How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The 'Prop 187 effect': As the GOP has gone politically in California, might it elsewhere?

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The long-term effect of 1994's Proposition 187 on California politics is by now the stuff of history. The measure aimed to block immigrants without legal status from state benefits, and state Republican leaders supported it heartily — ultimately to their detriment. 

Although it was approved by voters, Prop 187 was overturned in court decisions and never became law. What it did do was galvanize Latinos and others who opposed it, leading many to become U.S. citizens and become more engaged in the civic process.

Since then, the Latino electorate in California has close to doubled, as has the number of Latino state legislators. An example of the end result? A solidly blue state in which the governor recently signed a long list of immigrant-friendly bills into law, something that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago.

As the GOP has gone politically in California, might it across the nation? Eventually yes, according to a report released Thursday by the Latino Decisions polling firm. According to the report, the "Prop 187" effect threatens to cost a growing number of Republicans lawmakers their Congressional seats in future elections.

"Before [former governor] Pete Wilson and Proposition 187, California was a very competitive state for the Republican party," said Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, which has conducted polls for immigrant advocacy groups. "There's extensive evidence that since 1994, California has not been the same. That was a key historic turning point in politics and demographics. Now, nationally, the GOP is facing the same crossroads as they did in California in 1994."

The report charts this evolution in California:

In 1994 the GOP held 26 of 52 (50%) U.S. House seats in the California delegation.  Today they hold just 15 of 53 (28%).  From 1948 until 1992 Republicans won California in 9 of 10 presidential elections.  From 1992 to 2012 Democrats have swept 6 of 6 presidential elections. 

The report then takes a look at 44 GOP-held House districts in which the Latino voting-age population exceeds the 2012 margin of victory for Republican incumbents, identifying 14 districts "that are the most likely to flip from red to blue due to a sizable Latino electorate and very close election results:"

For example Colorado 6 was decided by just 2 points in 2012 and is about 17% Latino.  Florida 10 went Republican by just 3 percent and is more than 14% Latino.  In California the 10th district is more than 35% Latino the GOP incumbent held on by just 5 points.

A solution would be for Republican leaders to take an active hand in passing immigration reform, according to the report and previous Latino Decisions polling, which has suggested that "an overwhelming majority say they will blame the Republican Party if immigration reform does not pass."

But it's important to remember that Latinos are not one-issue voters, said Mike Madrid, a Republican political strategist in Sacramento. While a more moderate stance on immigration  would help the GOP nationally, he said, there are other ways the party can reach Latino voters if a comprehensive immigration overhaul isn't accomplished in the near future.

Previous polls have shown Latino voters to be just as concerned with the economy and employment as are other Americans. This is something the GOP should focus on if they're to make inroads, Madrid said.

The Republican National Committee recently launched a $10 million, multi-state effort to attract Latino voters.

See the entire report here.

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