Today President Obama embarks on a second term as the nation’s 44th President, fulfilling the mandate of 71 percent of Latino voters who put their faith behind his message and helped give him a chance to continue what he started – or what he has promised. Though the 2008 message of “change” has given way to “four more years,” Obama For America (OFA) National Co-Chair Lynnette Acosta says she still is full of excitement about the vote’s significance and the chance to effect real change in the second term.
“To me this election was more than a vote for a person, we voted for what country we wanted to be,” says Acosta, who led the OFA campaign in central Florida, a region where both parties fought hard for the Latino vote. “We voted for a more inclusive country which pays attention to minorities and the disenfranchised, and that is why he won,” she adds. “Seeing people come together over immigration, women’s rights, and Latino issues makes me very hopeful about our country and who we are,” Acosta says.
Many Latino Democrats want Obama to hit the ground running when it comes to ensuring that the issues they campaigned for take a front seat during the first 100 days.
“The first thing is to make sure Latinos have a permanent seat at the table, which they have earned,” says Andrés Lopez, Co-Chair of the Futuro Fund and one of President Obama’s most influential Latino fundraisers. “Latinos need to be included in the discussions of every fundamental issue we are facing – education, health care, jobs and economic growth,” he adds.
To this end, Lopez says, Latinos must be present at the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels in the Administration. “Leadership in the Administration, as well as in elected office and corporate America, has to look more like the way America looks today and will continue to look in the next century,” Lopez says.
And at the top of the legislative agenda, says Lopez, “the Administration has to tackle immigration reform – it’s an idea whose time has come, because we need to deliver on that promise so we can move on.”
Latinos on the other side of the political aisle, such as former Commerce Secretary and Juntos Con Romney co-chair Carlos Gutierrez, agree that the Administration has to keep the issue front and center. “The White House has to make immigration reform the number one issue from the beginning; the minute they allow it to become issue number two or number three it will get ousted by something else,” says Gutierrez, who recently announced the formation of a super PAC to give money and support pro-immigration reform Republicans.
Latino Decisions political scientist Sylvia Manzano says President Obama does have more support in this term for immigration reform. “There are growing coalitions such as religious groups, unions, advocacy groups, as well as organized money, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, and agribusiness interests, and there is a lot to be said for that,” Manzano says.
No one is saying, however, that this will be smooth sailing in Congress. “We have to remember the Latino electorate is not evenly geographically divided; some legislators, especially in the House, don’t have support for immigration reform in their districts, and that makes it more complicated,” Manzano explains. Gutierrez thinks perhaps by the summer “there will be a series of small agreements on immigration reform, but it might be too early for a grand master agreement.”
On the budget side, there is a push and pull between the need to enact meaningful deficit reform while continuing to support programs such as job training, education funding and implementing the Affordable Care Act, which the Administration promised would help insure millions of Latino families. Departing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis recently said enough money had been taken from “vulnerable and middle class families” and she pressed for continued funding for education and safety net expenditures, including healthcare. Republicans are putting pressure for entitlement reform and spending cuts. “Nobody wants the U.S. to default; the challenge is to make the President react and cut spending,” Gutierrez says.
So the question is, will President Obama garner the support he needs in this “lame duck” term to get things done, especially immigration reform? Manzano says there is one thing working to his advantage. “The infrastructure Obama has created is the envy of other politicians,” she says.
The administration knows it. A few days ago they announced that the infrastructure and organization of the formidable Obama For America campaign is going to be harnessed toward a new national non-profit, Organizing For Action. OFA’s Lynnette Acosta says for Latinos who supported Obama, this will be an important tool to help press the agenda they supported.
“On the campaign trail, many families were worried about the economy and immigration,” says Acosta. “Organizing for Action is a way to mobilize Latinos and keep them involved at the grassroots level, so we don’t let the momentum of the election die,” Acosta explains.
Latino critics as well as supporters of the Administration agree on one thing – Obama needs to press for changes from the get-go.
“The big challenge for him is that the more time goes by, the more he becomes a lame duck president; right now is when he has the power, and he has to use it,” says Gutierrez.
“Latinos just celebrated their historic achievement in the election this weekend,” says Futuro Fund’s Andres Lopez. “We need to work just as hard over the next four years to make sure we make real gains.”