Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo explains what it takes to win the Latino vote

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From left to right, Jerónimo Cortina, Angelica Razo, Jacob M. Monty, Linda Hidalgo, and Joshua Johnson discuss Latino voters at Houston’s Talento Bilingue.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo joined NPR’s 1A on Tuesday as part of a panel discussing how to reach Latino voters.

The general consensus among the four panelists, which included a former Trump advisor, a Latino civic engagement organizer, and a University of Houston political science professor, was simple: Run more Latino candidates if you want more Latino votes.

Hidalgo, who last year became the first Hispanic woman to be elected to her position, told host Joshua Johnson that seeing Latino elected officials helps encourage others to participate in the political process.

“It all feeds into each other,” Hidalgo said. “If we have more communities vote, then different communities and diverse folks win, which will then inspire other generations to get engaged.”

Jacob M. Monty, a Houston-area immigration attorney and former advisor to the Trump campaign, had similar thoughts. “I think it’s a lack of role models,” Monty said, noting that Hidalgo’s victory was good for both liberal and conservative Latinos who wanted to get involved in politics.

Another issue discussed by the panelists was the lack of investment into Latinos by political parties. Jerónimo Cortina, a University of Houston political science professor and associate director at the school’s Center for Mexican American Studies, said Republicans and Democrats are stuck in a catch-22 situation where they don’t spend enough campaign money reaching out to Latinos because the demographic is less likely to vote.

“This needs to change because the numbers are there,” Cortina said. “In Texas, if you compare 2002 to 2018, you have around 220,000 more Latino voters that are registered. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of people that can change one election one way or the another.”

According to Cortina, the potential pool of Latino voters in Texas is around 3.5 million.

Knowing how to reach those voters is another obstacle, said Angelica Razo, a Houston- area coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, an organization that seeks to increase civic engagement among Latinos.

“I think a lot of it is reaching people where they’re at and in the language they speak,” Razo told the panel. “… For some populations, it is at their house, in their own communities, in the places that they trust. For young people, it’s on social media. We have to rethink our outreach efforts based on who we’re trying to outreach to.”

Razo said it’s also important to include voters in the political work of parties reaching out to them.

“They don’t want to just be asked, ‘I need you to go vote,” Razo said. “How are we including them in our census strategy, in the Texas legislative session?”

Latinos make up almost one-third of eligible voters in Texas, a recent Pew Research Center analysis of the 2018 midterms found. In Harris County, the 2018 midterms saw four times as many Latino voters than in 2014, according to county data.

You can read more about Houston-area politics here.

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