. The program has distributed roughly 10% of the $5.2 billion available. Distribution of funds must be expedited, ensuring support is reaching the hardest-hit communities, including Latinos, immigrants, and other communities of color. Time is of the essence because protections against evictions in California ended on September 30, 2021.

Hispanic voters were decisive in the recall election, but our power has not been fully realized.  Nearly eight million Latinos in California are eligible to vote. More meaningful engagement of Latinos, and support for the issues we care about, will help mobilize more voters to turnout for the 2022 California primary in June and the gubernatorial election to follow. Although Latinos in California do vote and identify primarily as Democrats, the Democratic Party cannot take the voting bloc for granted. Republican political leaders and would-be future candidates for statewide office would also be wise to seek out and ask Latino voters for their support and votes.

The governor has recently signed bills in support of immigrants and dual language learners. But a great deal of work remains to be done. The governor should work for early and meaningful engagement of Latinos and offer support for the issues we care about. Beyond winning our votes, meaningful engagement of California Hispanics is about fully acknowledging our contributions and needs, and ensuring we are fully represented.

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