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Is Trump Texas’ Proposition 187?

October 29, 2016 GMT

I’ve been thinking about what comes after Donald Trump, win or lose. Specifically, what happens in Texas.

My thoughts converge on 1994 California, the beginning of the end of the Republican Party’s clout in that state. Before there was immigrant-bashing Trump, there was California’s Gov. Pete Wilson.

Back then, Wilson’s chances to win re-election were viewed as dim. But he hitched his wagon to Proposition 187, which would have made undocumented immigrants ineligible for public benefits, including education and health care.

Proposition 187 won; Wilson, a former U.S. senator, was re-elected governor and even tried to ride the measure to the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. And California — once a presidential battleground state and home base of party icon Ronald Reagan — is now the political hue of a field of Texas bluebonnets

A GOP presidential nominee hasn’t won in California since 1988. In September, Democrats were 45.6 percent of the state’s registered voters and Republicans 26.8 percent. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the last Republican to win statewide office — in 2006 — but was not viewed as one of the party’s fire-breathers. And Democrats have won virtually every other statewide office since 1994.

Proposition 187 was instantly challenged and the law was never implemented, but the damage was done, helped along by subsequent ballot measures banning affirmative action and restricting bilingual education.

The message to the state’s growing Latino population was crystal clear: We’ve found our scapegoat, and her name is Gonzalez.

Though he lacked Trump’s invective, Wilson’s scaremongering had an effect on other groups — such as college-educated whites (and women) with an aversion to scapegoating.

The William C. Velasquez Institute says that in 2012 — the last presidential election year — the Latino citizen voting age population, or CVAP, in California was 6.5 million, 56.6 percent of whom were registered to vote. Latinos were about 27 percent of the state’s CVAP.

However, CVAP and registration aren’t the same as turnout. Latinos, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, are only 18 percent of the state’s likely voters, though they are 38.8 percent of the state’s population. But the estimate occurs amid reports of heightened interest in this election by Latinos — thank you, Trump.

Texas has been on a similar trajectory — a sizable and surging Latino population (identical to California’s nearly 39 percent), which traditionally disappoints when it comes to turnout. Texas Latinos still lag in those indicators that determine likely voting — income and education. This is important because disengagement from civic life is often a corollary.

So, it’s fair to wonder why Texas policies seem designed to cement this status.

I’m referring here to inadequate funding as the student population of the state’s public schools becomes majority Latino; an ardor for school vouchers that will further cripple schools; keeping the minimum wage rock-bottom low; crafting the state into a low-tax and low-wage magnet for firms (and bragging about it in job-stealing jaunts to other states); and being totally fine with being a national leader in the number of uninsured residents and on other distressing indicators such as poverty (38th among the states), and teen birth rates (tied with New Mexico at fourth highest).

Income inequality and segregation, thy name is Texas. Bright red Texas. And it has lately been called a toss-up state in the presidential sweepstakes.

If Trump wins Texas by anything other than double digits, this will be telling. If Clinton wins the state, this will be a tectonic shift on the order of Brownsville shoved next door to Amarillo. And the temptation will be to dismiss this as a one-off — because of Trump.

Arguing against that is Proposition 187. Long term, it was a change agent — a defining political moment for California Latinos and Democrats. The question is whether Trump can be that in Texas and elsewhere — and not in any way he intended.

Dear Texas Republican incumbents: With your enthusiasm for border “surges,” denying undocumented students in-state college tuition, voter ID, gerrymandering and sanctuary city legislation, you have planted Proposition 187-like seeds. And your values-starved backing of racist and sexist Trump could be the Miracle-Gro to aid full blooms. Heck, in policy, you’ve been Trumpistas before Trump seized the presidential stage.

Texas Latinos who pay attention can’t help but get the message. And these stances, along with a declaration of war on abortion providers, mean so will many millennials and college-educated men and women.

Such a bizarre strategy. Stopping the Californianization of Texas has long been a rallying cry of Texas GOP candidates, including its present governor. But the embrace of everything that molded present-day political realities in the Golden State continues unabated in the Lone Star State.

The only mystery is why it hasn’t happened already — likely a result of disengaged Latinos, disheartened Democrats, failure to form coalitions, and a spirited delaying action by Republicans. Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be deeply divisive.

Texas Republicans, for instance, could spend more time trying to sell their wares to Latinos rather than — with voter ID, gerrymandering and strict restrictions on third-party voter registration — trying to stop Latinos from voting altogether or getting the representation they wish.

Texas’ GOP leaders can, in other words, moderate.

Oh, wait. Whether transgender Texans can go to their preferred potties will be an issue in the next Legislature. And raising the ante on border security funding will be as well.

Really?

California has an independent redistricting commission. In Texas, the foxes in the Legislature are still in charge of that henhouse and will be in the driver’s seat in both state chambers after Nov. 8. So, I have no delusions about overnight seismic change, but neither do I have any about where the trends take us. The question is whether Trump will be an accelerant.

Next week, there may be even more distancing from and disowning of Trump. But Texas’s power elite set the stage for him. Then many directly supported him or refused to repudiate him. They own him — his backers and his message.

In film lore, Citizen Kane’s dying breath was spent uttering “Rosebud.” The Texas elite’s last just might be “Trump.”

o.ricardo.pimentel@express-news.net

Twitter: @oricardopimente