Hispanic voters still not considered important in local elections?

Even though Hispanic voters amount to over 38% of the residents of California, they only represent 17% of those who participate in the electoral process

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On July 14th, the City Council of Concord voted 3-2 to appoint Tim McGallian to the post of Treasurer over Eric Maldonado and several others vying for the job. Two weeks later, a considerable amount of bitterness still remains from this decision especially regarding the importance of Hispanic voters in local elections

Even though the Treasurer’s job is an elected one, it holds no real power being more ceremonial than anything else. With this being the case, why all the fuss? The discord apparently comes from the factions that were behind the two candidates.

Tim McGallian, Concord City Treasurer
Tim McGallian, Concord City Treasurer has been active in the Great Concord Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, and helped lead the renewal of Concord’s July 4th festivities.

McGallian received his support largely from his work with the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Business Association and being President of the Kiwanis Club. Most important the Concord Police Officers Association (POA) labor unions, and other power brokers, who largely control politics in the City were behind Magallian, even though he lost the last City Council race in 2014 to populist Edi Birsan.

Though coming from a different direction, Maldonado had much the same credentials as the individual who was appointed by the city Council. He was past President of powerful Contra Costa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club in Concord.  In addition Maldonado, in his job with the Travis Credit Union, is extremely familiar with financial regulatory matters with the State. He also had strong endorsements from Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla, among others.

What makes the McGallian vs. Maldonado contest so interesting is that it is unusual for the supporters of the two Democratic camps to publicly oppose one another. What was really behind this conflict? The elefante in the middle of the room may be the lack of impact from Hispanic voters in Concord. Latino citizens of Concord (roughly one third of the population) have had no direct representation in local politics since the late Councilman Michael Chavez passed away in 2009.

Critics have claimed the largely Hispanic, Monument Boulevard section of Concord has not received the attention it deserves given the large voting bloc that exists there of people who immigrated to the US from Mexico and Central America. Spanish campaign posters for Tim Grayson and Ron Leone that appeared in the Monument Community during the last City Council race may not have been enough to placate Latino advocates.

It was thought appointing Eric Maldonado would be at least a symbolic gesture to show the Hispanic community they were not forgotten.

Eric Maldonado
Eric Maldonado is a past president of both the Contra Costa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Concord Rotary Club

In reality there is not a large militant faction of those of Latino descent in civil rights matters compared with Black and Gay Rights proponents. At a recent Contra Costa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce networking party in Pleasant Hill, attended by almost 100 people, running for public office and gaining political power was virtually the last thing on most people’s minds.

Comprised of professionals largely from the real estate, insurance, high tech, and professional services, this group was too busy networking to concern themselves with politics. In fact there were many in attendance including the host who could not speak a word of Spanish. Most were there to gain business contacts with a large group of consumers with an enormous amount of buying power.

Such a turn-out of Latino business leaders did not preclude politics or politicians from attending to press the flesh. Pleasant Hill Mayor Ken Carlson was very much in evidence, greeting attendees. Cameron Deal, Senior Field Representative for Republican Assemblywomen Catharine Baker (16th District) was present expressing her boss’s support for the Hispanic Chamber.

Another politically adroit leader present was Johnny Huang, 2014-15 President of the Hispanic Chamber. Although he is ethnically Chinese, the Pleasant Hill Insurance broker has found himself as head of the Chamber promoting the Hispanic Community. He feels the low turn-out of Hispanics in elections is mostly because, “They don’t as a group trust politicians and don’t think their vote counts.” Huang went on to say “neither of the political parties owns the Hispanic vote. If they want to receive it in the future it will have to be earned.”

One individual trying to line up votes at the Hispanic Chamber function was Cassie Gonzales, a declared candidate for the Concord City Council in 2016. Gonzales was “disappointed that Eric was not appointed City Treasurer as he was very qualified for the job.” Gonzales added, “The Latino community continues to grow and needs elected leaders who have walked in their shoes and fluently speak Spanish. I represent that voice.”

Even with the controversy involved with the City Council’s appointment of Tim Magallian to the Treasurer’s office, there is likely to be few local political ramifications for those who supported him. Laura Hoffmeister, Ron Leone, and Tim Grayson’s terms do not come up for re-election until 2018.

Latino voters
Even though Latinos amount to over 38% of the residents of California, they only represent 17% of those who participate in the electoral process

Of the three, only Grayson, who remains Mayor until next year, might be effected. He has already declared himself as a candidate for the Assembly District 14 race in 2016 to replace Susan Bonilla, who will be termed out for that seat. Not only did Grayson receive criticism for snubbing Maldonado, but also in the way he handled pronouncing Spanish names at the meeting . In addition Maldonado’s supporters were upset that individuals who wrote letters in his behalf including Mark DeSaulnier were not mentioned.

Despite this, Eric Maldonado decided to take the high road in saying, ““Congratulations to Tim McGallian on his appointment as Concord City Treasurer.  I am grateful for the support and vote of confidence that my family, friends and my community place in me.  Maldonado continued

“As a former President of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce I see the opportunity for more diversity in our elected positions, including the city of Concord, to better understand and serve the needs of our community.   In Concord, I see a growth in our Asian and Hispanic community and see new leaders starting to emerge.  I see individuals raising their families who are teachers and doctors that work hard and care about their schools, public safety, businesses and access to health care and home ownership.”

Even with this conciliatory statement, Grayson has a great deal of fence mending to do if he is to gain support from the Hispanic Community in his Assembly bid next year.

There is also another school of thought that says that since the Hispanic voters have not played an important part in recent elections, what makes one think they will carry very much influence in an Assembly race going on at the same time as an American President is being chosen in 2016? Along with this it must be asked when will the rising number of Hispanic residents be reflected when votes are counted?

If there is any truth to the lack of respect elected officials might have for the Latino voting bloc, it comes from the general apathy this group has shown in recent elections. Even though Hispanic voters amount to over 38% of the residents of California, they only represent 17% of those who participate in the electoral process.

This figure is disproportionately low not only for lack of interest but also because many Hispanics are prohibited from voting because of citizenship issues. Of these individuals who do vote, the Democratic Party with 59% has a big edge in registration. Following the party line does not always occur as in general, Latino’s tend to be ideologically social conservatives reflecting their Catholic religious roots.

A certain amount of optimism exists on having higher of Hispanic voters turn-out in 2016 with immigration policy likely to be a major issue in the Presidential campaign. How this might translate on the local and State races is yet to be determined. One thing to be sure of is that the Hispanic vote will soon provide a more prominent role in the electoral process than is happening right now.

Numbers don’t lie.

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