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ELECTION '92 : Latino Voters' Clout Growing Nationwide


The growing Latino electoral muscle will be flexed as never before on Nov. 3 at many levels of national and local politics, particularly in the congressional races, according to Latino political experts.

Nationally, 4.5 million Latinos, up 22% from the Latino turnout of 3.7 million in the 1988 general elections, are expected to cast ballots next month, according to a study by the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). And, according to Richard Martinez, director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the Latino vote will have an impact on congressional races across the country.

"It's conceivable that the number of Latinos in congressional seats will nearly double--from the current 11 to 18--because of the Latino voter influence," Martinez said. For the sake of comparison, a bloc of 18 Latino congressional members would be larger than the House delegation of Michigan, which has 16 representatives in the 435-seat House of Representatives.

The number of Latino voters nationally represents 4.5% of the expected voter turnout. This compares to 3.6% in 1988, according to the U. S. Census Bureau and a study by NALEO.

"The Latino vote," said Harry Pachon, NALEO's national director, "is now moving from potential to reality."

Both Martinez and Pachon said that, if Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton's lead in the polls over President Bush holds on Election Day, the Latino vote would be too small to swing the election. They recognize, however, that if the gap narrows to a few percentage points from the current projections, the Latino vote could be critical.

In California, the major impact of Latino voters will be felt in the congressional and state Assembly races, said Martinez, whose organization has set a goal of having 1.5 million Latinos on the rolls as registered voters for this election. Martinez said the goal would represent an increase of about 300,000 from the number of Latinos registered for the 1988 general election.

Based on traditional voting patterns, he estimated a turnout of at least 850,000 Latino voters in California--although he hopes for as many as 1 million.

California Latinos could win five congressional seats, though one of those races is a close, uphill battle, Martinez said, referring to the 23rd District race in Ventura County between Democrat Anita Perez Ferguson and Republican incumbent Elton Gallegly.

Two Democrats, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, candidates for the U.S. Senate, are likely to be helped by the state's strongly Democratic Latino vote. Martinez estimates that 72% of the state's Latino voters have registered as Democrats.

In the Legislature, seven Latinos--one incumbent and six newcomers--are expected to win election to the 80-seat Assembly and three Latino state senators will continue to serve their terms. (See story, Page 1.)

In addition to the offices at stake in the election, there are a variety of state ballot issues, including:

* Proposition 161, physician-assisted death in terminal cases. This measure would establish the right of mentally competent adults to request physician assistance in dying when their condition has been diagnosed as terminal. Such deaths would not be considered suicide and could not affect the insurance of the deceased.

* Proposition 164, congressional term limits. This proposition would exclude from the ballot for the House of Representatives anyone who has represented a congressional district in California during six or more of the previous 11 years. It also would exclude from the ballot any candidate for U. S. Senate who served as a senator from California during 12 or more of the previous 17 years.

* Proposition 165, budget process, welfare and procedural and substantive changes. The governor would be empowered to reduce certain expenditures to balance the budget during fiscal emergencies. The measure also would allow for the reduction of certain benefits in specified welfare programs.

* Proposition 166, basic health care coverage. Employers would be required to provide health care coverage for most employees and dependents, to the extent permitted by federal law.

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