Ruben Navarrette: California Latinos want a senator. They should be careful what they ask for.
Summary: Heed those words. If you're a do-nothing Latino elected official in California with an ego healthy enough to think you belong in the major league of do-nothings — the U.S. Senate — and yet you've spent your career hurting the folks who got you this far, then do us all a favor. Don't even show up.
SAN DIEGO — Latino Democrats in California are putting the cart before the donkey. Let's hope they don't make asses of themselves.
Looking past the November election, they're demanding that Gov. Gavin Newsom appoint a Latino or Latina to fill the seat that Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., would vacate if she becomes vice president.
Not so fast. The demand assumes that the Democratic ticket of Harris and Joe Biden can push President Donald Trump out of the White House.
Latino Democrats — who are often Democrat first, Latino second — are so anxious to expel Trump that they don't mind that the Democratic National Convention, which kicked off virtually this week, is in Black-and-White.
The fact that Eva Longoria Bastón emceed the first night was ceremonial. It doesn't make up for the insult that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was given only 60 seconds to speak at the convention, or that Julian Castro — the only Latino to run for president in 2020 — was excluded altogether. The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development recently told Alicia Menendez of MSNBC: "I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm disappointed" in the lack of Latino speakers.
This is par for the course. The nation's largest minority is also one of its most humiliated. We put up with it. While others riot, we fall in line.
In California, the picture is no different. Although we make up nearly 40% of the state's population, and comprise its economic engine, Latinos account for only 6 of 40 state senators and 21 of 80 assembly members.
Politicians don't respect us — let alone fear us. It is our fault. We let vengeance get the better of us, and we're worse off. For the last quarter century, Latinos have been punishing Republicans in the Golden State for waging a culture war in the 1990s. That's when the GOP pushed a succession of ballot initiatives that denied benefits to undocumented immigrants, eliminated racial preferences, and gutted bilingual education.
Latinos took the hint, and took apart the GOP. But voters who have nowhere to go don't get their calls returned. A better strategy would have been to split our votes and keep the state competitive. Instead, California Latinos went from being picked on by Republicans to being neglected by Democrats.
Soon, Newsom could have a chance to make amends with a down payment on the incalculable debt that his party owes Latinos.
About this, there are mixed feelings. In my mind, math and experience are battling.
Math tells me that, if Newsom gets to pick a replacement for Harris, the pick needs to be Latino or Latina. It's unthinkable that the state with the largest number of Latinos has never sent a Latino to the U.S. Senate. The bill is past due.
Besides, there are only four Latinos in the Senate: Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.
But the experience of covering politics and politicians for three decades tells me that — even if we wind up with a Latino senator from California - it won't make a difference in the lives of everyday Latinos.
We have been burned too many times by do-nothing, place-holding, resumé-padding elected officials who put their own interests — or those of the Democratic Party — ahead of the interests of the people they're supposed to represent. Time and again, Latinos have been betrayed — by their own kind — on education, immigration, labor issues and more.
Some of the same names circulating as good choices to represent Latinos in the Senate — like State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, or former State Senate President Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles — hid under their desks for eight years rather than criticize President Obama for deporting three million people, separating families, and putting refugee kids in cages. These people don't deserve a promotion. They should be run out of politics.
Last year, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., told a roomful of activists: "We don't need more brown faces that don't want to be a brown voice. We don't need black faces that don't want to be a black voice. ... If you're worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don't even show up."
Heed those words. If you're a do-nothing Latino elected official in California with an ego healthy enough to think you belong in the major league of do-nothings — the U.S. Senate — and yet you've spent your career hurting the folks who got you this far, then do us all a favor. Don't even show up.
Ruben Navarrette can be reached at email@example.com.