Nearly two decades after its controversial passage, Gov. Pete Wilson's Proposition 187 continues to haunt the Republican Party in California and across the U.S.
A new report from Latino Decisions, a firm that analyzes demographics and voting trends, argues California could have remained a presidential battleground state -- with Democrats and Republicans vying for more congressional and legislative seats here -- were it not for Proposition 187 and later measures that mobilized Latino voters.
Proposition 187, most of which has been invalidated, would have denied various public services to undocumented immigrants. Latino partisanship has grown to more than 70 percent Democratic since the group first comprised more than 10 percent of the state electorate in 1996.
The massive shifts could have broad impacts on the nation, with Latinos nationally poised to swing 24 GOP-held congressional seats in 2014 and 2016 in states such as Nevada, Florida, Colorado and North Carolina, said Gary M. Segura, a politics professor at Stanford University who worked on the study.
Within the 24 districts, the firm identified 14 that are the most likely to flip into the Democratic column because of the sizable Latino electorate and close election results.
The dynamics are even more acute in the state Legislature, where Democrats already control near-supermajorities in both houses, Segura said. Five seats -- Assembly districts 40, 42, 44 and 60 and Senate District 4 -- remain competitive due mostly to the Latino vote, Segura said.
In response to the report, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said despite the registration advantages, turnout among Latinos remains comparatively low. "We are trying to as a Democratic Party and Senate leadership see what strategies we could use to increase the Latino turnout," he said.
Republicans in California and several other states recently mounted a multimillion-dollar effort to improve the party's standing among Latinos. Another partner on the study suggested that the GOP tone down some of the rhetoric from within the party and take an active role in national immigration reform to begin making inroads with Latinos.
"The very least the GOP can do is to say 'We want to start fresh,'" said Stephen Nuño, a professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.
Demonstrators hold up signs to protest immigration policies, including Proposition 187, outside City Hall where then-Gov. Pete Wilson was speaking on overhauling the juvenile justice system Jan. 16 1996 in Huntington Park, Calif. The Associated Press/Nick Utt