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Getting out the “hard-to-motivate Latino vote” in Farmers Branch

Great story about Ana Reyes, the first Hispanic person elected to City Council in Farmers Branch, in the first election after a lawsuit forced the city to adopt single-member Council districts, and how she actually got elected.

CM Ana Reyes

“What happened here is what helped us get off the couch,” Ana Reyes said, inside a childhood home filled with landscape paintings by her father, Antonio.

Insult after insult hurled at Hispanics, from the ordinance to public taunts about catching “illegals,” would eventually lead to a campaign directive of “pound, pound, pound.”

That would be the sound the candidate and her campaign team made as they knocked multiple times on nearly every door in a newly carved City Council district, a so-called Hispanic opportunity district because of the concentration of U.S. citizens of voting age.

[...]

Ana Reyes, 39, credits her mother for demanding she attend council sessions in 2006.

But she said political consultant Jeff Dalton and his firm Democracy Toolbox propelled success forward.

“The Hispanic component of the vote has always been the brick wall,” said Dalton, who works exclusively for Democrats or in nonpartisan municipal elections.

In fact, in the 2012 presidential race, Hispanics punched way below their weight with a turnout of only 48 percent. The top-performing group, black voters, participated at a 66 percent rate, according to newly released U.S. Census Bureau data.

The political strategist said he methodically plotted data on the likelihood of a Reyes vote on a scale of 1 to 5 through canvassing. At one point, Dalton’s data showed Reyes in a dead heat with her opponent, William Capener, a print shop manager with ties to the local tea party.

Canvassing intensified. Ana Reyes walked the entire District 1 three times, including on election day. Others followed in her steps until the nearly 1,800 voters in the district had received about a dozen visits.

“Her brother walked,” Dalton said. “Her sister walked. Her mother walked. There was an excitement level generated by that. It was like pound, pound, pound.”

Nadia Khan-Roberts, a Spanish teacher living in Farmers Branch, volunteered for the Reyes get-out-the-vote effort. One man told Khan-Roberts: “Todos estos politicos no hacen nada y ella va a ser lo mismo. All politicians do nothing, and she’ll be the same.”

Khan-Roberts countered, “With that attitude nothing will change. The baby that cries the loudest gets the milk.”

A prayer group of women dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe even met weekly at the local Mary Immaculate Catholic Church.

On May 11, Ana Reyes won with 62 percent of the vote. Dalton, the consultant, believes that half of the Hispanic vote was “low-propensity,” or hard to-budge, and hadn’t voted in more than one of the last five elections.

“Something special happened,” said Dalton, who wants to replicate the strategy on a larger scale.

See here for the background. I trust we all see the parallels between Reyes’ victory and the future success or failure of Battleground Texas. Good candidates, direct contact with voters, giving voters compelling reasons to vote that connect with their daily lives – it’s not rocket science, but it is hard work, and it’s going to be a long-term process. But victories build momentum, and they provide paths forward. What worked for Ana Reyes in Farmers Branch can and will work elsewhere, if we learn from her experience and apply those lessons to other races. And when someone tells you it can’t be done, point to Farmers Branch and Council Member Ana Reyes and tell them oh yes it can.

And then get back to work, because the fight isn’t over when the ballots are counted. The fight is just beginning.

During her 2013 campaign, on three occasions, motorists parked outside her home in a Valwood Parkway neighborhood where residents know each other’s cars.

Ana Reyes went outside to knock on the driver’s window and ask if she could help. He said he’d run out of gas, she said. She went to get a gas container, but when she returned the man was gone.

In another instance, she took a photo of the license plate, and the driver of that vehicle never returned.

But Ana Reyes said her experience “does not compare to what Elizabeth Villafranca and other Latino candidates experienced.”

Villafranca, a Farmers Branch restaurateur who ran for City Council in 2009, faced slurs and what she called stalking. Ruben Rendon, a school psychologist who ran for office in 2008, was called “an illegal.” Rendon, who was born in Texas, now says, “All of this was so stupid.”

Candidate Reyes visited with a Dallas County election manager to ask about harassment prevention. She found out the department’s responsibility was limited to a constricted perimeter near polling machines.

The campaign took its own action.

“We hired constables to make sure order was maintained,” she said. “We are not going to tolerate it anymore.”

[...]

Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy said he hoped the new council members, who include Kirk Connally, a 73-year-old retiree who beat an incumbent, would want “good things for the city.”

But regarding Ana Reyes, he said, “You never know what someone is until they are in office. There is campaigning and then there is serving.”

Ana Reyes is now an elected official. That gives her power, but it doesn’t mean respect will follow. The appalling behavior that Reyes and those who went before her in Farmers Branch had to put up with isn’t going to just disappear, and neither will the people who exhibited such behavior. There will be plenty of people rooting for her to fail, and working to undermine her. If Mayor Glancy’s attitude is any indication, some of those people will be her colleagues. Ana Reyes made history by winning this race, but there’s a lot more of the story to be written.

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2 Comments

  1. [...] the Kuff says to look at Farmers Branch for an example of how to turn out the kind of low-propensity voters that our candidates need to win [...]

  2. [...] as far away from Austin as possible as it brings you this week’s roundup. Off the Kuff says to look at Farmers Branch for an example of how to turn out the kind of low-propensity voters that our candidates need to [...]

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