Roundtable: Latino Voters; Foley Farai Chideya's guests are Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStarNetwork.com; economist and author Julianne Malveaux; and Brown economics and social sciences professor Glenn Loury. Thursday's topics include Latino voter registration and President Bush's comment on the Mark Foley scandal.

Roundtable: Latino Voters; Foley

Roundtable: Latino Voters; Foley

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Farai Chideya's guests are Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStarNetwork.com; economist and author Julianne Malveaux; and Brown economics and social sciences professor Glenn Loury. Thursday's topics include Latino voter registration and President Bush's comment on the Mark Foley scandal.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

So we're talking about immigrant's rights, Muslim cabdrivers who won't pick up passengers who they think have been drinking and more. Joining us today from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., is economist Julianne Malveaux, the president and CEO of Last Word Productions. From our New York bureau, Walter Field, CEO and publisher of the NorthStarNetwork.com; and Glenn Loury, professor of the social sciences and professor of economics at Brown University is at member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island.

Welcome everybody, and Glenn, let me start with you.

Latinos are a huge population in the United States, but not everyone is a citizen, and not all citizens vote. Not all citizens of any race vote. How much are Latinos, do you think, going to be able to impact the elections of 2006?

Professor GLENN LOURY (Professor of Economics and Social Sciences, Brown University): Well, I don't know. I'm not an expert on the politics side, but there can be no doubt that the presence of Latinos in American society is going to be exerting a profound impact on us for many generations to come across a broad front. I think the immigration issue a potential time bomb for the Republicans in that, while the president has shown some leadership in proposing, you know, some efforts to regularize the situation of people in the country, others in the Republican Party have seen it in their interest to demagogue this issue a little bit because there's a lot of resentment of immigration abroad in the country. And that could really redound to the detriment of the Republicans in the long run if they alienate the Latino voter.

Finally, I would say that I think African-Americans have a particular interest in how Latinos assimilate themselves into the American political structure. It matters a lot as to whether or not Latinos are sympathetic to African-American claims. I think opportunity may be being missed for black politics in not taking the Martin Luther King legacy and applying it in a progressive way to the situation of, especially, undocumented workers in the country, because that might garnish sympathy from Latinos, which would be politically beneficial to blacks in the long run.

CHIDEYA: Julianne, I remember reading a book called Black and Multi-racial Politics that examines cities where, basically, black and brown people, if you want to put it that way, were a majority in the city when put together but never really acted jointly for political goals. Do you feel like blacks and Latinos are going to begin to interact more profoundly, more deeply and more aggressively, or is it just going to be oil and water?

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (Economist and Author): Well, I think that it's a mutual interest, as Glenn has said, for people to act in concert. I think that, however, white folks have had a lot of fun playing these two groups off against each other. I remember in 2000 when the census numbers were coming, and I was watching This Week. George Will sat on that panel and virtually salivated and said: African-Americans are no longer going to be the largest majority, and if we can get Latinos to vote with us - I mean, he just went there. And you've seen a fair amount of that. You've also seen African-American gains have been tenuous, Farai, that all too often when you see a Latino aspiring politician -we saw it with Villaraigosa in L.A., we've seen it in New York - the tension is palpably there.

But when we look at a series of economic issues, especially when we look at wage issues, what you often will see is that there are points of synergy. When you look at a leader like a Dennis Rivera in New York, who leads low-wage workers, and you talk about the cross-over there, those are the things that we have to bear in mind.

Here's the difference, though. Latinos have tended almost to split their vote with Republicans, while African-Americans have not. And I remember former Congressman Bill Clay saying, you don't have permanent friends or permanent enemies but instead, permanent interests. When are our interests are the interests of economic justice - social and economic justice - there will be times when we can and must align with our Latino brothers and sisters.

But there may be also times we do not. Latino population is not unified on the immigration issue, either. Talk to some second and third generation Latinos about what they think about immigration, and they too, for interesting reasons, have some ambivalence.

CHIDEYA: Walter you know, on that point, I remember going to a rally that we covered here on NEWS & NOTES and there were a few black and Latino supporters of the Minutemen, who were an anti, or not an anti, but a border enforcement militia I guess you'd call it. So certainly not all Latinos are the same and not all African-Americans are the same.

Mr. FIELDS: It may be foolish expect that.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Absolutely. But in the long run what do you think politicians are going to start doing to really recruit Latinos? And will that act to the detriment of African-American interests or will it be one big happy political family?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, we have practical experience here in New York City. We're on vote away from having a majority black and Latino New York City Council. The last mayoral election, the majority of voters in New York City were black and Latino.

We have experience with non-citizen voting. For almost 30 years in New York City, non-citizens could vote in local school board elections. There is now a bill before the New York City Council that will bring that back but for municipal elections.

So I think when we start talking about engaging Latino voters I think we have to talk about the broader issue of civic engagement, because there are a number of ways that you can be civically engaged beyond voting. In New York City, I'm hoping to see a day when we bring back non-citizen voting, particularly in local municipal elections. Because if you get people engaged at a local level, it becomes more likely that they will vote for their state legislature, for members of Congress and in a presidential election.

In many ways I think we're putting the cart before the horse when we start talking about the 2006 midterm elections and the 2008 presidential elections in terms of the impact of Latino vote. This will happen over time and it will happen in stages. But there is some real practical experience here in New York City that I think can lead the way.

CHIDEYA: That's a fascinating situation. But let's transition to national politics. President George Bush held a press conference yesterday and he talked about staying the course in Iraq, the economy and the Foley scandal. Let's listen to his exchange with a reporter on that issue.

Unidentified Man (Reporter): Mr. President, with growing numbers of House members and staffers saying that they knew of and told others about a problem with Mark Foley some years ago, has House Speaker Hastert lost touch within his own ranks? And has the scandal damaged Hastert's credibility and effectiveness in maintaining party control in the midterm elections?

President GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I think the Speaker's strong statements have made it clear to not only, you know, the party members but to the country that he wants to find out the facts. All of us want to find out the facts. I mean this is a, you know, it's disgusting behavior.

CHIDEYA: And the president is going to meet with Hastert, the head of the House, today. But this is a scandal that seems to have legs. Julianne, do you think that the president waited too long to make a public statement?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely. And he's been making these equivocating statements along the way. Hastert's a good coach, what does that have to do with anything? What was he coaching?

You know, so he's made these statements along the way until he got to the press conference and finally used the term disgusting. He's also - I think that the Republicans are playing a game here. They don't want to admit too much fault.

Certainly pedophilia is not a partisan type of behavior, but certainly Mr. Foley not only - you know, it's clear that there was a cover-up. The only Democrat on the Page Board did not know about this while all the Republicans did. So there clearly was a partisan cover-up, and there are going to be partisan consequences for the partisan cover-up. The president really waited too long, but then so did many others in the House of Representatives.

CHIDEYA: And, Walter, do you think that this issue, Foley, is really going to overshadow any other initiatives by the administration at this point? I mean it seems, you know, for someone like me, who's been observing or reporting on Washington for a long time, you look at what happened with Clinton and Lewinsky, and that just trumped everything. It seems like sex, maybe we shouldn't be surprised, trumps all sorts of other issues of national importance.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, I don't think it's the Foley incident per se. You have to go back to when the Republicans were the minority in the House. Newt Gingrich really built his attack upon the Democrats upon the issue of values and trust. And that's how the Republicans became the majority and swept the Democrats in '94. So this is coming back to bite them now, because now they have a situation where their entire mantra is being tested and the public does not believe them anymore.

What we've had is a series of events in Washington, D.C., whether it was Bill Clinton, whether it was the Clarence Thomas episode, whether it was the current episode, where the American public has now really set a pox on both houses. Because they don't believe politicians anymore when you hear one of these scandals, because there've been too many.

So it's not just Foley. There is a general disbelief among the electorate that these elected officials can't be trusted. And the Republican Party is in the crosshairs now because they earned the leadership, and you can't escape that. When you say you're the leader and you make your claim upon issues of value and trust, and then you see your leader sort of in this plausible deniability phase, people don't believe it.

CHIDEYA: Glenn, Walter says a pox on both houses. And there are a lot of people who just tune out and say I don't trust either party. What's the cure for that? I mean, you know I guess I shouldn't ask you. Because I mean it's like there's probably not just one cure. But, you know, give us your opinion on that.

Prof. LOURY: Well, I mean what I want to say about this Foley scandal is, I mean of course the president is going to back the speaker of the House. I mean he's trying to stop the bleeding, the hemorrhaging. But it's going to be a tough thing to stop. I mean this is a devastating blow to them.

And see, it resonates with, like, the Terry Schiavo thing. No one can mention Terry Schiavo now without a sense of, you know, the administration and the party really blew it. The stem cell issue is hurting Republican candidates out there on the stop. And every now and then Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson says something crazy. And it's the hypocrisy. I mean this was supposed to be a moral movement, okay? And what we find is a pedophile right there at the center of it.

Whether it's a cover-up or not, this is a devastating blow to the sort of political reputation of this movement which George W. Bush is at the head of.

CHIDEYA: Julianne, though, I mean again to go back to the topic of sex, which is always an evergreen. We have had Democrats and Republicans, throughout history - I mean look at Thomas Jefferson, who had his enslaved mistress who he had children with - sex is not - I mean there's definitely at least a couple of issues here, sex and trust. But I still wonder if sex isn't the sort of inciting factor, the chum in the water that brings the sharks to even cover an issue like this when you can't get folks to cover issues like Medicare or Medicaid because they're too boring.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, Farai, certainly there are - we all have an encyclopedia of issues that we feel ought to be covered that aren't being covered by the press for any number of reasons. And people's hackles do go up. And with the 24-hour cable churn, something like this is the fodder of the MSNBCs and FOXs and CNNs of the world.

But here's the thing. Let's not get away from the fact that you have a custodial program where you're sending young people and basically you have a member of Congress who has systematically violated the tenets of this custodial program. Anyone who has adolescent children who have thought about being a page or an intern, you know, their hackles go up with something like this.

So although the sex sells issue is important, let's not also minimize the importance of what has happened here in terms of things like trust from people who have lectured, Democrats who've lectured Bill Clinton. I mean that's why Newt Gingrich isn't in the House anymore. He's going to talk about Clinton, but he's, you know, basically left a breast cancer wife on her deathbed? So, you know, double standards and triple standards.

And when people who preach morality behave immorally, obviously you say it's shark - you know, blood's in the water and the sharks are out. But it's still an important issue.

CHIDEYA: I guess, very briefly, Glenn, do you think - there's some people who've even talked about shutting down the page program. Should there be more oversight of programs like this with miners?

Prof. LOURY: Well, of course. This should have never been allowed to happen. I mean Julianne Malveaux is exactly right about the special nature of this and the trust that's been entrusted. And whoever knew what? And I mean I guess we're going to find out.

It was pretty obvious that Mark Foley was a pretty sleazy guy. That was kind of apparently not uncommon knowledge. And I mean the late night comedians are now, you know, they've got a moat imagined around the residence of the pages to keep the congressmen out. But then the congressmen are pole vaulting over the moat to get into the kids. I mean this is what it's come to.

CHIDEYA: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Glenn Loury from Brown University, economist Julianne Malveaux and Walter Fields of the NorthStarNetwork.com. Thank you all.

Prof. LOURY: Thank you.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Thanks, Farai.

Mr. FIELDS: Okay.

CHIDEYA: Next on NEWS & NOTES, NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams and his guests break down the latest news from Capitol Hill in Political Corner. And decades later, punk rockers' Bad Brains are still blowing minds away with a classic performance.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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