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Latino vote front and center again

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Today marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month here in the United States. Eyewitness News is kicking off a month long series of stories, examining the Hispanic population here in Houston.

This election, as in so many past election seasons, pundits and candidates are talking about courting the Latino vote. It isn't always one-sided and isn't always easy to get - especially because in the past, relatively few Hispanics come out.

We met Jose Munoz at high school where the 20-year-old El Salvadoran is working on his diploma. He's not a citizen, so he can't vote yet.

"If I plan on staying, I guess I must vote so I can help to decide a future," said Munoz.

Great thinking, but statistics have shown for years that Latinos don't vote here, even when they can. The Houston population is 42 percent Hispanic, but our political consultant, Dr. Richard Murray, told us they made up just 12 percent of the vote in 2008.

"One thing I see is that people complain, but they don't vote," Munoz said.

"I think it's been talked to death here in Houston," said Marc Campos, a political consultant.

Campos is a longtime Houston political campaign insider who's frustrated the numbers haven't changed despite a growing Latino population here.

"Houston is going to be very, very, very brown. The point is that we can wait that long, but what do we lose between now and then?" said Campos.

Nineteen percent of people in the Houston area over 60 are Latino. But 49 percent of Houstonians under 30 are Latino. Their potential political power is growing, which is why we came to speak with young potential voters.

"Most Latinos don't even care. They just go with the flow. They just go with it. They don't vote," said Lizandro Hernandez.

But give them a reason, like an immigration crackdown, and experts suggest it may wake the community up.

"When something happens like in Phoenix, Arizona, they will start doing it," Hernandez said.

"Start voting, start participating. Once you start participating, your needs will no longer be ignored," said Campos.

Mathematically it will happen in Houston. The question is which generation of Houston Hispanics will be the first to seize their own power.

"Then we won't be seen as immigrants as we are now," said Munoz.

Our political consultant, Dr. Richard Murray, says there are a number of factors that need to be considered in the discussion - citizenship and the age of the Latino population high among them. He's laid it out in past blog posts which we refreshed and posted below.

How racial-ethnic changes in population affect redistricting

Why there has never been a Latino mayor in Houston

Dems will win House majority before 2020

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