All politics is local.
The summation is credited to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill. It’s the idea that politicians need to mind constituents’ daily needs at the neighborhood level if they expect a vote come election day.
That political truth is the philosophy behind a re-invigorated Democratic Hispanic Caucus in Kansas. Yes, there is a Hispanic caucus. You just never hear about it because until recently, it wasn’t very active.
That might change. The Kansas Democratic Party hired Carlos Lugo to be its Hispanic outreach and field director. In August, Lugo moved his wife and 2-year-old daughter from Seattle to Lawrence to begin work. His eye is on connecting with new and old voters early, long before the party will ask for their vote.
“We talk about these big issues, and yet there is a disconnect between politics and these big ideas and what happens in people’s lives,” Lugo told those gathered Saturday at a Kansas City, Kan., restaurant, his first public meeting in this area.
Lugo was born in Mexico, but migrated as a 3-year-old with his family to Washington state.
An action plan is still in draft, but Lugo hopes to implement some of the lessons he learned working for candidates in central Washington. He found that traditional canvassing, without connections to communities, did not result in votes. It was a rural, agricultural area with many Latino families dating to the 1950s and the bracero program that brought workers from Mexico. (“Bittersweet Harvest,” a Smithsonian exhibit on the bracero program, is at the Kansas City Public Library’s Central branch though Oct. 27.)
That’s not unlike Kansas, which depended on Mexican labor for help building the railroads, working farmland and in packing houses. Problem is, Latinos are 11 percent of the Kansas population, but they don’t show up at the polls.
There are 112,000 Latino U.S. citizens of voting age in Kansas out of 300,000 Latinos in the state, according to Pew Research Center. Lugo has calculated that only 45,000 of those eligible are registered to vote. And in the 2010 elections, only about 44 percent voted.
Lugo will spend much of this week in southwest Kansas. He’s already done some organizing in the Wichita area. He envisions stronger networks, with a Latino Democratic caucus chair in every county.
It’s the first step toward convincing people that government — their vote — matters.