The Austin Chronicle

How to Turn Purple to Blue

By Lee Nichols, February 6, 2009, News

"I believe that in 2010, if you register a million Latinos in Texas, with another 400,000 African-Americans, at the top of the ticket a Democrat would win. It would be an Anglo Democrat with 1 million. With 1.5 million Latinos, at the top of the ticket any person of any color would win as a Democrat."

So declared Lydia Camarillo, vice president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, at last week's Central Texas Democratic Forum. Camarillo told the monthly gathering of local Democrats that 2 million Hispanics are not registered to vote in Texas, and it's time to do something about it.

"What does that mean?" she asked. "It means you either have a shot at being a blue state now, or you have a shot at being a blue state in 25, 30 years. You decide. It's your choice. And it's a matter of resources – whether you do it as Democrats or you invest with groups like Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in a nonpartisan way."

The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is a nonprofit and thus by law nonpartisan: "We don't tell voters how to vote; that's the law – we follow the letter of the law," Camarillo said. "But what we do understand is that voters, Latino voters in particular, understand what's in their best interest. We have a saying at Southwest Voter: 'Change the voter; change the outcome.'"

The 2010 election is of landmark importance, Camarillo said, not only because of the statewide offices at stake but also because of the redistricting that will follow – and redistricting will be especially important this time because Texas is likely to gain as many as four seats in Congress. But seizing that opportunity will cost money, Camarillo said.

The iron could be especially hot now if a recent Gallup Poll is correct: Surveying 19,415 Texans, the poll found that 43.4% identified themselves as Democrats, while just 41% identified as Republicans. "There is an opportunity. It costs about $10 per voter to register a voter in Texas," Camarillo said. "I think that with $17 million, we can register 1 million new voters very quickly, because it costs more when you're trying to do it quickly. ... The question is, do you do it quickly now, or do it within five years?

"Texas raises a lot of money [for Demo­crats]," Camarillo said, "but all the money goes out [of state] or stays in the campaigns, but it's not enough to expand. What we're about is expansion. And the party needs to think about expanding its universe of voters."

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