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Why Democrats’ climate goals may test their Latino appeal


BROWNSville, Texas – At a recent House party near the US-Mexico border, talks with Democratic congressional candidate Rochelle Garza ranged from schools and taxes to immigration and efforts to convert an old railway line into a hiking trail .

One thing that didn’t come to fruition that Friday night on Corona beer and Domino’s deep dish pizza: an attempt by Democrats in Washington to use a massive federal spending package to beat climate change.

“It’s not that the district is more moderate or moderately more conservative,” said Garza, 36, an immigration attorney running for the House seat held by retired centrist Democrat Philemon Vela. “Talking about how you’re going to meaningfully impact families, and create healthy families and healthy communities, I think that makes a lot more sense for some of these hot button issues. “

According to the Pew Research Center, Trump won 38% of the national Latino vote last year, 10 percent more than in 2016. Some of their most dramatic gains came from heavily Hispanic regions that produce large amounts of oil and gas, including the districts Garza and Flores, which it seeks to represent.

It stretches from Brownsville, where there are proposals to build a liquefied natural gas terminal for export, more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of the less populated part of the hydraulic fracturing-dependent Eagle Ford Shale.

Last year, Biden won Cameron County, which includes Brownsville and is nearly 90% Hispanic. But Trump’s vote margin increased by 20 percentage points compared to 2016. To the north, Trump flipped the oil- and gas-producing, but still heavily Hispanic, Jim Wells and Kleiberg counties.

Biden has signed an executive order halting new oil and gas leases in the federal territory, though it was blocked by a court order this summer.

The spending package is being debated in Congress, however, with efforts to step up efforts to intensify efforts to fight climate change. This includes language on higher tariffs for polluters and the establishment of tax incentives for clean energy and electric cars, while introducing new requirements that the country’s power grid rely more on renewable energy sources.

Rolando Lozano, a 62-year-old manager at an electric utility, was one of more than 200 people who recently filled a community center in the border town of Harlingen, west of Brownsville, to see Flores and other Latino Republican candidates. He said Democrats have gone so far that “it looks anti-American.”

“It’s almost clearly on the faces of the citizens,” Lozano said. “You can call it by any other name, but fundamentally, it sounds wrong.”

However, this sentiment is far from universal among Hispanics. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in September found that 58% of Hispanics say they approve of Biden’s handling of climate change, while 38% disapprove.

Amanda Dave, a public health community campaign project manager in Brownsville, grew up in Houston, where her father worked in the oil and gas industry. But he believes it is more important to protect the environment than to please energy interests.

“They try to carry forward this message of ‘we are bringing jobs’. We are bringing jobs. We are bringing jobs.’ But a lot of people now see it as, they are trying to exploit our natural resources,” said Dave, 35, who attended Garza’s house party. “I think there is a consciousness here. Evolving how to protect what’s here. What makes it special.”

Still, Gabriel Sanchez, executive director of the University of New Mexico’s Center for Social Policy, said the threat of climate change has traditionally been voted as a more pressing concern among Latinos than the population at large — unless They are not presented in case of job loss. He added that in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and other energy-producing states, “you’ve been under stress for a while.”

“Latinos are extremely aware of climate change and support every progressive policy to stop it,” Sanchez said. “But you assume that with the potential loss of jobs, that’s when you start to have even more attitude splits.”

Potential conflicts between energy jobs and environmental changes could also affect the adjacent House district, where Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez – who founded the House Oil and Gas Caucus and urged the Biden administration not to go too far on the left on environmental issues – was re-elected in 2020 by less than 3 percentage points. Rapidly growing Texas is getting two new congressional seats after the 2020 census, and the Republican-controlled legislature has proposed redistributing maps making Gonzalez’s area more red.

That same tension already helped decide the House seat that had flipped Republicans last year. In New Mexico, Republican Yvette Herrell defeated Democratic incumbent Xochital Torres Smalls in a traditionally conservative district that is approximately 55% Hispanic and includes part of the oil-rich Permian Basin.

During last year’s final presidential debate, Biden promised to “transition” the country from fossil fuels. Torres Smalls responded that it was wrong to “demonize” the energy industry and denounced the idea of ​​banning fracking, but still lost.

Flores says Biden’s debatable remarks are still echoing across South Texas.

“I see this growth in the Republican Party,” said Flores, who campaigns under the slogan “Make America God Again.” “People are going to vote to get their jobs back.”

Garza believes efforts to fight climate change could create higher-paying jobs, noting that the district has already added wind farms and could enjoy more opportunities in solar power. .

“These are natural resources that we can easily take advantage of and create jobs,” Garza said. Amid the Trump administration’s previous crackdown on immigration, she will contact groups of immigrants waiting on bridges between Mexico and the US and provide presentations on the rights of asylum seekers.

“I think it’s about focusing on the opportunities that we have,” Garza said of the National Democrats’ environmental push. “Republicans love to preach doom.”

Daniel Canales, 33, who is among jobs but joined the program of Harlingen conservatives, said he and others are not opposed to new, more environmentally friendly jobs but often conflict with Democrats’ ideological messaging. .

“The problem is that Democrats seem to be too urban-oriented. They focus too much on the problems where they live,” Canales said.

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