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Will Senators Cornyn and Cruz Help Texas Go Blue?

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cornyn cruzWith immigration reform moving forward in the coming weeks, one decision Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) make could have monumental consequences for them and their Party down the line.  Both Cornyn and Cruz are on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be the starting gate for consideration of immigration reform this year.  With the demographic changes underway in Texas–and the fact that some Democrats are seizing the opportunity to invest in the state—Cornyn and Cruz can either help the Republican Party modernize and include more immigrants and Latinos in its ranks, or go the way of the Whigs.  It all starts with a simple vote – yes or no on immigration reform in 2013.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

How the Texas Senate duo handles immigration in the coming debate will set the course for the future of the GOP in this solid red state.  Either Republicans adapt to changing demographics by changing their stance on issues like immigration reform, or they become the incredible shrinking party.  By the time Ted Cruz faces re-election, Texas will look like a much different state.  Cruz and Cornyn can help determine whether the GOP remains a viable national party, or faces extinction.”

Texas gained four seats as a result of redistricting after the 2010 Census, largely due to Latino population growth.  From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population of Texas grew by 42%, generating 65% of the overall population growth in the state during that decade.  Yet while Texas Latinos comprise over 37% of the state’s population, they are underrepresented at the ballot box.  As Gabriel Sanchez, Research Director for Latino Decisions, wrote recently, “There are an estimated 2.1 million Latino eligible voters who are not registered to vote in Texas.”

Now, major efforts are underway to change this Texas Latino voter underrepresentation.  POLITICO reports today that Democrats “are taking steps to create a large-scale independent group aimed at turning traditionally conservative Texas into a prime electoral battleground, crafting a new initiative to identify and mobilize progressive voters in the rapidly-changing state, strategists familiar with the plans told POLITICO.  The organization, dubbed “Battleground Texas,” plans to engage the state’s rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles. Two sources said the contemplated budget would run into the tens of millions of dollars over several years – a project Democrats hope has enough heft to help turn what has long been an electoral pipe dream into reality.” Of note, former national field director for the Obama re-election campaign, Jeremy Bird, will lead the effort.

While the Latino electorate’s disconnect from the current Republican Party runs deeper than immigration alone, it will be impossible for the GOP to get a hearing on its other issues unless and until they work to pass real immigration reform, as this post-election analysis from America’s Voice makes clear.  By virtue of their committee perches and potential influence in the Republican Caucus, Senators Cornyn and Cruz could join other Republicans and conservatives in recognizing that the time is right for the GOP to help advance real immigration reform and to share credit in doing so.  However, their past records – particularly in Senator Cornyn’s case – show a disturbing pattern of “getting to no” on reform.

In 2011, America’s Voice gave John Cornyn the “Biggest Hypocrite on Immigration” award in light of his unparalleled ability to portray himself as a supporter of immigration reform while always voting against it and working to derail legislative progress (read this recap of Senator Cornyn’s performance at a July 2011 DREAM Act hearing for a particularly instructive example).  Meanwhile, Senator Cruz has talked tough on immigration, but at least seems to at least understand the political significance of increased Latino voter engagement to his state – and his Party’s – political future.

As Senator Cruz told Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker:

If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community, in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state…If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes.  The Republican Party would cease to exist.  We would become like the Whig Party.