Valeria Fernández, New America Media
PHOENIX, Ariz.— It was a night of no surprises in Arizona, where conservative voters who have consistently supported hard-line anti-immigrant measures re-elected the politicians who have sponsored bills.
Yet Latino voter mobilization groups insisted that the election was a victory for them as well, because of large increases in voter registration among Latinos and other opponents of those harsh laws.
Gov. Jan Brewer was among those who rode the wave of SB 1070, the law that would have make it a state crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant, defeating her Democratic rival, state Attorney General Terry Goddard, by a wide margin.
About 85 percent of Latinos gave their support to Goddard, according to exit polls conducted by the National Counsel of La Raza, America’s Voice and the Service Employees International Union.
“We didn’t expected this [voter registration] to have an immediate impact,” said Abigail Duarte, a coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a part of the One Arizona coalition that registered more than 22, 000 new Latino voters in Arizona.
Rodolfo Espino, a professor and political analyst in Arizona State University, said Latinos are making headway, even if they still have a long way to go.
“To get first-time voters out there voting is huge hurdle to overcome, and it builds for future electoral success,” Espino said. “But the thing to keep in mind is that the numbers are not there to sway a statewide election.”
The key to Brewer's success, Espino said, is “her ability to combine fears and anxiety about the economy with fear about illegal immigration.”
Brewer, the former secretary of state who became governor in January 2009, after the Gov. Janet Napolitano was appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration. Napolitano had vetoed similar measures to SB 1070, including one enacted in 2006, and her move to Washington D.C. opened the doors for a new dynamic in the Arizona Legislature.
It allowed Brewer to morph into a national figure by signing SB 1070 last April and defending the law in court against federal efforts to overturn it.
While the Latino voter fingerprint might have not been felt much in the gubernatorial race, Hispanics had an impact on a tighter race in the Arizona southern border, were Democratic incumbent Raúl Grijalva was neck-in-neck with Tea Party favorite, Ruth McClung. Grijalva got into trouble over his support of an economic boycott of the state in the wake of SB 1070.
“When you look at Arizona voters and their feelings about SB 1070, the majority were supportive of a boycott, so he was actually advocating that position,” Espino said. “So it looks like he might have pulled the election on the back of Latino voters.”
Grijalva’s win was one of the few bright spots for the Latino community. Discontented voters flooded the airwaves on Wednesday morning, including calls to Contacto Total, a Spanish-language talk show on 1190 AM radio. One caller forecasted a dark future for immigrants in the state.
As if to confirm that prediction, later on Wednesday, Republican state senators voted to elect Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), SB 1070’s sponsor, to be the Senate president—a position that gives him the power to decide which bills will be heard or not. Thus, Pearce is likely to have no trouble getting one of his latest ideas—to deny citizenship to the U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants—a hearing at the Legislature.
The GOP holds a 21-to-9 majority in the upper chamber of the Arizona Legislature.