Wooing the New Majority

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In California, we have two constituencies. One votes in the statewide elections, and another votes at the district level. If you've ever wondered why we have a Republican governor and a bunch of conservative-leaning propositions on the ballot every cycle, but seem to have a liberal legislature that passes gay marriage laws, then you have your answer.

This statewide electorate leans conservative and Republican. It's whiter, richer and more educated than the rest of California, and it votes accordingly. The district-level electorate has been shaped by various federal laws and court decisions that say that minorities in California need to be able to elect people of their community to office. This is why, especially after term limits went into effect for the state legislature in 1990, we have a legislature that looks more like the state itself. The Latino Caucus, in particular, has grown in power and prestige, and can claim three Speakers since term limits went into effect (Villaraigosa, Nunez and Bustamante).

This dual constituency is frustrating for many people who wish that we could use direct democracy to push a progressive agenda. In short, ain't gonna happen.

But a Monday L.A. Times article indicates that this could all be changing soon. People are getting naturalized at unprecedented rates, and that means millions of new voters. One million immigrants became U.S. citizens last year, and nearly a third of them were in this state. Those 300,000 new citizens are double the number that signed up in 2006. Mexicans were one-fourth of this group, followed by Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, Cubans and Vietnamese. Many of the new citizens have said that they were inspired by the immigration demonstrations of the last few years, realizing that the path to change runs through the voting booth.

No doubt this terrifies those who were counting on a mostly white, conservative electorate for the next few decades. It should also give Republicans pause, since these fast-growing groups traditionally go Democrat and are more willing to vote for higher taxes and more social services. The GOP on the national and state level needs to look at these numbers, scale down its Big Fence plans and jump on the immigration reform bandwagon. A bunch of Republican strategists are saying exactly the same thing, but I'm not sure party leaders are listening.

It doesn't appear they're listening when Dick Cheney, like a nasty case of bronchitis that just won't go away, says that Colin Powell isn't a real Republican and he'd choose Limbaugh over him to lead the party.

The party would do well to reconsider and welcome these new citizens if they ever want to jump back into the majority. If you're looking for a model, try Meghan McCain, daughter of that guy-what's-his-name. She describes herself as a pro-sex, "pro-life, pro-gay-marriage Republican." Who's not pro-sex? I'm ready to change parties.

We can't overstate the immediate effect of this surge in citizenship. The statewide electorate will remain majority white for some time to come. We're already a majority minority state, but experts say it will be another 15 to 20 years before the electorate turns that way. But the numbers are a good political bellwether.

Those who want to see gay marriage become law should also take note of the numbers. Many have blamed minority populations, particularly blacks and Latinos, for the success of the anti-gay marriage Prop. 8 last year. This has been overstated by the media, but there's no doubt that a more religious population will have its doubts about something like gay marriage.

Some have tried the civil rights angle on this group-at one point in U.S. history we banned interracial marriage, so why would you want to ban somebody else's marriage because they're gay? Though I see this as a strong argument, I'm not sure I would if I were a churchgoing African American. Is racial discrimination exactly the same as sexual orientation discrimination? Probably not.

But to gain some ground with the new citizens, gay marriage activists need to get serious about building a network of gay-tolerant churches that reach out to other churches. Targeting the Latino community makes even more sense. There are Catholics out there who don't think the Vatican should dictate accepted practices in the United States (we just have to write off those who think the pope is some kind of sovereign who speaks for God). Talk to them, and we'll have gay marriage here within five years.


Apply for citizenship with Josh at [email protected]

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