by Joey Cardenas, Former Texas LULAC State Director
As the former Texas LULAC State Director, I want to acknowledge and congratulate each of you for all the hard work that you did during the 82nd legislative session on behalf of the Latino community to prevent shameful and discriminatory legislation such as S.B. 14, the voter ID bill. I am proud of the stance that the U.S. Justice Department recently took on this issue in no small part, due to your efforts and those of the leadership of the Latino community in Texas. However, I want to remind all of you that the State of Texas anticipated this stance from the Justice Department, and so this issue is still very much alive in the Federal District Court in Washington DC which may take a different stance on the issue all together.
The purpose of this post is to advise you that the worst is yet to come in regards to the political atmosphere in Texas, and you must be ready to act intelligently by keeping yourself informed of the impact the politics will have on our community and our great state of Texas. The 83rd Texas Legislative session which begins in 2013 is shaping up to be the worst political nightmare for Latinos in Texas. And the “die has been cast” by our State officials in Austin! While we can now proudly claim to have defeated all anti-Latino legislation proposed by the 82nd Legislature, and that we prevented an Arizona-like political atmosphere from coming to Texas, we should not be optimistic about our political future in spite of our numbers if we don’t aggressively assert our political clout. Our Texas Attorney General with the endorsement of our State officials has set into motion a detrimental course of court procedures whose goal is to minimize and disenfranchise the political power of Latinos in Texas!
The state of Texas is challenging the U.S. Department of Justice’s denial of pre-clearance of Texas’ voter ID bill by utilizing its other option in the Federal District Court in Washington DC. The state of Texas is not only willing to waste more Texas tax payer monies on another high-profile court battle, but the State has very emphatically taken the stance that Latinos in Texas will not ascend to political power without the State having exhausted all possible options of preventing this from happening or at the very least delaying this eventual outcome. At the heart of the State’s plan is its challenge to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and in particular Section 5 of the act which applies to Texas and other states primarily in the South who have a proven history of discrimination against minority groups.
The State is making a two-front attack on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act that was designed to prohibit race discrimination in voting and elections. Our state officials in Texas have made two attempts to disregard the VRA through its efforts to adopt discriminatory redistricting maps and the voter ID bill. Both State actions are a direct challenge to the VRA and a threat to our community and the principles enshrined in our Federal Constitution. While the Latino community of Texas is united in its sentiments against the voter ID bill, there are by contrast members of our own community who are unscrupulously helping the State make its argument against the VRA through their continued support of the idea that CD-25 in Austin is protected by the VRA. The idea that a non-minority congressional district can be construed to be protected under the Voting Rights Act is a detrimental threat to the very need for the VRA! It weakens the argument that identified minority groups need protection from discriminatory actions and it further leads to the dismantling of civil rights. Latinos who would carry the mantle of a political party for the sake of political gain, do so at the very expense of the community they supposedly champion!
In my capacity as your Texas LULAC State Director, I witnessed first-hand the State’s arguments for the need to have a voter ID bill during the past two legislative sessions. In the 81st session the voter ID bill was defeated primarily because the Speaker of the House never called it up; you could say that democrats and republicans to some extent were working together after considerable debate and input from Texas LULAC and others. However, in the 82nd Legislature, the primary focus of the session was on redistricting, and so there would not be any cooperation between democrats and republicans in Texas. Let me remind you that the Texas Senate was so bent on passing the voter ID bill, that when it couldn’t pass it by a regular 2/3rds vote, the Texas Senate simply suspended the Senate rules so that the voter ID bill could pass with a simple majority! I testified at the Senate hearings on your behalf to protest against the voter ID bill as unnecessary given the precautions that were already in place to prevent voter fraud. However, there were non-Latinos at the hearings as well testifying that the voter ID bill was necessary because of the “high number of illegal aliens” voting.
Those individuals who were testifying that the voter ID bill was necessary were speaking as if election judges and precinct chairpersons throughout the state were purposely allowing anyone to vote; as if our elections in Texas were rampant with fraud and election officials all too willing to help commit fraud. As a past precinct chairman and election judge, I took offense to these comments and testified to the numerous safe-guards in place that exist to prevent voter fraud in Texas which include voter identification cards, registered voter rolls, use of drivers licenses and/or utility bill stubs, and of course the familiarity with which every election judge has with his or her precinct’s constituency. A closer examination of these individuals testifying in favor of the voter ID bill revealed that a large number of them were “winter Texans” while others were just flat out racists.
These “winter Texans” that are not from Texas come and live in our Rio Grande Valley area among our people and community for three months out of the year to take advantage of our sun, our hospitality, and cheap medicine; and unfortunately, some bring their prejudices and are all too willing to spread the seeds of discrimination and racism. They are strangers to our state History and the contributions that Latinos have made to all aspects of Texas; and so when they see large numbers of Latinos in the Valley going to vote in November, they erroneously assume that some are not citizens; they assume that they can differentiate between who is a Mexican and who is a Mexican American, between who is “legal” and who is not. When it comes to the “winter Texans”, we would do well to remember the lesson of the Trojans, and “beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. My fellow Texans let me remind you that Arizona SB 1070 was made possible because Latinos in Arizona assumed that they were different from Latino immigrants, but the reality was that most Anglos lump us in all together into the category of “illegal”, as recent arrivals; furthermore, as the recession was gripping the nation, many Midwesterners moved and settled in Arizona for jobs and just like the “winter Texans”, they took their racist attitudes with them and contributed to the anti-Latino political atmosphere that continues to dominate in that state.
My fellow Texans, they say that “it is always darkest before the dawn”; and we are quickly approaching that “darkest” hour before the “dawning” of a Latino renaissance in Texas! Our State Officials have made it very clear through their actions that they do not have the best interest of the Latino community in mind! Let’s be truthful, most politicians want our vote and support, and then would rather see us disappear. But we have worked too hard for the gains that have been made on the backs of our grandparents and parents since the inception of Texas; so beware of those persons who marginalize our gains or who claim that no gains have been made at all, or who subscribe to the proverbial “crab theory” as the exclusive condition of the Latino community, for these “nay” Sayers contribute nothing to our cause or community aside from being commentary. But be ready to boldly challenge any person who supports any anti-Latino legislation, or the dismantling of public education, or the lack of funding for public services, or politicians who promote bad legislation. We must be ready to demand what is in the best interest of our children and Texas, because our children will inherit all that is Texas. And we must not forget how we got to our present condition, the hard work that has gone into this effort, and our ancestors who pioneered the wilderness of Texas and championed the first Texas Republic! Let us be resolved to continue to move the Latino agenda forward and to loudly celebrate the dedication of the Tejano monument in Austin as a symbol of the beginning of a Latino Renaissance in Texas! Let us reenergize ourselves and recommit ourselves to the idea that no matter what bills are introduced in the 83rd Texas Legislature, with God on our side and hard work, we will prevail!