OP-ED: Democrats cannot afford to abandon minority communities

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By Joseph Laughon

As the Democratic presidential candidate's race across the country, holding meetings with voters and donors and taking to debate stages from Miami to Detroit, each candidate is pursuing what they hope will be their path to the White House. However, regardless of who emerges as the nominee, all roads to victory point to a need to improve the Democratic Party's performance among minority voters. 

In 2016, the Democratic Party underperformed in minority communities across the country. The African American turnout rate alone dropped seven percent from the 2012 election. That same year, President Trump garnered almost 30% of Hispanic voters - an increase from Mitt Romney's performance among the Hispanic electorate in 2012.

Although some of these numbers and data points may appear to be relatively small margins, losing by just a few votes in key swing states can make or break which candidate declares victory on election night. 

Democrats saw this in 2016 in Michigan, a state that had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, where Democrats lost the state by a mere 10,000 votes to President Trump. African-American turnout in Michigan was down by roughly 12 percentage points compared to 2012, which no doubt impacted the results in this crucial state. 

Despite Hillary Clinton underperforming among minority voters during the last presidential election, the current crop of Democratic contenders, which is the most diverse field of candidates to seek the White House in American history, are taking action. 

In fact, before the last Democratic debate that took place in Detroit, many Democratic candidates addressed the NACCP's convention and discussed their plans and policy proposals for the African American community. 

However, despite the presidential contenders discussing their agendas for minority voters, what Democratic candidates may promise during a debate or campaign speech, does not always match their record when it comes to fighting for minority communities. And that has no doubt played a role in damaging the reputation of the Party among minority voters. 

One example of this can be seen here in California, where Latino farmworkers faced mistreatment and abuse when it came to workers’ rights. 

Thousands of Fresno farmworkers, mostly Latino, had voted to be represented by the United Farmworkers Union (UFW) back in 1990, but instead of negotiating a contract, the union disappeared. So, the workers voted to leave the union (in a 6-1 margin) because the union suddenly tried to force a contract on the workers that would ultimately lower their take-home pay. 

Instead of Democrats and progressive leaders in the state supporting these workers, Democratic leaders led the charge against these Latino farmworkers. 

In fact, in response to the workers’ efforts to stop the contract, former State Senator and now Sacramento Mayor, Darrell Steinberg, authored legislation to restrict workers’ rights, further empowering the UFW to force contracts on workers without a vote. And other prominent Democrats backed Steinberg's efforts as well, including former State Senator Isadore Hall, who is now a member of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board - the same board that backed the UFW during this time and blocked the farmworkers’ votes from being honored. If the perception of all this could not be any worse, it has been reported that during his time in the state legislature, Hall received campaign contributions from the UFW. And to add fuel to that PR fire, it has also been reported that the ALRB spent millions of dollars to quiet the voices of these workers. 

Furthermore, many of the UFW allies on the ALRB were appointed by former California Governor Jerry Brown. Not exactly the best look for Brown at the time - or the Democratic party as a whole. 

In the end, the worker’s votes were honored (after the courts weighed in). However, the mere notion that these Democrats would ignore and trample on the voices of immigrant farmworkers is appalling and serves as an example of why Democrats are losing ground among minority voters. 

And just like the African-American vote, Democrats cannot afford to lose Latino voters. In the battleground state of Florida alone, there are over 2 million Hispanic voters who could determine which candidate wins in 2020. 

A political science professor at Indiana University, Bernard Fraga, said it best when discussing the low turnout among minority voters for Democrats, stating "the most important thing Democratic candidates can do is prove to black voters they’ll work for their support." 

Regardless of a voter’s ethnicity, race, or background, this quote is universal and reigns true. Democrats must deliver results day in and day out for minority communities, and for that matter, all communities. 

Far too many Democrats have not only failed to speak to minority communities but have actively worked against their interests. If the party expects to win in 2020 and beyond, they must change course and quickly. 

Joseph Laughon is a former journalist and political commentator specializing in Latino community issues.

Staff Report