Election Section

Education may be unifying issue for diverse Hispanic voters

By Linda Ashton
Friday October 11, 2002

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — Hispanic voters can be found working anywhere from the Microsoft campus in Redmond to the ladies’ wear department in the Sunnyside Wal-Mart. 

Some were born in this country. Others had to apply for citizenship. 

They are Republican, Democrat and independent, and they often vote for the candidate who puts the greatest emphasis on education — regardless of party affiliation. 

Across the country, Democrats and Republicans are trying to attract the fast-growing Hispanic vote and finding it a challenge because of the diversity among this particular ethnic group, which can be any race, with roots all over the world, from Spain to Guatemala to Puerto Rico or Peru. 

“There is not one person who speaks for all of the Hispanic people in this state, just like there isn’t for the Caucasian or black or Asian population,” said state Rep. Mary Skinner, R-Yakima, one of two Hispanic legislators in Washington. 

A new national survey of registered Latino voters shows that while about half identified themselves as Democrats, they were not necessarily yellow-dog loyalists, and that ambivalence spells opportunity for both parties. 

“The Latino vote has been a huge battleground in our state. We see this as an essential vote in places that have been traditionally voting Republican,” said Washington Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt. 

Washington Republican Chairman Chris Vance said: “We want everyone, and the biggest emphasis is on Latino voters.” 

The rewards at the ballot box are potentially great — the Hispanic population in Washington more than doubled between 1990 and 2000 to 441,509, and 264,099 were over 18. 

Washington is not alone. Across the West, the minority population is increasingly Hispanic. In California, almost one-third of people identified themselves as Hispanic in the 2000 Census, with almost 7 million of voting age. Twenty-five percent of Arizona’s population is Hispanic, with more than 800,000 in the over-18 category. Colorado is 17 percent Latino, with almost 477,00 people over 18. 

But as varied as Latino voters’ ancestry, income and life experiences may be, there seem to be some generally unifying issues in politics. 

In a new national survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 58 percent of nearly 3,000 registered Latino voters said education was one of the most important issues in determining their vote. Thirty-nine percent said the economy and 23 percent said health care and Medicare. 

“There are kind of three big areas of interest,” said Pedro Celis, 43, of Redmond, a Microsoft software architect and state chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, which serves as a bridge between the GOP and Latinos. 

“First, education ... the great equalizer,” said Celis, a native of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, in Mexico. “Another one is opportunities for economic development. 

“Having the opportunity to work hard is very important to Hispanics. They need to be able to work and give their children a better life. 

“And the third one is immigration. ... When people talk about deportation, they get very concerned.” 

Education is the top issue for Deana Castro, 34, a ladies’ wear department manager at the Wal-Mart in Sunnyside. 

“I’d like to see more teachers and more grants for minority kids so they can go to college,” said Castro, a Sunnyside native.