"What does not change / is the will to change"
--Charles Olson, "The Kingfishers"

Friday, March 1, 2013

The endorsement game

Gov. Chris Christie received the endorsement of what is being called a major Latino group yesterday, while his likely opponent is expecting to win the backing the state workers' union.

These are potentially important moves early in the gubernatorial campaign -- but coverage of the endorsements has failed to explain why.

Take this piece from NJ.com -- a good piece of daily coverage, but also an example of the failings of traditional campaign coverage. The story, while it offers an explanation for the endorsement --

He said the Hispanic group’s 30-member board voted unanimously to back Christie because he took on the state’s largest teachers union, approved more charter schools and agreed to expand the state’s Medicaid program despite his opposition to the new federal health care law.

"Over the last three years, Governor Christie has listened to our concerns, worked closely with us and given us a seat at the table," Perez said. "We can count on his commitment to lead the Republican Party towards greater inclusivity."

Perez said Christie told him he supported "comprehensive immigration reform" and favored a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But Christie did not discuss specifics in his remarks, and declined to take questions after the event.
-- it doesn't really place the endorsement in context. How large is the Latino population? What percentage of it votes? How important a role does
the Latino Leadership Alliance play in the political decision-making of engaged Latinos? And what exactly does it mean that a second group has split from the Alliance?

I don't have the answers to these questions. My dealings with advocates for the Latino community have been at the grassroots and most of them have been highly critical of the governor's silence on issues like driver's licenses and state legislation that would grant in-state status to undocumented students who have graduated from NJ high schools, allowing them to qualify for in-state tuition at the state's colleges.

The lack of obvious unity among Latinos was made clear today, by a Bergen County group's very pointed response to the LLA endorsement. The group -- Latino American Democratic Association of Bergen County -- is very much a partisan entity. But its opposition appears to grow from more than political allegiance:
“Governor Chris Christie would like to think that Latinos have forgotten his three years of anti-Latino policies and his actions that have driven the Latino community backwards, but our community has not forgotten and will remember when we go to the polls on Election Day,” said Bogota Councilman Jorge Nuñez, President of LADA. “Governor Christie had four opportunities to appoint a Latino to the New Jersey Supreme Court and chose instead to keep Latinos off the high court thus leaving the New Jersey Supreme Court without an African American and Latino for the first time in decades.

“Christie threatened to veto tuition equality legislation that would allow all New Jersey college students, regardless of immigration status as children, to pay in-state college tuition," Nuñez added. “His fiscal policies of cutting support for poor and working class families, many of whom are Latino, while protecting his millionaires and billionaires from his shared-sacrifice policies have resulted in New Jersey having an unemployment rate that is higher than the national average.”
The LLA is probably the largest of the Latino advocacy groups and has earned itself a very positive reputation -- deservedly so. But its endorsement seems -- at least based on the media coverage -- to have been crafted on a very narrow set of issues. (I'm told that other issues, including the tuition issue, came up during its meeting with the governor.)

As LADA -- and the Latino Action Network, which has not made an endorsement as yet -- point out, Christie's record includes far more than school reform and Medicaid. It includes promised vetoes of the state DREAM Act, driver's licenses and an 0-for-4 on Supreme Court nominees. He's slashed urban education spending, which has an outsized impact on Latinos, and he has been hostile to affordable housing, which could offer many in the Latino community their best chance at educational equality by opening the suburbs to low-income residents.

It makes me wonder just what effect these kinds of endorsements ultimately have on the voters they are supposed to sway.

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