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Taveras and the new Latino vote

December 13, 2012

One of the reasons President Obama won a convincing victory was the overwhelming support he got from Latino voters. But Providence Mayor Angel Taveras tells RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay that Republicans could have a future with Latino voters.

Rhode Island has long been shaped by the ethnic ballet of  immigration. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, our capital city’s first Latino mayor, was reminded of that recently when he went to a holiday party with a crowd of elderly Italian-American constituents.

The mayor asked them if their immigrant parents or grandparents came to Rhode Island speaking English. “None of them did,’’ said Taveras. “In immigration what we have is history repeating itself.’’

Rhode Islanders of a certain age remember how this works. The surnames of  Providence political leaders tell the tale. They were Roberts, Doorley, McGarry, and Boyle. Then they became Cianci, Paolino, Cicilline and Lombardi. Now they are Taveras, Pichardo, Diaz and Aponte.

These newest immigrants may all speak Spanish but they hail from different political traditions and cultures. They are Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans, Colombians and Guatemalans.

The lives of new arrivals are strikingly similar to earlier immigrants. The first generation struggles with language and poverty. They are discriminated against and valued mainly as cheap labor. Their lives are limed by ethnic neighborhoods and adaption to a foreign way of life.

Later generations used the fruits of American democracy – the ballot box, the labor union, the free economy, the  public schools- to move up.

Taveras is  a Democrat who worked  hard for President Obama’s reelection. The mayor campaigned in New Hampshire and championed the president in Spanish-language radio interviews with stations in Colorado, California, Iowa and Florida.

Latinos were crucial to Mr. Obama’s reelection, delivering 71 percent of their votes to the president. Taveras says the principal reason for this is the Republicans new anti-immigrant rhetoric and the Tea Party-influenced opposition to such sensible policies as the Dream Act that would make it easier for the children of undocumented immigrants to afford college.

If  Republicans tamp down the anti-immigrant positions they could appeal to Latino voters, says Taveras. Many Latinos are small business people who aren’t fans of high taxes and government regulation. And many are also conservative Christians who do not necessarily agree with Blue State Democratic stances on abortion and gay rights.

“A lot of Latinos are conservatives on things like social issues and fiscal issues,’’ says Taveras.

But Republicans, Taveras says, will never get Latinos to listen to larger issues until the GOP learns that immigration demagoguery has to stop. The Providence mayor notes that former President George W. Bush did very well with Latino voters, both as Texas governor and as a Republican presidential candidate. That’s because Bush understood the need for comprehensive immigration reform, as did former President Ronald Reagan.

What is so Republican about building a big fence on the nation’s southern border? It would just be another government spending project that would confiscate private land. And likely would be a Maginot Line as soon as it was finished.

The mayor’s message is simple: Let’s find a way to a rational immigration policy that doesn’t punish children brought here illegally when they were three years old. Taveras wants to begin a political dialogue with Congress that figures out a road to legal status for immigrants who play by the rules, stay out of trouble with the law, stay in school, learn English, work and pay taxes. These folks want a hand up, not a hand out. Would Rhode Islanders rather see these people in the ACI or at URI?

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:35 and 8:35. You can also follow his commentary at our `On Politics’ blog at

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 14, 2012 2:37 am

    I agree with the Mayor – as someone with Italian ancestry I know of the discrimination leveled against Italian immigrants when they first came to the U.S. But here’s one thing that bothers me – I get irritated every time I have to Press 1 for English though that’s starting to fade over time too.

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