The 2016 Presidential election may be more than a year away but campaign season is in full swing. Two Democrats and six Republicans have already declared their intention to run for president and the list is certain to grow. Campaigns are hiring staff, raising money, and, of course, visiting Iowa. As the candidates and their strategists discuss the "path to victory," it's more than likely that they will debate how to attract Latino voters to their side. Given the important role played by Latino voters in the last two presidential election cycles, the campaigns' interest isn't surprising. The truth is that all of the presidential candidates know that in order win on Election Day, they'll need to energize the Latino electorate. This won't be easy. Some already seem incapable of doing so, either because of their track record or inability to position themselves beyond the narrow confines of their party's primaries. For those seriously focused on winning in November 2016, they should know that there are some issues that are important to majorities of Latinos across the nation; issues that worry Puerto Rican voters in Orlando as much as Mexican-American voters in Las Vegas. They are the issues that Latinos will be looking to as they make their decisions in the months before they help elect the next President. The road to the White House is long and filled with challenges, but when it comes to getting Latino voters on your side, here are five essential things that Latino voters want from their next president.
Investing in Education: There is no issue of greater importance to Latinos than education and our community of voters understands that, by and large, our public schools are failing to prepare their children for academic and career success. As such, Latinos are looking for a president who will commit to large-scale interventions to improve their children's education, including the implementation of universal Pre-Kindergarten in cities across America and a plan to invest much greater resources to improve teacher education, access and quality of English Language Learner (ELL) programs, enhance after-school programming, advance community school models, significantly lower college tuition rates and invest in college retention programs for at-risk students.
Immigration Reform: When President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama ran for president, they promised to fix our broken immigration system. We're still waiting. In every Latino community in the United States -- whether it's the border regions of the Southwest or the big cities of the East Coast -- millions of Latinos face an uncertain future because Washington has failed to create a workable and humane reform of our immigration laws. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of whom have lived in the United States for years, have been deported. Those deportations may not satisfy some members of Congress, but they have torn apart families, left children without their parents and undercut the economic stability of communities across America. This is a social, economic and moral crisis that requires immediate action from the next president. Latinos are looking for a presidential candidate who will stop the deportations, uphold and expand President Obama's executive actions on immigration, and rally Congress to pass a fair and just immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. Nothing less will do.
Obamacare: For all of the perceived and real shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Latino families now are more likely to have health coverage than ever before. In fact, more than 4.2 million Latinos have gained insurance through this health law over the past two years. After spending years worrying whether they were one illness away from financial ruin, the last thing Latinos want to hear from candidates is that they want to go back to the "good old pre-Obamacare days" when more than one-third of Latinos lacked health insurance. Latinos are looking for candidates willing to discuss expansions of coverage for a greater number of people and improvements in preventative care. So, for those candidates strongly opposed to Obamacare, what's your plan? If you're running simply on a platform to turn back the clock and "repeal Obamacare," Latinos will run the other way.
Promoting Economic Opportunity: The Great Recession decimated Latino families' wealth. In virtually every Latino community in the United States, the contraction of the economy meant lay-offs, increased indebtedness and diminished home values. As the economy has slowly begun to recover, so too have some Latino families. But the impact of the financial crisis has had powerful consequences on Latino households and all too many families find themselves barely getting by. The next president has the power to make an immediate difference in the lives of these families by committing to raise the federal minimum wage to $12.00 by 2020. In addition to raising the minimum wage, the next president must push for legislation that guarantees pay equality for America's women. Latinas are paid just 54 cents on the dollar compared to non-Hispanic White workers. Latinos want to hear how these candidates plan to change that and promote greater economic security and mobility for working families, including opportunities to grow small businesses, increase homeownership, participate in job training initiatives and strengthen income support programs.
Environment and Climate Change: Studies and polls show that Latinos are deeply concerned about pollution and support regulations that protect our natural resources. This means the next president can win over Latinos by clearly advocating for strong environmental protections. For example, more than 70 percent of Latino respondents in Colorado, New Mexico, Florida and Illinois support the Clean Water Act and the protection of wetlands. Why? Latinos often live in urban settings where green areas are sparse, and suffer from chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes. Another key issue area for Latinos is climate change. Latinos disproportionately suffer its effects because we are much more likely to work outdoors than not, and because many of us live in coastal areas. Because of this, more than three-fourths (77 percent) of Latino voters believe that global climate change is already happening -- impressive when compared to the general public (52 percent). Hispanics are also more likely to support policies aimed at curbing it. In summary, Latinos want to hear that our next President cares about our natural resources, and is ready to fight for them -- and against climate change -- using all the tools available.
Elections, as we know, have consequences. And the consequences of next year's presidential elections are all too clear to Latino voters. That's why they'll be looking and listening very closely to the candidates for president. Let's hope for their sake that the announced candidates -- and the ones soon to follow -- will be looking very closely at Latino voters and their families and speaking to the issues that matter most to them.
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