In summary

Gov. Newsom should appoint a Latino or Latina to the U.S. Senate seat to fulfill the promise of “California for All.”

By Helen Torres, Special to CalMatters

Helen Torres is the CEO of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, htorres@latinas.org.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom is fulfilling his commitment to ensure Latino leaders are heard. He regularly meets with a diverse cadre of Latino leaders, he has appointed a record number of three Latinas to his cabinet and has made Latino inclusion central to his “California for All” platform.

While these efforts are important and necessary, a striking parallel track is starting to develop. With the growing economic and health toll being levied on Black and Brown communities as a consequence of an uncontained COVID-19 pandemic, the governor is losing Latino support. 

The most recent statewide California Community Poll conducted by Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), Center for Asian Americans United for Self-Empowerment (CAUSE) and the Los Angeles Urban League, shows a marked dip in the governor’s favorability. 

Statewide, less than 50% of Californians polled support him. When you break down the governor’s favorability by racial/ethnic group, a clearer picture starts to emerge. The governor has a 50% favorability among whites and 57% among African Americans. Yet, Newsom has the lowest favorability among Latinos at 37%, and 44% among Asian Pacific Islanders. 

Latinos and Asian Pacific Islanders are the state and nation’s fastest growing demographic groups, their relative youth means they have an outsized role as the economic drivers of recovery and electoral game changers. It is hard to disaggregate these numbers from the intersecting crises that have left alarming numbers of Californians of color jobless, housing insecure and sick.

The same poll found that Latinos were at the highest margins to report that their personal financial situation has gotten worse because of COVID-19, but the lowest to report the worst is yet to come.  Why? Because the worst is already here in the Latino community.  

With job loss for Latinas during the first three months of the pandemic at more than 30%, a disparate COVID-19 infection rate of 20 points for Latinos, and more than half of Latino college students are considering withdrawal from full-time education, Latinos are facing the brunt of an unequal California. It will be tough for California to recover if relief does not come soon to frontline communities, who are the state’s economic engines.

The slow government response both at the national and state level to provide economic relief failed to reach Latino communities, and in some cases purposefully excluded them. The stimulus package that actually provided relief to small and microbusinesses was a bust, and the unemployment insurance claims left too many Californians out and never materialized. 

A couple of the governor’s early efforts, including the disaster relief assistance for immigrants project fund was important but not enough, as was the slow response ensuring all frontline workers, including farmworkers received personal protective equipment. Latinos represent an overwhelming share of these workers; especially Latinas. All this starts to reinforce the narrative that Latinos are invisible and disposable.

Efforts to meet the needs of our communities need to be bigger, bolder and consistent. 

Government must start working for all, and there are few steps the governor can take right now to ensure Latinos do not continue to suffer at the largest rates. Newsom, as the leader of the world’s fifth largest economy, needs to continue and increase the financial lifelines to support small and micro-businesses in low-income communities; strengthen the health care safety net by directing additional funds to community clinics; create a strategy that will help women re-entering the workforce; and he must invest in the connectivity in low-income communities to technology. 

He also has a critical appointment to make, he must appoint a Latino or Latina to the U.S. Senate seat representing California. It is not only about making history, which he will be doing, it is about fulfilling the promise of “California for All,” by selecting a Latino or Latina senator that has the experience and specific insight on how to advocate for all Californians, and understands firsthand the impact COVID-19 has had on Latinos. As we all know – representation matters.  These steps forward will enhance the governor’s favorability among Latinos and most importantly, provide a path forward for California.

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Helen has also written about Latinas being more vulnerable to economic insecurity because of COVID-19.

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