On the popular Univision show Voz y Vota (“Voice and Vote”) last weekend, Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, squared off with Asm. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, over the Assembly’s rejection last week of Maldonado’s nomination to be lieutenant governor. Mendoza, who helped lead Democratic opposition to Maldonado, found himself explaining why, in Spanish.
For his part, Maldonado talked about how much it hurt that his major opposition was coming from Latino Democrats.
This was music to the ears of Hector Barajas, a spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta. The GOP has not traditionally been very popular among Latinos, but with the Democratic-led defeat of Maldonado, the party sees an opening, he said.
“It’s something Latinos are aware of,” Barajas said. He added that Maldonado, the now-wealthy son of poor Mexican immigrants, is “everything they claim to represent.”
Barajas has been trumpeting other unflattering images of Democrats in the Spanish media over the last few days as well. The hosts of another popular Univision show, Noticiero Univision, have called the Maldonado vote a “crisis.” The pair, Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, have an international following, he said.
But Democratic political consultant Roger Salazar with the firm Acosta/Salazar said he isn’t buying the rhetoric.
“I think the governor lost on politics,” Salazar said. “I think he tried to cut a backroom deal with Maldonado and reward him with the lieutenant governorship. “I think people of all backgrounds see the politics in that.”
The Maldonado vote is just part of a larger picture Republicans are trying to paint about Democrats to broaden their appeal to Latino voters. Much of this strategy centers on President Barack Obama, who many say has failed to deliver on promises of immigration reform made during the 2008 campaign.
Obama has been criticized for this lack of action by groups such as the The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). But he’s also gotten it from prominent Latino Democratic politicians, such as state Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who voted in favor of Maldonado and has spoken publically on behalf of his nomination.
“It’s an indication that they’ll say one thing and do another,” Barajas said.
There is also chatter that one of the main reasons behind the Maldonado choice was to create a wedge issue between Democrats and Latino voters. While rejecting Maldonado has obvious pitfalls, confirming him would force many Democrats to approve someone who has made many votes they dislike. It would not only move a formerly Democratic office into the GOP column but put a Latino incumbent in an office they’d like back.
“We as Democrats have faith the Spanish-speaking public will see through a desperate attempt to try to hide the political machination the Republicans are going through here,” Salazar said.
One thing complicating the narrative that the GOP is trying to sell is the fact that the opposition to Maldonado was led by Latinos. Incoming Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, was point man gathering votes against Maldonado. Last week, a trio of Latino Assemblymen — Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, and Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana — held a press conference to attack Maldonado’s voting record on issues important to immigrants and Latinos in general.
They gave reporters a list of numerous votes going back to 2005, against bills expanding protecting immigrant and farm worker rights, and the Dream Act, which would give in-state college tuition to undocumented students who had graduated from California schools. The list also included dozens of bills Maldonado had opposed on Democratic causes like healthcare and civil rights.
“He’s voted no over and over and over again,” Nava said during the press conference. “So it’s my turn to vote no.”
Maldonado’s nomination has definitely garnered attention in the Spanish language press. Again, however, the narrative is far from simple. Stories note that Maldonado’s father was a bracero, a worker brought in from Mexico during World War II to help meet the labor shortage. Braceros were often deprived of some of their wages, sparking a high profile court case with the U.S. government that was settled last year with payments to survivors and families.
But Maldonado’s Latino critics have also received coverage. For instance, a Feb. 9 story on the Univision website featured Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, who is of Bolivian and Japanese descent, lambasting Maldonado for favoring “corporations and multimillionaires” over “vulnerable children” and “the middle class.”
After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Maldonado as his choice to replace John Garamendi after he was elected to Congress, several Latino groups issued statements favoring Maldonado. He had strong early support from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which issued a widely-quoted a press release on Nov. 24 noting he would be the “first Latino Republican to serve as California’s lieutenant governor in modern times, and he will become the eighth Latino elected official currently serving in statewide office.” Last Friday, NALEO said they were “disappointed” with the Assembly’s rejection of Maldonado.
The governor re-nominated Maldonado on Monday, ensuring that the saga will continue to play in the media—Spanish and English—for a little while longer.