California Policies Are Devastating Hispanic Families. But They Can Do Something About It.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Image credit: 
Andresr, Shutterstock

Hispanic peoples account for over 30 percent of California’s population of eligible voters. If they were to vote as a bloc, they would have a large influence on who is elected to govern, and they could significantly change the state’s economic policies, many of which are disproportionately harming them.

A case in point is a conversation I had with a Hispanic man whom I met at a high school tennis match, where his son’s team was hosting my son’s team in the California CIF playoffs. After asking me what I did for a living, he proceeded to tell me an interesting story, one with a theme that I suspect is common among Hispanic families, and one that represents a ticking time bomb for California’s progressive Democratic party. I have paraphrased our conversation below.

“Our town is not rich. I run a small landscaping company, and most of my customers are professionals, our town’s doctors and dentists and lawyers. My wife works as my bookkeeper and helps manage the business. I work six days a week. It seems my wife is working all the time, between managing the business and taking care of our three kids. We earn about $75,000 after paying our expenses. But now the cost of gas is killing my business. My trucks are older and don’t get great gas mileage, particularly if we are doing a big job and hauling stuff. I pass a little of the higher gas costs on to my customers, who so far have stuck with me.

“We live in a small, three-bedroom home that costs $2,800 a month to rent. That is a stretch, but that is how much it costs to live in a low-crime neighborhood here, without gangs and without having to worry about my family being hurt. The schools could be much better. You yourself can see how old this school has become [he points to buildings, including Quonset huts, that are at least 50 years old and in obvious need of maintenance]. The best teachers leave for better teaching jobs or leave teaching altogether. The best ones are young, but they get paid a lot less because they don’t have seniority. My son’s math teacher last year got him really excited about math, he earned an A, but that teacher is gone now. The worst teachers are older, some have been here for 35 years, and they are burned out. They don’t care, but they can’t be fired because they have tenure. I can’t understand that. My men and I must do a good job for our customers. If we don’t, our customers will hire another landscaper.

“I love this country. We are so lucky to live here. I vote for politicians who talk about freedom and lowering taxes and fixing up our city and making schools better and lowering gas prices and increasing water supplies, which is important to landscapers. But some of our friends vote blindly for Democrats because they say Republicans don’t like Hispanics, that they are racists. I respond by saying ‘Do you think the people you are voting for are doing a good job? And how do you know these Republicans are racists? My customers are mostly Whites, and they treat me and my men with respect and are honest with me, they pay me on time. My wife doesn’t have to worry about chasing them for an unpaid bill.’ My friends don’t have much to say to this. But they still vote blindly for Democrats.”

In just a 10-minute conversation, this voter described so much of what is wrong with California and why our problems persist, decade after decade. California is the biggest virtue-signaling state in terms of adopting green energy polices, but because carbon emissions are a global issue, California is too small to move the carbon needle. However, California’s green energy policies substantially raise the price of gasoline and electricity, disproportionately hurting this man and his family and millions of other middle-income households.

California gas prices are the highest in the country. Our electricity costs are third highest in the country and electricity has become very unreliable, reflecting outages, brownouts, and blackouts that are the consequence of an overreliance on renewable energy. This overreliance makes it extremely difficult for electricity grid operators to manage the transition between renewables and gas-fired electricity when the sun goes down, and which occurs about the same time that household demand for electricity spikes. If this tightrope-walking act is not managed near perfectly, then an outage occurs.

California schools, particularly those in less affluent cities, underperform substantially because of policies that protect schools and their teachers from competition. These include restrictions on starting new charter schools, and teachers’ unions that continue to fight against sensible reforms to teacher tenure and to merit-based pay. Less than 20 percent of Hispanic students are proficient in mathematics. This outcome could be improved enormously if policy was changed so that families had some options of where they could send their kids to school, rather than having no choice other than a poorly performing neighborhood school; and if schools paid successful math and science teachers a market-based salary. But these policy changes are anathema to the K–12-teacher-union–Democratic-party status quo.

This voter is accurate in saying that many of his friends vote Democrat. Fifty-eight percent of California Hispanic voters are registered as Democrat, and just 16 percent are registered as Republican. But all this may be changing. A new poll shows that national support among Hispanic voters for President Biden has plummeted from 55 percent to just 26 percent in the last year, while 60 percent of Hispanic voters now disapprove of Biden.

This poll was conducted at the national level, but it clearly has implications for California, as the policies and outcomes that are most concerning to Americans in this poll include inflation, energy costs, and a deteriorating economy and quality of life. What concerns American voters should also be concerning to California voters, on steroids.

Hispanic voters have been voting for politicians who have exploited the race card but who have not delivered on making the lives of their constituents better. If Hispanics were to vote in their economic best interest, which this poll suggests will begin to happen, they could make a big difference in California politics. Hispanics in other parts of the country, including Texas, are increasingly shifting their support to GOP candidates and away from Democratic candidates.

California desperately needs political competition. The significant shifts we are seeing among Hispanic voters represent the best opportunity in many years for the California Republican party to make political inroads in a state whose policies and institutions continue to fail California’s most vulnerable households.