Opinion: The Fight to Turn Arizona and Texas Blue Starts on Your Block

PHOTO: Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, and his brother Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, not pictured, participate in a discussion at the SA to DC conference held at the Marriott at Metro Center.

Minutes after the Supreme Court issued a decision to overturn critical parts of the Voting Rights Act, Republicans in Texas and Arizona were making moves to suppress the Latino vote.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who led the fight to eradicate Mexican-American studies from his state's public schools, celebrated the end to what he saw as "humiliating" oversight by the Justice Department. In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott took only a couple hours to launch a voter ID plan targeted at keeping Hispanics from voting.

Republican leaders are desperate to limit Hispanic voter influence in Arizona and Texas but that appears to be a futile endeavor. Texas is already a majority-minority state and Arizona is expected to become one in the next decade.

For political insiders in Arizona and Texas, the question is not if those states will go blue, but when. Along with the burgeoning Hispanic population, the unprecedented levels of urbanization and unpopular Republican governors are helping the process move forward.

In each state, Democrats have set their hopes on young mayors who have generated national attention by mobilizing Latinos in their respective cities.

In Texas, it's San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who made his national debut as the keynote speaker at last year's Democratic National Convention. In Arizona, it's Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a rising political star who has made his city a national leader in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

Everyone knows that the key to turning Texas and Arizona blue is increasing Latino turnout. But actually accomplishing that goal isn't as easy as a sound bite about immigration. The real solution is difficult, expensive and long-term: Democrats must invest in winning local offices.

By participating in these local races, and by participating in the local government they helped elect, Latino voters will develop a stronger sense of political ownership. Supported by mayors who share their values and respect their community, Latinos will cultivate that ownership by becoming more involved politically.

Latino turnout will steadily tick up, and, before long, states that were once deep red will turn deep blue.

The effort is already underway in Arizona and Texas. Today, Texas has Democratic mayors in three of its four largest cities: Houston, San Antonio and Austin. And, for the first time in recent memory, Arizona has Democratic mayors in its two major cities, Phoenix and Tucson. While the states themselves remain red, these urban centers have emerged as progressive oases with strong Latino representation.

This wasn't always the case.

Traditionally, the Latino populations in major cities in Arizona and Texas have had their political clout restricted by a political establishment set on keeping them out of power. In Phoenix, Barry Goldwater set up the city council in the 1950s to limit Latino representation to one City Council position.

"Phoenix was thus left with a tiny nucleus of Latino leadership," noted Arizona historian Tom Zoellner.

In Houston, white city leaders in the 1960s "resisted minority empowerment by maintaining at-large council districts," as urban historian Richard Dilworth explains.

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