Austin won’t stand up to gun violence, so vote for officials who care about your babies

May 29, 2022

The Dallas Morning News

By Jason Villalba

My son George is 8 years old, attends public school, is about to be in the third grade, and he is Hispanic, like most of the little ones who lost their lives last week in Uvalde. His teeth are a little too big for his mouth and his hair is almost always disheveled. But he never fails to warmly hug his mama when she sees him and he is always there to be a friend to his fellow students at his Dallas ISD elementary school.

Like everyone else in Texas, I watched the developments in Uvalde in absolute and abject horror. How could this happen? Who would be so evil as to attack little children? What can be done so that this doesn’t happen again?

But, against all logic and reason, we know that in Texas and the United States of America, this will happen again. Soon and frequently. Why?

Is it because Texans have been acculturated to accept the slaughter of innocent children? As a parent of three children in public school, I am certain that the answer to that question is a resounding, “No!”

Is it because the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms? As a licensed carrier of firearms in my home and car and on my person, the answer to that line of questioning is also “No.”

The reason we are here, yet again, experiencing the collective tragedy of Uvalde, is because of the fecklessness and political cowardice of our elected officials.

How do I know this? Because I used to be an elected official. I represented a wealthy and privileged district of Dallas as a member of the Texas Legislature.

Many members of the Texas House and Senate and various other statewide officials have a vested interest in supporting unfettered and unrestricted access to the most lethal firearms available on the non-military market. There is literally no restriction that they will support unless the National Rifle Association and the Texas State Rifle Association allow them to support it.

This is not hyperbole. During my career in politics, there was zero tolerance for any deviation from the position of the NRA or the TSRA.

I once opposed TSRA legislation that would allow anyone over the age of 18 in Texas to purchase and carry, publicly and openly, any firearm they chose, without any regulation, background check, license or training.

They called the legislation “Constitutional Carry.” Based on discussion with my wife, neighbors and various community leaders, I called this legislation “Terrorist Carry.”

I opposed this foolhardy legislation because I knew it would result in violence and harm to my community. For this opposition, I was attacked.

The ads that the various Texas gun lobby associations published against me had photographs of young women being violated while an evil-looking black-and-white photo of me lurked in the background “allowing” it all to happen. The caption read, “Villalba doesn’t want you to protect your family from thugs and criminals.”

In reality, what I wanted was for my wife and children to be able to go to the local park without the fear that a mentally unstable person, with access to high-powered weaponry, would act out the evil vignettes he had been reading about in his various online communities.

During my time in the Texas Legislature, I advocated for commonsense gun control, for mental health access for students who exhibited proclivities to violence, and for the creation of a school marshal program that provides for armed, licensed Texas peace officers to protect all of our schools.

Unfortunately, the only legislation that passed was the bill that approved armed officers in Texas schools.

As someone who has been in a position to actually address this continuing problem, I can attest that the solution to the problem that we face today is “all of the above.”

We must harden the “soft” targets (grocery stores, libraries, schools, etc.), we must quickly provide access to mental health care for those individuals in our community who exhibit inclinations to violence, and we must limit access to high-powered and lethal firearms, body armor and ammunition to only those individuals who have undertaken a thorough and lengthy inspection process.

My son has no idea what happened in Uvalde this week. But he knows that the grown-ups always make sure that he has pizza Friday at his school and that he and his pops can watch a Mavs game together.

I know how many families out there have little ones like George. I am pleading with you today, please do what you can (i.e., vote) to ensure that our little third and fourth graders can continue to climb on the shoulders of their parents, smile that slobbery smile, and laugh.

If you don’t vote for those officials who have the courage to take the necessary actions to protect our children, there is no guarantee that you will ever hear that laugh again.

Just ask the parents in Uvalde.

Jason Villalba is the CEO of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, and a former member of the Texas House. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.

Latinx? Not in Texas. We are Hispanics and Latinos.

April 28, 2022

The Dallas Morning News

By Jason Villalba and Mark P. Jones

A survey of Texas Hispanics and Latinos shows that few embrace the new term.

It has become common for academics, bureaucrats, journalists and other elites to refer to people with Latin American roots as “Latinx.” It’s a gender-neutral anglicized version of the Spanish word Latino, which in Spanish (a gendered language) is used to refer to men and as the generic default when gender is unspecified.

While the term Latinx is increasingly popular among these elites, it remains unpopular among the vast majority of the people it is being used to refer to in Texas, who overwhelmingly favor the terms Hispanic and Latino. Numbering 12 million, more than the entire population of all but six states, Latin American- and Iberian-origin Texans constitute 40% of the Lone Star State’s population and, before the end of the decade, will represent the state’s plurality ethnic or racial group.

In March, the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation surveyed a representative sample of 687 Texans of Latin American and Iberian origin, in English and Spanish, on their opinions of the term Latinx. The survey asked about Latinx alone and in comparison to the two other most common terms used to refer to people of Latin American and Iberian heritage: Latino and Hispanic.

When asked to choose among the three terms, these Texans overwhelmingly prefer Hispanic (72%), followed by a quarter (25%) who prefer Latino and a mere 3% who prefer Latinx.

Across 28 different subgroups within nine sociodemographic categories (age, education, gender, immigration generation, language use, lineage, partisanship, region, religion), significantly more of the respondents of Latin American and Iberian heritage prefer the term Hispanic to Latino, and prefer Latino to Latinx.

There’s one exception. Respondents who speak Spanish primarily or exclusively at home are equally likely to prefer the terms Hispanic (49%) and Latino (47%). In no instance across these 28 sub-groups did more than 5% of any subgroup prefer the term Latinx.

These Texans also were asked whether they approved, disapproved or neither approved nor disapproved of the use of each of these three terms to refer to people of Hispanic, Latino or Latinx heritage. While, as noted above, significantly more of these respondents favor the term Hispanic (72%) over Latino (25%) when forced to choose, an overwhelming majority approve of using both the term Hispanic (87%) and Latino (81%). Virtually none disapproves of the use of these two terms (4% and 5% respectively). The remaining 9% and 14% neither approve nor disapprove of the use of the terms Hispanic and Latino.

In sharp contrast, only one-third (33%) of these Latin American- and Iberian-origin respondents approve of the term Latinx to refer to people of Hispanic, Latino or Latinx heritage, while two-fifths (39%) disapprove, with the remaining quarter (28%) neither approving nor disapproving.

The levels of approval are low, and levels of disapproval are high, even among groups that might be expected to be more positively disposed to the use of the term Latinx. For example, among women, 35% approve and 36% disapprove of the use of the term Latinx. Among members of Generation Z (born after 1996) 40% approve and 41% disapprove. Among Democrats, 39% approve and 34% disapprove, and among those with a college or postgraduate degree 26% approve and 55% disapprove.

The terms Hispanic and Latino are favored among virtually all Texans of Latin American or Iberian origin. And, while the term Latinx may be popular among many of the elites who dominate the state’s educational and media institutions, it without question is not popular among Hispanic and Latino Texans, and is not the term that they prefer be used to refer to them and to members of their community.

Villalba is chief executive of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and a former Republican representative to the Texas House. Mark P. Jones is the chief information and analytics officer for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

The imminent end of the Bush political dynasty

April 6, 2022

The Hill

By Mark P. Jones

The Bush name was once synonymous with Texas Republican politics. From George H.W. Bush’s eight years as vice president (1981-89) and four years as president (1989-93) to George W. Bush’s six years as governor of Texas (1994-2000) and eight years as president (2001-2009), no family comes close to matching the Bush family’s gravitas and influence within Texas Republican politics during this period.

In fact, many date the Texas GOP’s final ascent to majority status to George W. Bush’s defeat of Ann Richards in the 1994 gubernatorial election, landslide re-election in 1998 and successful presidential bid in 2000. The last time a Democrat won a statewide election in Texas was in 1994, and since the 2002 election Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Texas Legislature, all due in large part to the groundwork laid by George H.W. Bush and, especially, by George W. Bush.

Today, the standard bearer of the Bush family political legacy in the Lone Star State, Land Commissioner George P. Bush (George H.W. Bush’s grandson and George W. Bush’s nephew), is on track to lose in a landslide to embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton in the May 24 Republican primary runoff for attorney general. A late March Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (TxHPF) survey projects Bush will receive only between a fifth and a third of the GOP primary vote in May.

The Bush name, once an asset within the Texas GOP electorate, is now a liability. As an example, take the two-fifths of Republican primary voters who in the March TxHPF survey adamantly said they would never under any circumstance vote for George P. Bush. When asked why, two-thirds of these Republicans said it is because he is a member of the Bush family.

Today, the favorites of the most reliable Texas GOP primary voters are named Trump, Cruz and Abbott, not Bush. In the TxHPF survey, nine out of 10 (90 percent) of these Texas Republican primary voters have a favorable opinion of former President Donald Trump (70 percent have a very favorable opinion), 89 percent a favorable opinion of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (54 percent very favorable) and 88 percent a favorable opinion of Sen. Ted Cruz (65 percent very favorable).

In sharp contrast, only 49 percent of these same diehard Texas Republicans have a favorable opinion of George W. Bush (18 percent very favorable) and 29 percent a favorable opinion of George P. Bush’s father, former Florida governor Jeb Bush (5 percent very favorable). George P. Bush is the most popular Bush among these Texas Republicans, but even he is viewed favorably by only 51 percent (14 percent very favorable).

And while a mere one in 10 of these Texas Republicans hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump (10 percent), Abbott (11 percent) and Cruz (11 percent), roughly one-half hold an unfavorable opinion of Jeb Bush (57 percent) and George W. Bush (46 percent), and two-fifths view George P. Bush (42 percent) unfavorably.

Between his great grandfather Prescott Bush’s election as U.S. senator in Connecticut in 1952 and George Prescott Bush’s reelection as Texas land commissioner in 2018, no family comes close to occupying the pinnacles of power in America for as long as the Bush family. One of its members has served as president for 12 years, as vice president for eight years, as Florida governor for eight years, as Texas governor for six years, as U.S. senator for 10 years, as a U.S. representative for  four years and as Texas land commissioner for eight years.

But on May 24 George P. Bush’s defeat in the Texas GOP attorney general primary runoff will mark the end, at least for the time being, of a political dynasty dating back 70 years. And the Bush dynasty will be extinguished not by Democrats, but rather by Texas Republicans, who once considered George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush to be their favorite sons. But in 2022, they will be responsible for ending the political career of George P. Bush, the last politically active Bush family member.

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of “Texas Politics Today.” Follow him on Twitter @MarkPJonesTX.

Hispanic support for Republicans’ hardline immigration policies may keep Texas red

November 24, 2021

The Hill

By Mark P. Jones

Democratic hopes for turning Texas blue hinge heavily on winning the vote of a large majority of the state’s growing Hispanic population. Democrats often contrast their progressive policies on immigration and border security with the more conservative policies advocated by Republicans as a reason why their share of the Hispanic vote will increase. 

And yet, when Texas Hispanics are asked about their opinions on immigration and border policies, their preferences tend to align more with those of Republicans than Democrats.

Many Democrats were convinced that Donald Trump’s conservative, and at times offensive, policies on immigration and border security would alienate Hispanics to such an extent that they would flock in droves to the Democratic Party in 2020.  Instead, according to exit polls, Trump won 32 percent of the Latino vote nationally (up from 28 percent in 2016) and 41 percent of the Latino vote in Texas (up from 34 percent in 2016). In the Rio Grande Valley’s two most populous countries (Hidalgo and Cameron; directly across the border from Mexico), where Hispanics account for more than 90 percent of the population, Trump won 41 percent and 43 percent of the vote in 2020 (up from 28 percent and 32 percent, respectively, in 2016). 

In late October the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation conducted a representative public opinion survey of 1,402 Texas registered voters, including 616 Texas Hispanics, who are the focus here. 

The survey results reveal that more Texas Hispanics support than oppose four out of five of the border security policies that have been implemented by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on his own via executive actions or through legislation passed by the Texas Legislature under the leadership of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan.

Twice as many Texas Hispanics support (51 percent) than oppose (25 percent) the Texas policy of having Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers and local law enforcement arrest immigrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. (The remaining 24 percent neither support nor oppose the policy.)

Far more Hispanics support dispatching DPS officers (48 percent) and Texas National Guard soldiers (46 percent) to patrol along the border than oppose these policies (30 percent and 32 percent).

A narrow plurality of Texas Hispanics even supports spending $1.5 billion of state funds annually on border security, funds that could be used instead to help address documented needs in Texas public schools, where more than half of the students are Hispanic.

The only Texas policy opposed by a plurality of Texas Hispanics is the state building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is opposed by 45 percent, but is nonetheless still supported by 38 percent.

The closer one gets to the South Texas-Mexico border, the greater the level of support among Texas Hispanics for Republicans’ border security policies. This is a problem for congressional Democrats, since under the new Republican-drawn Texas congressional map, only three congressional districts (the 15th, 23rd and 28th) are considered to be competitive, and all three are located either in whole or part in South Texas, with two presently held by Democrats and one by a Republican. 

Turning to federal immigration policies, if national Democrats believe creating more open borders and making it easier for immigrants to seek asylum will significantly boost their support among Hispanics, they are likely mistaken, at least in regard to the Lone Star State. 

When it comes to increasing the number of immigrants allowed into the United States from Mexico and Central America, Texas Hispanics are evenly split, with 39 percent in opposition and 37 percent in support. This is a policy that has an adverse impact on the Democratic Party’s ability to generate support within the Anglo (non-Hispanic white) community. In Texas, 59 percent of whites oppose this policy, compared to 25 percent who support it.

On the related policy of increasing the number of refugees and asylum seekers allowed into the United States, 42 percent of Texas Hispanics oppose this policy compared to 35 percent who support it. And while this policy is at best a breakeven proposition among Texas Hispanics, it is quite unpopular among Anglo Texans, 59 percent of whom oppose it compared to 27 percent who support it.

Both Gov. Abbott and President Biden are underwater in regard to Texas Hispanic approval of their handling of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.  But Abbott (42 percent approve/48 percent disapprove) is far closer to the surface than Biden (35 percent/55percent).

Texas Hispanics will in large part determine whether Texas remains red or turns purple or even blue this decade. For years commentators have predicted Texas would turn blue as the Hispanic share of the state population increased, to the point where in 2022 it will eclipse the Anglo population. 

But that prediction depended on Hispanics voting overwhelmingly for Democrats, something not seen in the Lone Star State, where statewide GOP candidates continue to win between 35 percent and 45 percent of the Hispanic vote.  

If current Hispanic support for Republican immigration policies is any signal, we can expect Texas Republicans to maintain the backing of roughly two-fifths of Texas Hispanic voters in the 2022 midterms. This would mean the continuation of the Republican statewide winning streak that dates back to 1996 and a GOP net gain of between one and three U.S. House seats. This advantage could prove pivotal to the Republican effort to retake control of the U.S. House.

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of “Texas Politics Today.” Follow him on Twitter @MarkPJonesTX.

Texas must wake up to the fact that Hispanics will soon become the majority

August 17, 2021

The Dallas Morning News

By Jason Villalba

U.S. Census figures show the Hispanic and white populations are about the same size.

Growing up in the suburbs of Dallas in the 1980s, I had so many places to explore with my pals in our provincial, middle-class neighborhood. There was Kirby Creek, where we could fish for crawdads until the sun set over Warrior Trail. There was an old wooded thicket where the remains of “Posey’s” house still stood — many said it was haunted, but upon closer inspection, my sister and I learned it was just a settler’s house from the late 1800s.

And there was a grand and mysterious temple that stood in the fancy part of our neighborhood at the far end. The immaculately landscaped building had a beautiful pool, an elegant vestibule entrance and, most importantly, a PGA-designed golf course that spanned the breadth of our entire neighborhood.

Of course, I never actually got to play golf on that splendidly appointed course, as my family could not afford to be members of the Wood Crest Country Club. But on a full-moon night, when no one else was paying attention, some friends of mine and I not only did a little putting on those manicured greens, but we might have even hopped the big fences and taken a late-evening skinny dip in the pool.

As my friends and I rode our bikes around the neighborhood surrounding the golf course, we couldn’t help but notice the snappily dressed locals playing golf. Always playing in perfect form and almost always white. I never forgot those moments because it was so clear to me how different wewere from the folks on the course.

When I was much older, as one of only four Hispanic Republican members of the Texas Legislature, I thought it might be informative to visit different regions of Texas so that I might better understand the Hispanic experience for Texans around the state.

I will never forget my first foray into the Rio Grande Valley, which has the highest concentration of Hispanics in Texas. I was to give a talk at the local country club that evening, and I was driven to the main dining room in a black SUV. As I approached the clubhouse, I passed the 18th green of the golf course. On that immaculately manicured green was an extremely well-dressed Hispanic family of four enjoying a round of golf.

It was a beautiful sight, and something I had never before witnessed, certainly not at our local country club back in North Texas.

As a boy, I never expected there would come a day when I would I see Hispanics playing golf on a beautiful country club course, and that it would not be all that uncommon. Yet, there I was, witnessing it with my own eyes.

I was reminded of that moment earlier this week when new U.S. Census data were released. What the data revealed was remarkable. Texas is now 39.7% white and 39.3% Hispanic. Had the former president not discouraged counting undocumented residents, Hispanics would have likely registered as the top ethnic group in Texas. Even accepting a possible undercount, Hispanics will comprise over 40% of the population of Texas within the next 36 months and become the majority by the end of the decade.

To be clear, these are not undocumented residents, or “illegals,” as the former president and his supporters often characterize them. These are born-in-the-USA American citizens who are or soon will be eligible to vote.

Based solely on these numbers, in just a few short years, these U.S.-citizen, Hispanic Texans could well determine the outcome of nearly every election in Texas. They will control purchasing power at all levels and drive the Texas economy. Hispanics will sit more regularly on our school boards, county commissions and city councils, and they will more frequently occupy our state and federal elected positions. Texas Hispanics are now in the position to shape every political policy in Texas.

Yet, among our state and local leaders in government, business and the media, few are taking the actions necessary to respond to this consistent and exponential growth of Hispanic influence in our communities.

The population of Dallas County is well over 40% Hispanic, yet only a handful of Hispanics sit on the boards of directors or occupy the C-suites of Dallas’ largest companies. Likewise, with respect to Dallas’ influential Citizens Council and Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic representation on the boards and as officers doesn’t reflect the population of Dallas, and that is both striking and disappointing.

Further, take a few moments this morning to inspect the websites of Dallas’ most prestigious law firms, accounting firms and marketing firms to see how many equity partners or top-level directors are Hispanic. There is much discussion about commitment to D&I (diversity and inclusion) within these organizations, but with respect to Hispanic representation at the top levels, the representation is spotty.

I was born in Dallas, raised a family in Dallas, represented Dallas in the Texas Legislature, and even ran for mayor of this great city. Dallas is a vibrant, sophisticated and growing city. But Dallas is also less than egalitarian when it comes to the engagement and elevation of its Hispanic population.

Now that we are confronted with the official census data for the last decade, I am hopeful that today marks a new beginning for Dallas to cultivate and support its growing Hispanic population.

Jason Villalba is chairman of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

Latino voters in Texas are the sleeping giant that is beginning to stir

March 15, 2020

The Dallas Morning News

By Jason Villalba

The rise in Hispanic voting will affect political races across the state.

The Native American Quinnipiac tribe of North America has a legend to explain a peculiar rock embankment resting peacefully on the hills just north of New Haven, Conn. There you will find a traprock mountain range now known as the Sleeping Giant, because of its likeness to a human form resting on the horizon.

The legend is based on the story of an angry spirit named Hobbomock who became displeased because the local tribes were abandoning the ancient customs of their ancestors. In his ire, he threatened to destroy the tribes. A countervailing spirit, seeing the potential for harm, cast a spell on Hobbomock and set him to sleep forever in the form of a rock formation. To this day, the Quinnipiac restlessly await the moment when the giant will rustle from his sleep and his voice will be heard.

Just as the stolid mountains of Connecticut have remained silent for generations, so too has the electoral voice of Texas Latinos.

Even though Hispanics in Texas represent nearly 40% of the eligible voting population, until the 2018 midterm elections, Texas Latinos had never comprised more than 20% of actual voting electorate. As a result, Latinos were often characterized as the sleeping giant — a potentially powerful voting bloc that never seemed to reach its demographic potential.

But something peculiar happened in November 2018. The giant began to rustle from his slumber. The ripple in Texas politics was immediately noticeable. In Dallas County, Texas Latinos comprised approximately 9% of the total voter participation in the 2010 and 2014 election cycles. In November of 2018, this percentage grew to 16%. That growth is simply unprecedented.

As a result, Beto O’Rourke, an unknown congressman from El Paso, came within 2 percentage points of defeating one of the most well-known and highly regarded tea party senators in the United States: Ted Cruz.

At the state level, because of a nearly 15% increase in Hispanic voter participation statewide, Texas Democrats flipped nine Texas House seats around the state, putting the Texas House in play for the first time in a generation. With just nine additional seats, Democrats would control the Texas House and be in the driver’s seat for census, redistricting and map drawing, which will shape Texas politics for the next decade.

As Texas Latinos become increasingly aware of their voting power and as they are better organized by political parties and candidates, they will have a greater impact on every political race in Texas: from school board trustees, to county commissioners, to state house representatives, to United States senator.

What we witnessed on Super Tuesday 2020 makes clear that the days when Texas voters can ignore Hobbomock are gone. Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who was able to coalesce the mindshare of nearly 40% of Texas Latinos on Super Tuesday, was within 5 percentage points of winning Texas. Without Latino voters, Sanders would have been crushed by Joe Biden. But because Biden was able to cobble together a coalition of African American, Anglo and boomer-generation college-educated voters, he prevailed.

Sanders’ message appealed to Texas Hispanics, hence, he was able to actually compete in Texas. Think about that. Sanders was nearly able to prevail in Texas. That was the direct result of Hispanic participation in the electoral process.

As the Quinnipiac people have learned, it is easy to ignore the dangers posed by a mythological bogeyman. It is much more difficult, however, to dismiss data, facts, statistics, trends and analysis.

Texas Latinos are here. We are wide awake, knowledgeable, informed, and ready to have our voice heard. Ignore Hobbomock at your peril.

Jason Villalba is chairman of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.