Saturday, September 02, 2006

Growing Minority Political Clout

The Washington Post published an article on growing minority political clout in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. Articles in the past on this topic might have focused on African Americans, especially since there are a record number of serious African-American candidates from Ike Leggett for County Executive to Al Carr for District 18 Delegate.

However, this article concentrated on Latino and Asian Americans. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's comments about Korean immigrants (not mention Virginia Sen. George "Macaca" Allen) have mobilized Asian Americans just as the recent immigration marches have spurred action in the Latino community. Local Democratic politicians also see both groups as important to court:

The two leading Democratic candidates for Montgomery county executive -- Isiah "Ike" Leggett and Steven A. Silverman -- have sought out these residents, giving interviews on Spanish-language radio and Telemundo's local Telenoticias 64 and appearing on the local Chinese cable TV channel.

Silverman's campaign literature has been translated into Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese, and visitors to the Web sites of many Montgomery candidates for the General Assembly can click on Spanish versions. Hans Riemer, a County Council candidate in District 5, has a version of his site in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.

The Hispanic Democratic Club of Montgomery County intends to spend $9,000 this election season to mail sample ballots in Spanish to Democrats with Hispanic surnames culled from a database. Hispanics represent 5.7 percent of the state's population but account for 13.6 percent in Montgomery and 10.7 percent in Prince George's.

In the District, local Democratic leaders and community organizations estimate there are 5,000 to 10,000 registered Latino voters. Gustavo F. Velasquez, director of the mayor's Office on Latino Affairs, estimates from census and election data that Hispanics might make up 2.5 percent of the vote "if we have a strong showing." That percentage "can be extremely important in a close election," he said.

In Maryland, Montgomery leaders have found common ground on such issues as education, affordable housing and health care, but they have not coalesced around a slate of candidates. In the county executive's race, the Hispanic club endorsed Leggett, a former council member and chairman of the state Democratic Party. The Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats of Maryland backed Silverman. His fundraiser last fall with the Chinese community attracted 600 people and raised $20,000, according to the campaign.

At a fundraiser for Del. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) recently at the New Fortune restaurant in Gaithersburg, O'Malley worked the crowd for three hours to make inroads with Montgomery's Asian community.

Incumbent Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez further explained in the report why politicians are spending time on these voters, even if Asian Americans still make up less than 5% of Maryland's, though 13% of Montgomery's, population and Latinos punch below their weight because of high rates of non-citizenship among people of voting age:

With limited time and money, candidates have traditionally spent their resources on those parts of the county identified through voter rolls as routinely having high turnout in elections. Newly registered voters have no such track record and tend to be younger and more diverse. But with super voters aging, Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) said, the growing population of younger immigrant voters are the future and need to be taken seriously.

"Candidates are still not considering them as important; there's still a gap. I want to take advantage of it and so should those truly interested in inclusion and in building a movement of Democratic voters," she said. "The trick is, Will they get out and vote? I'll let you know after September 12."