Guest Commentary

Rep. Louis Ruiz: Latino voters in Kansas and elsewhere need a wake-up call


Special to The Star

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known for anti-immigration laws in Kansas and elsewhere, was re-elected in November.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known for anti-immigration laws in Kansas and elsewhere, was re-elected in November. The Associated Press

Is shooting undocumented immigrants from helicopters like feral hogs to control the flow into the country OK? Is voter suppression under the guise of finding ballot fraud acceptable? Is continued deportation and separating families because of legal status from our country a good representation of our values? The Latino vote, or lack of Latino voters, in the recent midterm elections suggests the answer to all of those questions is yes.

Kansas Rep. Virgil Peck made the offensive feral hog statement in a committee meeting in 2010. He did not apologize to those he offended until asked by his leadership and the governor to do so. His apology was a justification of his statement; but he is now serving another term. Kris Kobach, who is infamous for his anti-immigration legislation across the country, was re-elected in November to a second four-year term as the Kansas secretary of state.

To the small percentage of Latinos who showed up to cast a ballot in Kansas — less than the 15 percent of the population who were eligible —thank you.

To the other 85 percent who decided to stay away from home and find a reason to not make it to the polls, “Gracias por Nada.”

The low voting turnout reflected the national trend: Pew Research found that while the percentage of eligible Hispanic voters grew (to a record 25.2 million people), the percentage of Hispanics who actually voted did not. Shame on you all. Maybe you hoped that other peoples’ vote would be enough. That your vote wasn’t needed to remedy the efforts of anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic politicians. But without your vote you gave these men and others like them the ability to carry on and think that what they do is OK.

Your vote does count. In several states — Texas, Georgia and Kansas among them — more Hispanics voted Republican than before, contributing to more Republicans winning races. And we have also seen an increase in the number of Latinos represented in elected office in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico because of the Latino vote.

If this doesn’t concern you, then think about the Dreamers (the undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children) and the DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) classified residents. Your inactivity during the midterm elections gave elected officials who oppose the values in our community reason to celebrate and the ability to pass more laws that negatively affect them. You have justified their views that the undocumented should remain in the shadows.

After this election, I feel as if “Si se puede” (“Yes we can”), has lost its enthusiasm and should be restated as “Ellos se pueden” (“Yes they can”). Your lack of support demonstrates that you think there are more important things to do than be involved with those who need our help the most. Your silence is loud and clear.

Our students are struggling in school. We need to create healthier education models, address the perpetual food deserts in our lower-income communities and work to curb violence in our schools and neighborhoods. Without your help and the actions of people who care about these issues that you put into office, these issues will not be addressed the way that they should.

The Latino/Hispanic electorate has been referred to as a “sleeping giant.” This last November, the giant opened an eye, took another sleeping pill, rolled over and fell back asleep. What do we do and where do we go now? Wake up, wipe the sleep from our eyes, get busy, get involved and make a difference in 2015.

Democratic Rep. Louis Ruiz of Kansas City, Kan., has been serving in the Kansas House since 2005.