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Red Dawn: Why SA is the GOP’s Best Bet for the Future

Photo: Callie Enlow, License: N/A

Callie Enlow

Bexar County GOP chairman Robert Stovall with state Rep. Joe Straus at the grand opening of the Bexar County GOP headquarters last week

First, let’s go straight to the source. Robert Stovall, the recently elected chair of Bexar County GOP, confirmed he’s seen more interest from the state, and the national, Republican Party. Aside from the marquee names that descended on San Antonio in the past year, Stovall says more money and fundraising efforts are flowing toward Bexar County. In particular, Stovall is elated that Sen. Cruz will return in February for the local Party’s Lincoln Dinner, which is projected to raise more money in that event alone than the chapter spent in the 2012 election cycle. Stovall also points out that San Antonio currently has the largest state GOP field office outside Austin, with three employees committed to staying here through 2016. Of those bodies, two are dedicated to Hispanic outreach and backed by the Republican National Committee.

And that’s when we get to what’s really going on. While Stovall, whose mother is from Mexico City, says simply he “doesn’t want to differentiate” between voters’ racial and ethnic backgrounds, nearly everyone else I spoke with brought up our majority Latino population unprompted.

“Established figures in the state GOP are clearly interested in Hispanic voters, for one thing, and symbolism that appeals to Hispanic voters,” said James Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, “it’s hard not to see Republicans flocking to San Antonio as part of that.” In fact, that’s how Henson began our interview.

Similarly, Mark P. Jones, who chairs Rice University’s Department of Political Science and specializes in voting research, also replied to my initial inquiry about Bexar County’s newfound GOP popularity with: “I think a lot of it is, for Republicans, San Antonio and Bexar County [are] seen as fertile ground for Hispanics and a gateway to South Texas.”

David Zapata, the state GOP’s Austin-based, but San Antonio-bred, Hispanic Engagement Director, added during a phone interview last week. “San Antonio is a very important city,” said the St. Mary’s graduate. “It’s a great place where we can show we’re for real when we say we want to reach out to the Hispanic community.”

More pointedly, Kelton Morgan, a local campaign strategist who’s worked on many Republican campaigns, said, “Bexar County is the laboratory of how to win. All of Texas is going to look like Bexar in 10-15 years.”

The numbers don’t lie. According to projections by the state comptroller’s office, the Latino population is expected to nearly double from where it is today by 2040 while the white population should stay flat. Over the summer, NPR reported that state demographer Lloyd Potter (perhaps not coincidentally a professor at UTSA) said the conservative estimate for the year in which the number of Latino Texans will surpass the number of white Texans is 2023. Other demographers claim that could happen as early as 2017.

Yet even in Texas, Republicans have been remarkably slow to realize that Latino voters, despite historically low voter turn-out, will be crucial to the continued viability of the Grand Old Party, perhaps still stuck in the halcyon days when George W. Bush could actually drum up considerable Hispanic support (he garnered some 40 percent of the Latino vote, nationally, back when immigration reform was still a thing people talked about). Rising Texas Republican and W.’s nephew George P. Bush, whose mother is from Mexico, appears to have blazed the current path, founding Hispanic Republicans of Texas in 2010. Zapata was hired as Hispanic outreach director just two years ago, and the two Hispanic outreach coordinators the RNC installed in San Antonio arrived this past summer. Since the state comptroller’s demographics report largely relies on data projected in 2007, it’s bizarre to think it took Texas Republicans three years to get the ball rolling, and five to make a concerted effort to attract more Latinos.

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