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Originally published November 11, 2012 at 7:20 PM | Page modified November 12, 2012 at 5:41 AM

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Minorities' next move in politics

University of Washington political science-professor Luis Fraga says there are risks in communities of color feeling too good about providing the margin of victory in elections.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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The demographic changes so prominent in postelection analyses have been Luis Fraga's business for more than two decades.

After the election, I asked the University of Washington political-science professor for his take on election demographics and his sense of where the country might be heading.

He pointed to young politicians who are making the motto e pluribus unum work. The most productive policy conversations ahead, Fraga said, will be about our linked fate and common destiny.

Fraga knows the territory well. He is the director of the Diversity Research Institute. And outside the UW he's vice president of the American Political Science Association, and active in a number of Latino-American organizations. He was appointed to the president's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics last year.

Fraga said it has been apparent for some time that the growth in Asian-American and Latino populations, their political leanings and the loyalty of African-American Democrats were going to converge and transform national politics.

"The person who first understood that was George W. Bush in his 2000 campaign in which he positioned himself as a compassionate conservative," Fraga said. Bush didn't just ask for Latino votes, he made his relationship to the Hispanic community part of his identity.

"The Democrats didn't get that until (Barack) Obama," Fraga said. John Kerry and then Al Gore went about business as usual — I'm a Democrat. Vote for me.

Obama's message, delivered by local supporters, was that your votes are important, but so are your policy needs. Obama, like other modern Democratic presidential candidates, relied on a coalition of voters, the majority of whom are white progressives. The importance of minority voters to that coalition has grown with the numbers.

Fraga said there are risks in communities of color feeling too good about providing the margin of victory.

He worries Latinos may feel so comfortable in their role that they'll become captives of one party and be taken for granted. As has happened often with black people, their issues would be on the Democrats' agenda but not addressed in any systemic way. And Republicans who don't see any chance of capturing their votes wouldn't be interested in Latino issues.

Second is the complacency that could come from having someone in office you identify with. The symbolism could trump the urge to push for action.

Third, empowered Latinos might become even more a focus of attacks by reactionaries.

The remaking of the electorate will continue, but the question of what that will mean in actual policy remains. Immigration reform will be a test of that meaning, Fraga said.

And here's the kicker. "The next stage of the game is entirely in the hands of the leadership of the Republican Party," Fraga said. "That's the irony. The folks most able to allow that shift to have policy influence have virtually no incentive to do it." Republicans who might change would put themselves at risk of losing their base to a more conservative challenger.

But leaders of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and progressive communities can make compromise more acceptable.

Fraga suggested a shift in framing from seeking rights to building community. "In helping those communities with tremendous challenges advance, we are building a stronger country," he said.

"How critical is it to employers to have an educated community to bring their companies into? How important is it for schools to have students coming in with better nutrition and health?"

Fraga points to two of his former students who get it. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother, U.S. Rep.-elect Joaquin Castro, both took Fraga's urban-politics class when they were students at Stanford University.

As mayor, Castro put an initiative on the ballot to add one-eighth of a cent to the sales tax to pay for prekindergarten for all children in the city. He got broad support, and it passed Tuesday. It was a policy targeted at the poorest children, but Castro's arguments for it were based on the benefit to the whole city.

Fraga hopes that just as a party as diverse as the Democrats can work together to get votes, a diverse country can unite to make policies that benefit the whole.

There is precedent for that in 13 very different colonies coming together for the common good.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @jerrylarge.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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