Misrepresenting the People

When will Latino Democrat office-holders truly represent Latinos

By Fernando Oaxaca
Published on LatinoLA: May 14, 2003

Misrepresenting the People

The American form of democratic government involves a simple concept ? periodically, we elect people to represent us in political bodies where decisions are made within a constitutional governing process. We expect that these elected representatives will act for us and, in the best of worlds, make decisions that are good for us and reflect how we would have acted if we ourselves were there as part of that political body.

If they violate our trust in their ability to represent us adequately, we have the power, collectively, to vote them out of office the next time around. That?s the way it?s supposed to work.

Yet too many Latino elected officials in powerful state and Congressional posts are, more and more, misrepresenting their electors and constituency. "Safe" seats can breed arrogance.

Two hundred plus years after our Constitution went into effect, our much more heterogenous society has brought a factor into elections and democratic government behavior probably unforeseen or underestimated by our founding fathers. It is called special interests. Labor, women, blacks, gays and lesbians, business, Latinos, doctors, veterans, the disabled, animal lovers, environmentalists, baseball fans, poor people, gun nuts, rich people, pro- and anti-abortionists ? these groups and countless others, sprouting daily like mushrooms ? all want special representation and their special interests given priority in our democratic government and its decisions.

The power vested in any of our representatives, by itself, offers opportunity for its abuse by an unscrupulous or dishonest individual who chooses, for personal gain, to betray the confidence of those who elected him or her. But more insidious and just as damaging to the electorate is the representative who becomes captive to partisan goals or personal beliefs that are inimical to the interests of the majority of those represented.

For some time now, political writers, "experts" in both major Parties and Latino community "activists" have been touting the voting potential of Latino voters. Incumbent and ambitious wanna-be Latino politicians have added to the mystique and desirability of "getting the Latino vote" and have generally exploited the proposition that they, unlike non-Latinos, are the better choice for office in heavily Latino districts since they share the ethnicity of a major part of their constituency.

This sounds rational?most people would agree that, beyond liking the promises made by your district?s candidates before election day, choosing your best representative in government should be enhanced by electing a person of similar background and, perhaps, the same ethnicity as yours, who thus, theoretically, better understands your needs and beliefs. Sadly, this last factor, a bulwark of current-day ethnic politics, has been heavily compromised by the behavior of "minority" office holders who, either from ignorance or from falling prey to partisan or personal preferences, do not truly represent their electors.

One of the paradoxes in this unfortunate phenomena is that some of the worst violators of their constituency?s preferences or even best interests, Democrat Latinos, hold impregnable "safe" seats in places like the California Legislature or the U.S. Congress. Whether it is due to Latino community apathy or lack of information or excessive dwelling on ethnicity (fear that a change might be worse?), Latino office-holders, no matter their voting behavior, once in office can count on little competition and almost interminable re-election. Only term-limits (State) or being caught in flagrant corruption seems to work in the removal of those who either do little to justify their political importance or who fail repeatedly to vote in line with their constituency?s dominant preferences.

The most recent example of disloyalty to the "common good" or to the preferences of their constituency is the vote by 100% of the Latino Congressional members, against the House Tax-Cut Bill. In absolute lockstep with their partisan colleagues, perhaps in simple fear of retribution by their leadership, they voted against increasing the per-child income-tax exemption from $600 to $1,000 for Latino and other families.

Did their superior wisdom and judgement, better than that of their electors, also force them to vote to withhold expansion of both the 10% and 15% tax brackets and increasing the deduction for married couples filing jointly? Are they so blinded by Washington myopia that they don?t know that 55% of U.S. born Latino households have annual income from $30,000-$50,000 and 27% of such households have income over $50,000 (foreign born-31% and 11%, respectively)? Don?t they know that 69% of U.S. born working Latinos have white-collar jobs? Don?t they know how prolific the Latino community really is, making the larger child tax exemption, convertible to cash in the pocket after April 15th?

One has to wonder what these officials know about the economic and demographic profile of those who vote for them at election time! Or do they just not care?

They also voted against allowing small businesses a new expensing of up to $100,000 of equipment investment over four years instead of the current $25,000. Could these $150,000/year+perks people in their plush Capitol offices be that uninformed about or oblivious to the hundreds of thousands of Latino small businesses/employers that would benefit from tax reduction or tax credits during these tough times? Are they conceivably ignorant about the fact that most small business owners file as individual/sole proprietors or couples or type S-corporations, thereby able to take maximum advantage of the proposed Presidential and Congressional tax relief bills?

Do they prefer to trumpet and parrot their Party mantra of "tax cuts for the rich" instead of increasing the money in the pockets of those who elected them? Is it party talking points over constituency needs?

These same Democrat Latino Congresspersons voted 100% against President Bush when he asked for support last year before going to the United Nations to request anti-Saddam action. They voted against the first Bush tax reduction plan in 2001. And not being in the U.S. Senate has not kept them from trashing very publicly the President?s Latino judicial appointee, Miguel Estrada and others, non-Latino.

Until it was clear that the Iraq war was under way, they continued to blast the President on the Iraq issue, joining the loud celebrity/Hollywood folks, anti-Bush black officials and the institutional and the usual left-of-center peacenik groups--in condemning any attempt to enlarge the war on terror and to disarm Saddam Hussein. Only after hostilities began and especially after it was noted that the public was behind the war, then, as if by magic, the web sites of certain Latino Democrat Congress members began to feature "Support the Troops" as a policy.

Maybe the unavoidable conclusion is that they personally just don?t like President Bush! But is that sufficient basis to go on record against supporting small business, against family tax relief, against enhancing national security? Accepting that they hate John Ashcroft and demonize Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, given that Nancy Pelosi might withhold support on their next pork barrel project, given that their union money and Democratic Party dollars might be curtailed if they vote the "wrong" way?is that reason enough to abrogate their duty to represent their constituents as best possible?

Going more local, did their partisan leadership in California drive them to support Proposition 22 which was a gay opposed effort to limit marriage in this State to "a man and a woman"? How does their consistent support of abortion rights and so-called "choice" at all policy levels square with the overwhelming Catholicity of their Latino constituency? Why are they afraid to criticize and take on the pitifully failed Governor in California as he suggests gutting schools, health care and other public services? Could it be that they know of the collusion between himself and a Democratic legislative majority, including all Latinos, in creating the largest budget deficit in California history?

When do these Latino Democrat office-holders begin to truly represent their Latino and other supporters that ostensibly bestow their trust and, over and over, allow them "safe seats?" Will they ever get the courage to vote for the real needs and desires of their constituencies--instead of shamelessly continuing to be Party and Party "leadership" sycophants.

About Fernando Oaxaca:
Fernando Oaxaca Oaxaca is a card-carrying Latino and a political analyst who admires honest, fearless Democrats. Reach him at

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