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The Growing Latino Population In Texas


All week, I've been reporting in Houston. The big story here is, of course, how Hurricane Harvey changed the physical landscape of this city. But well before Harvey, the demographic landscape of Houston and Texas has been dramatically changing. Since 2010, there have been 2.7 million new Texans, more than half of them Latinos. What does that mean for a red state like Texas? And is what happens here a window into what happens to America? To talk about this, I'm joined now by two Lone Star experts, Mimi Swartz, executive editor of Texas Monthly. Good morning.

MIMI SWARTZ: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston - good morning to you.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Jeronimo, we're going to start with you. Latinos make up a growing slice of Houston and Texas. The Republican Party in Texas has put in laws that Latino advocates, I think, see as draconian on immigration, ID laws. Democrats see this as an opportunity?

CORTINA: As you noted, demographics in the state is politics. The only group that has been growing consistently over and over are Latinos, on the one hand. But also we have a different kind of Latinos. We have second and third generation that are going to school, are graduating from college. And, to a certain extent, there have been acculturating political activism and political participation. So, yes, Latinos need to vote in order to be an important voting bloc that political parties are going to pay attention to it. But, most importantly, we have different kind of people involving the political process. And that can turn the state into at least, as you said, being purple - at least more competitive. And we're seeing that level of competition in very important races.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mimi, changing state demographics don't seem, though, to be making much of a difference to a Republican-controlled state House and a Republican governor.

SWARTZ: Well, I think a lot of that is due to voter suppression, which - we've got some horrible voter ID laws here. But the other problem - I mean, I grew up in San Antonio. I want, you know, the world of Texas to change at least to purple. But I've been hearing this story for so long about the Latino wave that's going to come and turn the state at least purple again. I mean, I agree. It's not a bloc. You have a lot of different kinds of Latinos and a lot of different generations. But I'm still waiting for that change. We need it now more than ever, I would say.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jeronimo, why hasn't a bigger Latino population translated into more immigrant-friendly policies, at least?

CORTINA: Well, you have two things. One is obviously political participation, namely voting, right? Latinos have always lagged behind other groups in terms of voter participation. But also, on the other hand, you have, you know, very important laws that hinder or at least do not allow Latinos to have very important competition - redistricting, drawing the maps in such a way that Latinos could not run very important campaigns.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gerrymandering, as it's called.

CORTINA: Gerrymandering, of course - and also, I think it's tough for political parties. They're not investing in the future generation of Latino leaders that have to be prepared, cultured in order for them to run successful campaigns. But at the end, I think, eventually - and I agree - since 2000, Latinos were going to elect a new president, right? But that hasn't happened. But at least at the state level and at the local level, we have to differentiate how Latinos can really play a very important role in the elections.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mimi, there is one big piece of evidence that shows that the Latino vote in Texas and outside Texas, even, hasn't yet been politically transformative. And that is, of course, the 2016 election. In Texas, you had an uptick in Latinos who were registered and turned out to vote, but it didn't really matter.

SWARTZ: Well, again, I think, you know, you've got these horrific voter ID laws where, you know - that were designed to keep people of color from the polls. And that's working. I think there's an interesting difference. I grew up in San Antonio, where the Latino population is so much larger than in other cities and has so much more power. And you can really see it working there. I think it works a lot better than in Houston or Dallas, where it's really - it's not just minority-majority. It's majority.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should also say that Latinos, of course, are not monolithic. And there are many conservative Latinos...

SWARTZ: Right. Right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Socially, if not politically. And so there is an opportunity for the Republicans to win them. Possibly or not?

SWARTZ: No. I think after Trump - I think there were - what do you think? But I - hopeless (laughter).

CORTINA: I mean, it depends. It depends on the kind of Republican. Texas Republicans - to a certain degree, some of them tend to be a chamber-of-commerce type of Republican, very practical, very interested on making things work and put aside things that are very controversial. I think, yes, Latinos are really the kind of voter that the Republican Party would be interested. And if the Republican Party wants to survive, at least in Texas, they need to start to pay attention to Latino voters and what they want.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mimi, Democrats are still planning on some robust challenges in 2018. I want to talk about the former Dallas County sheriff, a Latina woman who is gay. She announced this week that she is running for governor. Can the Democrats make inroads by running strong candidates?

SWARTZ: I would hope so. I think - she sounds like a good candidate to me. But, again, when you look at the power structure and the money of the Republican Party in Texas, she's going to have a very tough road. I mean, we've had a gay woman mayor here. But I just think, statewide, it's really going to be hard.


CORTINA: I agree. And also the, Democratic Party, if they want to play hard, they have to show it. And they invest in the state. That, so far, the National Democratic Committee has not done.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston, and Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly. Thanks so much.

CORTINA: You got it.

SWARTZ: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They joined me here at the studios of Houston Public Media. And, by the way, a huge thank you to everyone here - Jim Pivero, John Steel, Dave Fehling and Todd Hulslander for everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "GREENLAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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