Latino Voters Increase in Arizona But Dems See no Swing

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By Carli Krueger

GLENDALE, Ariz. - The buzz from 2012 was about Latino voters fueling the president’s re-election and worries that Republican policies pushing away potential voters, but here in Immigration Nation record numbers of Latino voters in Arizona did little to change the politics of Maricopa County.

The Latino vote is on the rise in not only the nation but in Arizona and Maricopa County as well. Exit polls showed 77 percent of Arizona Latino voters voted for the president’s re-election and the LA Times reported that over 34,000 new Latino voters were registered by one group alone in Maricopa County. They also reported a jump from 90,000 to 225,000 Latinos on the early voting list.

Latino participation has been growing for the past 20 years but in relation to population, it hasn’t been high. The Pew Research Center estimated that 12.5 million Hispanics would vote but closer to 11 million did. Still, national media breathlessly reported on the “sleeping giant” of American politics – the Latino vote

But when it comes to one of the most well-publicized immigration control figures in the country – controversial Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio the surge in Latino voters didn’t mean a loss at the polls.

Maricopa County is a sprawling, densely populated monster of a county. Home to over half of Arizona’s population and around 1.13 million Hispanics, Maricopa also hosted a closely fought contest to oust “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” Maricopa is the large light-blue blob in the middle of Arizona on the map below.

But despite the efforts to register Latino voters, Arpaio cruised to a 10-point victory over retired police sergeant Paul Penzone.

This is partly the story of money. Penzone spent $530,000 compared to Arpaio’s $8.5 million, according to the Huffington Post. But Arpaio has a bad reputation among the Latino community having been accused of racial profiling and is a poster child for the anti-immigration movement in Arizona. Many of the county’s 34,000 new Latino voters were brought in by a campaign titled “Adios Arpaio.”

But like many parts of Immigration Nation, Latino voter action largely failed to change the politics in these counties. In Maricopa, President Obama lost 55-43, almost exactly the same split as in 2008 when he lost to Arizona Senator John McCain 55 – 44. But taken together, President Obama narrowly won these counties by almost the exact same percentage point difference in 2012 as he did in 2008. On the national level these places saw very little change during the Great Latino Voter Surge of 2012.

In Maricopa this lack of radical change led to a sixth term for Arpaio.

“We had hoped for a greater turnout and a lot more support from the Latino community that didn’t come to fruition,” Penzone said.

Penzone also said he thought the Arizona Republican Party “disregarded the capacity of the Latino vote” to some extent.

Despite this lack of impact in the final results, the Arizona GOP said it is working to change its relationship with Latino voters. Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, Tom Morrissey, said he wants Hispanics to know that the GOP and their community are on the same ground when it comes to their love of God, of country and of family but also their concern with jobs and safe, successful school environments.

“All of those things that we stand on, they stand on,” Morrissey said. “What I’ve been doing is speaking with the leaders of the churches, speaking with the leaders of the congregation and going to several of the churches to talk and discuss who we are with them and let them know they’re welcome and that they belong in the party.”

Morrissey brought up New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s switch from democrat to republican as a “perfect example” of how he sees the Hispanic Community.

“The thing is this, many folks in the Hispanic community are Republican only they don’t know it yet,” Morrissey said. “It’s our job to get that message to them so they can realize that, that’s who they are and that’s who we are.”

Arpaio has been quoted recently, expressing a desire to connect with the Latino community. He told NBC he wants to reach out to them in a civil way.

“In fact, I sure would like to meet them, even the politicians, maybe in the back room or whatever, have a couple of beers and try to explain,” Arpaio told the Arizona Republic.  “But they need to understand that I enforce the laws. I want to listen to them and hear their problems. I want them to tell me what their problems are. Maybe we can come up with a solution.”

Penzone said Arpaio’s effort is a recognition that even in this part of the country, his hardline stand may be losing ground.

“He saw that this community is no longer tolerant of his abuses and his ego and his pride tells him he has to make some adjustments in order to keep office,” Penzone said. “It’s more of a response out of just pressure as opposed to doing it for the right reasons.”

Morrissey stressed that people are not getting the whole picture of Arpaio. He said that 40 percent of Arpaio’s sworn deputies are Hispanic and Arpaio’s office employs several legal immigrants.

Still,  controversies over questionable jail treatment and uninvestigated sex crimes have brought the sheriff criticism but immigration is a hot button national issue that Arpaio has been outspoken about.

Penzone said he thinks having Arpaio in office hurts the reputation of the state and the nation.

“His policies and practices are extremely polarizing and additionally, it undermines law enforcement ability to focus on crime as an issue as opposed to the color of people’s skin or their nationality,” he said.

Immigration Nation has been marked by a history of tension between new immigrants – illegal or not – and older residents of these areas, but the trends may be working to ease the tensions. Data from Pew reported that illegal immigration had it’s first significant drop in 20 years. Last years’ 11.1 million is down from 2010’s 11.2 million.

Still, Morrissey said, “This country has huge problems and immigration is one of them and unless we have everybody talking to one another instead of yelling at one another, we’re never going to solve it. It’s in all our best interest to solve this problem.”

Penzone said while there are procedural changes that need to be made, other changes to need to be made to begin to fix the issue.

“We have to get away from politics,” Penzone said. “This is not about political philosophies. It’s about the safety and security of our nation while still creating opportunity to grow and develop.”

For now, though, the politics of Immigration Nation, like that of the fight for Maricopa County Sheriff, remain firmly lodged in a philosophical fight over immigration reform.

Carli Krueger is a student at The University of Montana School of Journalism.