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Spanish language radio ads are running in Buck McKeon's Santa Clarita district, urging him to vote for an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship. (file photo)

On Wednesday, Republicans in the House of Representatives will meet behind closed doors to debate what kind of immigration reform they can support. That comes on the heels of a Monday night meeting between GOP Senators and House members to discuss how to get an immigration bill passed.

Meanwhile, one prominent union has started running Spanish-language radio ads in the districts of four California GOP members, urging them to vote for a path to citizenship. 

The ads from the Service Employees International Union are running in 10 GOP districts nationwide, including those of Buck McKeon in Santa Clarita and Gary Miller in San Bernardino. The announcer says, "There remain extreme members of the Republican Party who continue to express harmful statements about immigrants, stigmatizing them as 'criminals' and 'takers.'"

The ad then plays excerpts from a pair of GOP Congressmen not from California, calling their remarks "offensive and an insult to our community." The ads urge listeners to call their Congressman and encourage him to support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

But how effective can a Spanish language ad be?

Martin Johnson, political science professor at UC Riverside, says the assumption that those who listen to Spanish language radio are not registered voters is not necessarily accurate.

"If somebody's activated enough to call a member of Congress," he says, "they probably stand a pretty good chance of being a registered voter and participating in the political process."

The Pew Hispanic Center says it has no numbers on what percentage of listeners to Spanish language radio are registered voters. But Loyola Marymount University political science professor Fernando Guerra agrees that it's higher than one might think. As director of LMU's Center for the Study of Los Angeles, Guerra regularly conducts surveys and exit polls of Latino voters. He says about one in five Latino voters in the city of Los Angeles, "when given the option of either taking a survey in either Spanish or English," took the survey in Spanish.

But whether or not the ads spur voters to make phone calls, both professors say there's other reasons to run them.

Johnson says the ads have as much to do with coming elections as they do with pending Congressional votes. Gary Miller's district is nearly half Latino; Buck McKeon's is more than a third Latino. Immigration is an issue that energizes Latino voters. Johnson says it's a group that is "growing in importance and growing in political activity."

That fact, he says, isn't lost on either McKeon or Miller. Both lawmakers have tabe on their official websites that link to a home page "en Español." 

But Guerra says there's another audience for the ads: current and future union members. "Increasingly," he says, "members of SEIU are Latino, are Spanish-speakers, and for the leadership within the union it legitimizes who they are and what they're doing in terms of their political activity."

The ads will run all week. Other immigration reform activists are also cranking up the pressure on California Republicans ahead of Wednesday's GOP meeting, with rallies planned to take place outside party offices in Burbank, Arcadia and Orange.

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