Posted on February 18, 2022

Can California Latinos Save Democrats in the Midterm Elections? A New Congressional Map Offers Hope

Jean Guerrero, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2022

With new congressional maps based on the 2020 census, the number of Latino-majority districts in California has grown to 16 from 10. The six new majority-Latino districts could help Democrats retain control of the House. But it might require more from Democrats than they’re willing to give.

Although the state lost a congressional seat because of slower population growth, the independent redistricting commission’s maps approved last month give Latinos more power in line with their still-rising numbers. The 16 majority-Latino districts make up nearly a third of the state’s now 52 congressional seats. The question is whether Democrats can take advantage of those new districts to reduce the Republican-held seats in the California delegation from the current 10.

The new Latino-majority districts are concentrated in the Central Valley, a former Republican stronghold that has turned purple, though white and conservative-leaning corporate agriculture interests continue to have more political power than the larger population of low-income Latinos who work on their farms.

In District 22, one of the valley’s three majority-Latino districts, the incumbent is Republican Rep. David Valadao, a longtime Hanford dairy farm owner. California Assemblyman Rudy Salas Jr. (D-Bakersfield), who labored in the fields with his father as a child, is running to flip the district. If he succeeds, that would be a victory for Latinos in the Central Valley.

“If Democrats maintain control of the House, it will be because Latino voters came out in places like Orange County and the Central Valley,” Christian Arana, vice president of policy at the California-based Latino Community Foundation, told me.

Orange County, another former GOP stronghold that is now competitive, is also home to a new Latino-majority district.

But some experts caution that redistricting effects won’t be immediate because the new Latino-majority districts encompass rural and historically disenfranchised communities that are hard to organize.


Republicans can win these districts with low Latino turnout. {snip}


It won’t be enough to remind Latinos of what Democrats have done and how Republicans have fought against assistance. Given the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on Latinos, many will want to know how Democrats would prioritize their families’ economic recovery as well as healthcare and education access.

Citizenship for long-time Latinos who lack legal immigration status is also critical because it is inseparable from the economic and health prospects of their mixed-status communities. So far, Democrats have failed to deliver on that promise.


Whether these new districts will turn to Democrats may well depend on Latinas driving the vote, in the same way they were instrumental in defeating the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom. “They’re the ones politicians would be wise to pay attention to,” said Pablo Rodriguez, executive director of Communities for a New California Education Fund, noting that Latinas are higher-propensity voters than Latinos.

With the future of the next Congress riding on California’s new districts, Latinas might play a central role in protecting democracy in the long run too.