Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez: Young voters of color are key to flipping Texas

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To discuss last week’s results, the Signal recently spoke with Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a former U.S. Senate candidate, founder of the Latino progressive organization Jolt, and cohost of the Three Righteous Mamas podcast. 

What are your overall thoughts on Election Day in terms of Texas?

You know, we’ve been a historically low voter turnout state and Republicans saw that things are shifting. And they did what they haven’t done in a very, very long time, which is run a real get-out-to-vote operation and field program and invest significant resources into keeping the state from turning blue.

You don’t win a battleground state as big as Texas without a fight.

We’re heading in the right direction. And as far as the Latino vote goes, there’s some focus on the turnout in the Valley. We have to remember the Latino vote, 60 percent of it is concentrated in the five metro areas in the state. 

Numbers in those major metros are showing that the Latino vote went overwhelmingly for Biden, especially with young Latino voters. So there is a lot of continued impact and growth that Democrats can make by investing in young Latino voters.

That being said, it also shows that we need top of the ticket candidates that are going to invest early and invest the resources necessary in Latino voters. It was great to have Kamala Harris come down to the Valley, but that happened very late. And I think we didn’t have a Senate candidate also who was really touring the state and connecting with Latino communities like we needed.

That’s certainly so much of what I’m hearing, in terms of the Latino vote, focusing on kind of the gloomy aspects for Democrats where they lost those margins in South Texas. But as you said, the turnout in the major metro areas increased. It’s kind of a good example — and everyone is saying this after Tuesday — that the Latino community is not monolithic, and you can’t really package them together and campaigns have to take more time and care with their messaging and investments. 

I mean, I would argue actually that the Latino community, it makes sense to say that for Florida, but in Texas, we are actually largely monolithic. We are 87 percent Mexican-American, 10 percent Central American. There are regional differences that you need to speak to. But I think that what is really critical that Democrats need to do better, that they simply didn’t do, is they didn’t have a winning message for Latinos. They simply didn’t spend the money, or spend it early enough, to reach Latino voters.

What do you think was lacking in terms of messaging? 

We have to understand that overall, Biden performed well with Latino voters in Texas. People are pointing to a few key counties where literally a couple hundred to a couple thousand voted, and not looking at the counties where you had hundreds of thousands of Latinos vote.

Sure.

And so I think it’s a really unfair view. That being said, we have to be stronger on the economic crisis that many working people are experiencing and living every day. We had before COVID-19, Latinos were largely on the edge of economic collapse or falling off a cliff, and they’ve completely fallen off that cliff. 

I think we needed to be able to speak to that more clearly. That we understood the economic pain that people were living every day and we had a plan in response to it. 

So more talk about pandemic checks and relief packages, or what?

Yeah, I mean you also have to remember that many Latinos are disproportionately self-employed or own small businesses that simply didn’t get the help necessary.  

And so there had to be a real clear demonstration of why our side was going to be able to address that as quickly as possible. People aren’t waiting for changes in months, people are trying to make payments that are due next week, or are past due. 

And on the issue of messaging, when you were running for U.S. Senate, there was that ideological diversity in the field; Hegar was more moderate, you were on the leftwing crop of the candidates. And there was all this discussion vis-à-vis Biden and Bernie about what the correct message for Texas was. At least in these congressional races, both progressive and moderate candidates came up short. What do you make of that discussion looking back? 

As a candidate, in a state where the supermajority of the Democratic Party is Black and Brown you have to be able to speak to the diversity and lived experience of those communities. 

I actually think Beto did a great job as a white guy. [Laughs]. He did a great job of really trying to honor those lived experiences and the challenges our communities face. I did not see in this Senate race. And also speaking to the solutions and investing in those communities.

What is clear is that you need someone that can bring people together. I think in this Senate race there was a lack of a clear message of how we come together. And also, quite frankly, a lack of respect to leaders of communities of color in this state. There was not the outreach done that was necessary to bring in communities of color to really feel like they were part of the Senate race.

I remember back in 2016 when we were having this same conversation about how important it was to invest in Black and Brown communities early and aggressively.

I think it’s clear there was a lack of investment. It was pretty clear weeks out that there was a lack of connection with those communities. And the thing, field matters. I know COVID-19 prevented some campaigns from taking those steps. But I think, especially for communities that need to be reached at their doors that are working communities, that is a critical step that couldn’t be met.

What have you heard from other Democrats? What’s the general mood? Is it optimism, are people trying to point fingers? 

I think that there’s a lot of pointing fingers at the Latino vote, which is pretty absurd in my mind. 

If you actually dig into the numbers, there is high, high Latino voter turnout. Some work that needs to be done in the Valley, but people are operating on a view of Texas’ demographics and an electorate that’s based on the 1980s instead of present-day 2020, where Latinos live everywhere in the state but particularly concentrated in the urban centers, which overwhelmingly voted for Biden.

People who didn’t vote for Biden that were assumed to come over and help elect him were many white suburban women. So the question is, what are we going to do about those voters. That voted in greater numbers for Trump this election than in 2016. 

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or think that the post-election coverage has missed? 

I think they’re missing the nuances with the Latino vote especially here in Texas. Look, again, you don’t flip a state this big that’s worth this many electoral votes without a fight. 

We’re headed in the right direction and the key to unlocking the shifting power in the state lies with young voters of color. That should be what Democrats are seeing. Our numbers, our growth is coming from young people of color who want a new day in this state. That’s where you put your money on, that’s where you put your time. We need to invest in young voters, Latino voters, and especially female voters of color. 

Photo: Cristina for Texas

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