Mexican American Legislative Caucus Discusses Importance of the Census

Written by  Gary Scharrer

Census 2020

Leaders of the Texas Mexican American Legislative Caucus made a pitch for the U.S. Census and port infrastructure Wednesday while also reminding AGC members of the state’s continuing population transformation.

Formed in 1973 to recognize the state’s growing Latino population, MALC is the oldest and largest Hispanic legislative caucus in the United States. MALC leaders visited with AGC of Texas members (via Zoom) during the September board meeting.

MALC’s core issues heading into the fall election and the U.S. Census are “making sure that every Texan is counted in the census and making sure that the we have access to the ballot box and every representation at all levels of government,” Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, told AGC members. The veteran legislator is chairman of MALC. “We have done that through advocacy on the House floor and also litigation when necessary. We have been rather successful at doing so as our numbers continue to grow.”

The 41-member caucus could see its membership swell to as many as 48 (in the 150-member House of Representatives) depending on November’s election results, Anchia said. The bipartisan group does not take sides in legislative races other than fighting to make sure Latino Texans can actively participate in the electoral process.

The growing influence of Hispanic Texans is reinforced by the demographics. Some 300,000 young Texas Latinos turn 18 every year, Anchia noted.

“If you think about that, it is a staggering figure, and about a third of all eligible Texas voters are Hispanic.”

To illustrate that growth, Anchia pointed out that roughly 725,000 Latinos voted in the 2014 Texas gubernatorial election; that number jumped to 1.7 million Hispanics just four years later. The Hispanic voter participation increased 137 percent compared to 63 percent for non-Hispanic voters. The demographic changes are largely driven by fertility rates and a large and expanding younger generation of Hispanics compared to non-Hispanics; immigration; and death rates. Nearly 413,000 more Texas whites have died in the past five years than Texas Hispanics.

MALC’s “signature effort” has been helping count Texans. Anchia appealed to AGC members to help ensure their employees and families participate in the Census. Texas faces the potential of a severe undercount, which would result in fewer federal dollars for transportation, education, health care and many other services.

“For every 1 percent of undercount, it [costs us] about $300 million per year for a decade”

“For every 1 percent of undercount, it [costs us] about $300 million per year for a decade,” Anchia said. “Our undercount in Texas is looking to exceed that 1 percent by a pretty significant magnitude. So you can play a really important role in getting your entire employee base [to participate in the Census]. It’s as important as voting.”

MALC leaders Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, also participated in the AGC of Texas meeting.

A parade through targeted Houston neighborhoods will increase awareness about the importance of Census participation, said Hernandez, legal counsel for MALC.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shredded the state’s budget, turning a projected surplus into huge deficits, and setting up lawmakers for a grueling budget session next year.

Public education and health care will remain high priorities for the next budget, said Rodriguez, policy director for MALC. Budget cuts are inevitable during tight times, and he believes the $800 million for border security could be cut.

Martinez favors a tax on electric vehicles, something he pushed during the 2019 legislative session.

Casino gaming and legalization of marijuana could get attention as potential revenue sources, Anchia said. Texas is said to lose billions of dollars to casinos in neighboring states and Las Vegas. Lawmakers will have to use “rainy day” savings money and budget cuts next session while maintaining education funding and looking for revenue opportunities. Legalizing marijuana and casino gaming “are going to be fair game,” Anchia said. “Whether or not they can get through the entire process is a different matter.”

MALC members agreed that port infrastructure is important to keep the state’s coastal ports competitive, which means being able to accommodate larger tankers and to have modern roads and bridges to transport goods to and from those ports.

The covid pandemic is forcing companies to rethink their operations, especially those with roots in Asia, said Anchia, who is an expert in global trade. He is co-founder of Civitas Capital Group, a global investment firm. He also served on President Obama’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations.

“People are rethinking their logistics operations in Asia and wanting to move them back to a place where you have predictability, respect for rule of the law, contractual certainty and logistics efficiency,” Anchia told AGC members.

Infrastructure at the state’s land ports also needs help, Martinez said, specifically mentioning the border crossings in Pharr and Laredo, where wait times add millions of dollars to the cost of goods and produce.

MALC launched a program two years ago called “MALC means business” to help elevate the importance of small mid-size businesses.

Moderator Steven Albright, AGC’s legislative director, greeted the MALC leaders as “great friends of ours and great friends of transportation.”

Albright thanked the group for supporting the industry’s status as “essential,” which allowed crews to keep working on roads and bridges during the pandemic. The highway contracting community is considered critical.

Anchia emphasized that MALC works on behalf of immigrant workers who also play an essential role in the nation’s economy. That means protecting essential workers, including immigrant workers in the highway construction industry, when they come under attack, he said.

“Every time that there is an attack on those workers who are so essential to our economy and who really are the untold story in the Texas miracle, we are going to come to the defense of the important piece of the business pipeline,” he said. “So we are going to engage with you in the future. When people seek to achieve political gain by attacking these essential workers, we hope that we will have an opportunity to lock arms with you.”

Albright assured the MALC leaders: “You can absolutely count on AGC for that commitment.”

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