The snubbing of California’s most prominent Latino leader, Antonio Villaraigosa, by Democratic party bosses in his bid for outgoing Senator Boxer’s seat proves that Democrats boast of championing Latino rights but, come election time, they look the other way.
Right now, in the United States, you can count on one finger the number of Democratic Latino senators and governors holding office. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey is the only one. Ironically, even the much maligned, allegedly white-centric Republicans have four Latino senators and governors.
Former Mayor of Los Angeles Villaraigosa has expressed a desire to run, but is being pushed aside in favor of African American California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He has the resumé, explains National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, but his constituency of Hispanics and Los Angelinos have a penchant for not showing up to the polls on election day. Consequently, that might be the reason national party leaders are looking past him.
Certainly money isn’t a problem for Villaraigosa, given his many connections to rich Hollywood donors. Although he knocked heads with the teachers union, he still maintains close ties to big labor.
According to Kraushaar, the enthusiasm for Kamala Harris demonstrates that the Democratic Party prioritizes “identity politics over tangible achievements.” He writes:
In a heavily Democratic state, she barely won her first election, prevailing by only 0.8 percent of the vote, but was already hyped as a future Democratic star. It’s as much a response to her biography as her agenda; she’s multiracial, charismatic, and sports an accomplished resume.
The hype over Harris has gotten so over the top, Kraushaar said, that one Democrat strategist told him that Harris may be a future presidential candidate. Yet, he couldn’t cite any of her AG accomplishments and admitted, “To be honest, I just started learning specifics about her.” Kraushaar believes that, if her name was Katherine Harris, she wouldn’t be getting all the attention.
Villaraigosa, on the other hand, lacks attention partly because of his age (he’s 61) and partly because he hasn’t held office in two years. Veteran GOP strategist Dan Schnur contends that “He’s not being overlooked, but underestimated. He’s been underestimated for most of his political career, and he tends to win.”
Schnur believes that Villaraigosa, although a progressive in many ways, has “put in good time on education reform [and] public-employee pensions in ways that could give him bipartisan appeal.”
Kraushaar suspects that, beyond Harris being an upcoming political star, party leaders believe that her pull of progressives in the Bay Area and her potential to attract women voters give her the party’s tacit endorsement. Yet, he points out, Villaraigosa could bring Latino voters to the polls in a presidential year when Hispanic turnout will be crucial to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.