Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Latino businesses mostly ignored by gubernatorial candidates

Latino businesses mostly ignored by gubernatorial candidates
By Adrian Perez, Publisher

SACRAMENTO, CA - There are two distinct individuals running for governor of California and as their campaigns begin to gear up, it seems their message to voters sounds the same. Both are talking about getting people back to work, cutting government spending, and not increasing taxes. Yet, neither is detailing how they will get a stubborn state legislature to work with them in resolving the state’s $19 billion budget deficit, improving education, and getting the state’s economy rolling again. Worst still is that neither of them is talking directly to California’s growing new economic engine, Latino small business owners.

After being absent for the last three months, Democratic candidate Jerry Brown, a career politician, finally launched his gubernatorial campaign on Labor Day, meeting with a few hundred labor union members in different parts of the state. But over the summer, he had several chances to meet with several Latino groups, including the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce (CHCC), which represents nearly 430 thousand Latino small business owners. Instead, he only appeared in two press conferences after polls showed him losing Latino votes.

Since Brown was governor, back in 1981, the state’s Latino population has dramatically changed, creating a higher need for political leaders to address the growing economic development and educational needs of this population segment. This includes acknowledging a large shift within the Latino community going from a unionized labor force to that of small business owners. However, it appears as if Brown is unaware of that shift, opting not to meet or even acknowledge this growing political force.

More recently, Brown did not respond to requests by the powerful Latin Business Association (LBA), which represents nearly 200 thousand small business owners, to participate in their Political Action Committee’s (PAC) candidate endorsement interview process. At least Senator Barbara Boxer, whose anti-business positions are well documented, had the courtesy of letting the LBA PAC know she was unavailable for the interview.

Brown’s opponent, political newcomer and billionaire Meg Whitman has also avoided meeting with some Latino business owners. This past August, after signaling to the CHCC that she would appear at their annual conference, she failed to appear, generating strong words of disappointment from CHCC Chairman Ken Macias. However, she is scheduled to meet with the LBA’s PAC this month to seek their endorsement.

Whitman’s relentless campaigning since the June primary has been continuously targeted at the Latino voter through a series of Spanish language ads and appearances at some Latino sponsored events. Her efforts have garnered 39 percent of Latino likely voters, according to a Field Poll released two months ago. Although she and Brown are in an overall statistical tie, the number of Latino voters she is now carrying could put her over the top, allowing her to become the state’s next governor in November.

To win, Brown will need at least 60 percent of the Latino vote. According to the latest Field Poll he only has 50 percent. So, why is Brown avoiding meeting with especially Latino business groups?

In the 1970’s, it was clear that Brown was the answer for many Latinos who were seeking social justice and a chance at being at the table. He worked with the late labor leader Cesar Chavez and appointed the largest number of Latinos to cabinet and directorial positions ever. But in the last two decades, he has rarely worked with or appointed Latinos to positions of authority as Mayor of Oakland or as the state’s current Attorney General.

Conversely, Whitman has no track record with the Latino community other than creating an outreach campaign committee with prominent Latino business and political leaders. Her biggest obstacle to gain more Latino support is having former governor Pete Wilson as her campaign chair. Although they have a different perspective on the issue of illegal immigration, many Latinos do not trust or like Wilson.

Brown and Whitman will hold their first, and perhaps only, public debate on September 28th at the University of California, Davis campus. It will be televised in English and Spanish. What many Latino voters will be listening for are specifics of how each will work with the legislature on resolving the state’s economic troubles and ensure the inclusion of Latinos in economic development and education strategies.

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