The current Tea Party movement takes its name from a historic incident. But today it appears to be ignoring the recent political history of California.
For months, the Tea Party has campaigned against the “path to citizenship” portion of the immigration bill passed by the Senate in June, calling it “amnesty for illegals” and urging “a full frontal assault on every member of Congress with a No Amnesty! Fax Blast.”
But as the philosopher George Santayana once observed, “Those who cannot remember history” may be condemned to repeat it.
Nowhere is history more likely to repeat itself than in Texas and Florida, two states where Republicans control both the governors’ offices and the legislatures, where large numbers of Latinos already vote, but with large numbers of eligible Hispanics who have not yet bothered to register or even to become citizens.
Two years ago a survey found that Texas had 920,000 U.S citizen Latinos not registered to vote and about 3 million other Hispanic residents who are eligible to become U.S. citizens but have not applied. In Florida, the same study found 600,000 Latino U.S. citizens not registered to vote.
The large numbers of non-voting Latino citizens set those states up to follow California out of the red Republican column into Democratic blue territory. Imagine the seismic shift if Texas, the foundation for all recent GOP presidential campaigns, were to turn blue.
Before 1994, Republicans carried California in nine of 12 post-World War II national elections. But the GOP has not won here since, and the only top-of-ticket statewide victories by a Republican in that time were those of Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose movie stardom and centrist politics won him many non-GOP votes.
There is no doubt what caused this shift: the 1994 Proposition 187 and then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s vocal support for it. Within four years of that anti-illegal immigrant measure’s passage, more than 2.5 million California Latinos applied for citizenship and registered to vote, the vast majority as Democrats. Every poll of Latinos in America shows immigration as their central issue.
Now it is Republicans in the House who may block what would be the first federal measure since 1986 to give undocumented immigrants a chance to acquire citizenship. If the GOP manages to kill the bill, there’s the strong possibility a tide of Latino citizens all over the country will register and vote – against Republicans.
Yes, Republicans, especially in Texas, say it can’t and won’t happen there. Conservative Republicans said the same thing here in 1994.
Do the effects of the immigration issue endure? In last year’s presidential vote, fully 18 years post-187, California Latinos voted Democratic by an 80-20 percent margin. In the Ronald Reagan era encompassing most of the 30 years before 187, California Hispanics usually voted Democratic, too, but by far smaller margins of about 60-40 percent. That extra 20 percent of Hispanics is one big reason California became to Democratic presidential candidates what Texas has been for Republicans – a seemingly unshakeable base.