California Forum

The California GOP is dead. Could Latino Democrats pick up the pieces?

California Latino Legislative Caucus Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego, congratulates Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, after the passage of key climate change legislation on Monday, July 17, 2017.
California Latino Legislative Caucus Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego, congratulates Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, after the passage of key climate change legislation on Monday, July 17, 2017. hamezcua@sacbee.com

California has officially become a one-party state. The once-mighty California Republican Party has marginalized itself into a shrinking regional club. Democrats firmly control all levers of power. They can now do whatever they want.

Hopefully, they will prove to the state – and the nation – that Democrats can create a sustainable society that’s more than a sunny playground for the wealthy. California is ground zero for income inequality, with the highest poverty rate in the nation. A majority of Californians find themselves falling behind. It’s not clear the Democratic Party, with the anti-growth tendencies embraced by its contingent of coastal elites, can deliver a solution.

The economic chasm creates an opportunity for conservative ideas that remain popular despite the GOP’s demise, such as lower taxes for the middle class, smaller and more efficient government and increased economic opportunity. The Latino Legislative Caucus, with its blue collar constituency, should seize the opportunity to embrace these ideas and lift the middle class.

According to a recent study by the California Latino Economic Institute, 55 percent of Latinos in California are too poor to meet the standard of middle class. Fewer than 5 percent of Latinos and African Americans are high-tech workers: They have been left behind in the shift from industrial economy to information age.

Politically, they represent what was once the core constituency of the Democratic Party, and they are beginning to assert their power anew in Sacramento as they push for shared prosperity.

Opinion

These brown and black, working- and middle-class inland Democrats are more likely than their coastal counterparts to sympathize with traditionally conservative ideas like regulatory reform, charter schools and building more housing.

The possibility that the GOP could resurrect itself – or that a new third party might arise – seems remote. It’s more likely that the growing Latino Legislative Caucus, which outnumbers Republicans in the Legislature, could fill the political void. If Latino leaders broaden their political and legislative agenda to push meaningful education reform, economic mobility and job creation, they can make real progress in lifting their communities out of poverty.

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We need a Marshall Plan for the middle class. We must boost the supply of housing, which means more than just funding government redevelopment coffers. We need to resuscitate failing public schools by demanding more transparency, results and local control – in addition to increasing funding.

Success must be measured by the economic and educational success of our growing Latino community – California’s future majority. The party that can capture the hearts and minds of middle and working class voters will dominate our political discourse for the next generation. Results will require actions that challenge the orthodoxy of both parties.

By making the jobs agenda, the growth agenda and the middle-class agenda the Latino agenda, Latino Democrats can provide a road map to address the party’s problems at the national level.

Since 2016, the Democratic Party has struggled to find ways to connect with non-college-educated blue collar workers in Canton, Ohio; Lansing, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In California, Democrats should not take for granted Latino blue-collar voters in Covina, Lakewood and Palmdale.

Republicans have made the conscious decision to cater only to white working-class voters. They have doubled down on white identity politics, pandering to an aggrieved racial minority rather than advancing an aspirational vision of increased prosperity for all. They have abandoned the voters we used to call Reagan Democrats – voters who lean Democratic but also prefer lower taxes, sensible regulations and an efficient, business-friendly government.

These voters need a champion, and their votes may decide the future of both our state and our nation. By adopting an economic growth agenda for both the fastest growing segment of the population and the state’s poor, Latino legislators have the potential to reshape what it means to be Latino, to be middle-class – and to be a Democrat.

Mike Madrid is a partner at GrassrootsLab a public affairs and political consulting firm. He may be reached at madrid@grassrootslab.com.
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