Herman Versus Hispanic Voters
Education Austin president calls Statesman column "wildly offensive"
By Richard Whittaker,
12:49PM, Wed. May 12, 2010
Austin-American Statesman editorial writer Ken Herman attempted to convince people to take part in democracy. Instead he turned in a column that Education Austin President Louis Malfaro has called "wildly offensive" for its racially-charged rhetoric.
In Tuesday's column, Herman quite reasonably castigated the Austin electorate for the weekend's terrible turn-out in the AISD and ACC elections. But then the piece took a bizarre turn into racially charged waters when Herman singled out one section of the electorate – "Hispanics" – for particular opprobrium. If they could turn out in such vast numbers for the previous weekend's immigration rally, he mused, then why couldn't they make it to the ballot box?
He rumbled, "We're headed for trouble because Hispanics (our fastest growing segment) have yet to buy in at acceptable levels on perhaps the two most important facets of our democracy – voting and education." The solution to getting Hispanic voters involved? He jokingly (we hope) repeated a suggestion he had heard: "Take away their right to vote."
"Laughable" was the most generous term that Malfaro had to say about the column. "'You Mexicans, get out there and vote or we'll just take the vote back from you.' That's just freaky," he added.
While Malfaro agreed that a 2.52% district-wide turnout was depressingly low, he added, "The Statesman is as much to blame as anyone. They didn't print a god-damn thing about this election until the Sunday six days before. Early voting was more than halfway over before they even bothered to run a column saying, 'Oh, by the way, there's a school board election.'"
Herman's column sidesteps that fact that it wasn't just Hispanic voters that didn't turn out: No one did. Anywhere. One out of every 40 registered voters within AISD made it to the ballot box. "What's up with that?" despaired AISD Board of Trustees President Mark Williams.
When the same seats on the AISD board were on the ballot in 2006, turn-out was almost triple this year's result, with 6.69% of registered voters making it to the ballot. Unfortunately, that took a mayoral election plus seven city-backed propositions to scare up the voters. "The higher visibility of the council drives turn-out more than when we just have school boards and ACC by themselves," said Williams. Since that coincidence of electoral calendars only happens once every six years, Williams suggested that it comes down to civic groups and neighborhood associations to get voters excited. With traditionally low turn-out, plus two unopposed incumbents this year and, yes, a scarcity of media coverage, he added, get-out-the-vote efforts are "a hard gig."
Herman came up with his thesis because there was only a 0.43% turnout in his neighborhood, precinct 423. As for his vote-removal quip, he did add, "Come to think of it, based on Saturday's overall turnout, maybe that tactic would be good medicine for all of us." That may be where he got back on track: After all, it wasn't exactly as though the majority white voters of precinct 250 (slap bang in the middle of West Austin, 4.36% turnout) or 136 (northern Hyde Park, 1.57%) were beating the doors down at the polls.
It's also worth noting that Herman ignores the fact that one of the highest turnout precincts was 426: Deep in old East Austin, and convincingly taken by Dianne Mendoza – the Hispanic candidate for At-Large Position 9.