The Latino Vote, Abel Maldonado, Prop 121, and Diversity

(Arizona) – Latino voters are being bombarded with anti-prop 121 messages paid for by special interest groups like Americans for Responsible Leadership and with the support of divisive political leaders like Russell Pearce. ARL has contributed nearly half a million dollars to paint the non-partisan measure as a special interest pet project. The irony is, the Yes on Prop 121 campaign is by all accounts a low-budget operation. One click on their website, or a look at their TV spot, and its pretty evident that big dollars weren’t a part of their campaign. Further, an undisclosed source has indicated that the ‘Yes’ campaign is almost out of money with 4 days to go, leaving them largely defenseless against the quarter million dollars still left in the No on Prop 121 grenade launcher.

Under Arizona’s Prop 121, private partisan primaries (paid for by public tax dollars) would be replaced with a single non-partisan primary. The top two candidates from the primary go on to the general election. As the video below suggests: “It’s pretty simple.” In fact, its the same system used in almost every local election across the country.

Money is being funneled from California through organizations like the ARL (who are also funding anti-union and anti-tax campaigns in California) to prevent non-partisan primaries from making their way to Arizona. Robert Graham, who is running for a Republican party chairmanship, appears in their TV ads warning the measure would reduce voter choice. An unlikely bedfellow, Democratic Senator Steve Gallardo, has joined the Republican hopeful by funding the anti top-two robo calls.

The latest tactic of the No on Prop 121 campaign is directed at Latino voters. And it is perhaps the most ironic. Latino voters are the fastest growing demographic of independent voters in the country. The political views of the latino community are as diverse as the communities that comprise it. As a consequence, the Democratic and Republican parties have struggled to “capture” a sense of loyalty from their community. Now, the Democratic and Republican leadership has joined the No on Prop 121 campaign to convince Latinos that changing the rules would silence their voice.

Yet, in California, a moderate Republican Latino won a spot on the general election ballot under their first non-partisan primary. This is perhaps a prime example of why the diverse and growing Latino community should welcome a new non-partisan system:

Historically the odd man out in California’s conservative-dominated Republican party, Maldonado is a departure from the norm.

The son of Latino immigrant farm workers-turned-farm owners,  Maldonado occasionally bucked the direction of his Republican colleagues…

Republican leaders like Robert Graham, Russell Pearce, and Democrat Steven Gallardo fear that Prop 121 would move the political cheese. Under the current system, the public pays for each party to hold their own primary. Partisan candidates fight over their cheese by convincing their partisan base of voters that they can most effectively distribute it. Then, the winner of each primary spends the general election explaining how he/she would distribute their piece of cheese better than the other team’s candidate can distribute his/hers.

In a post-prop 121 world, every candidate, regardless of party affiliation, has to fight over the same cheese from the start. A party-centric system becomes a voter-centric one. Such a system is what allows a moderate Republican Latino candidate like Abel Maldonado, who represents the non-partisan diversity of today’s Latino voters, to actually win. Perhaps the parties have found a common interest: to keep Latinos divided.