SAN ANTONIO - Linda Bocanegra, owner of the Arizona Café, invited people from this city's Southwest side for a free lunch the other day for Democratic supporters and candidates. Over 500 local people came for lunch along with newspaper reporters and TV stations from faraway Houston and other towns in Texas. This is the pre-election hot spot every year.
This time Bocanegra's guests overflowed from her large café to tables on the sidewalk. There was even a band in the street.
The audience was mainly Latino. Bocanegra and her friends served up huge bowls of steaming bean soup, flour tacos, melted cheese and chips and ice tea. She loves doing this every election period.
Everyone ate big-time.
State Sen. Letitia Van De Putte joined Democratic candidate for governor Bill White in speaking. The State Board of Education candidate, Dr. Michael Soto, was introduced, along with many judges and candidates for the state Legislature. The warm setting allowed for the candidates to mingle and talk to people as they ate and listened.
The crowd cheered when the advice went out loudly over the mike, "Vote the whole ticket!"
White spoke to urgent issues facing Latinos, the unemployed, seniors, and poor working class parents with young children. He put special emphasis on education, noting that incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill for pre-school education and is now cutting funds for college tuition and even child vaccines. All this will severely affect not only this community but anyone who is poor or working class.
Perry would like to balance the expected $18 billion shortfall in the Texas budget by cutting money from the poor, health care and education. White said that Texas currently has the most minimum wage jobs, but young people need to be prepared for higher skilled and better paying jobs for the future the state. He called attention to the state's school dropout rate, about the worst in the country.
White stressed his opposition to teaching geared to multiple-choice tests. He emphasized the importance of teaching critical thinking and keeping kids in school.
Van de Putte and White said they opposed any plan to introduce an anti-immigrant Arizona copycat law in the next legislative session in January. White said he would veto any bill of that type if the legislature sent it to him as governor. Van De Putte was very outspoken in her protests of right-wing plans. The fact that the State Board of Education has been trying to delete Latino and Mexican history (or rather all indigenous history) was mentioned and people were acutely aware of these issues.
So why do some of the pundits say that there a problem getting out the voters in the Latino community? Two ideas were mentioned by the folks eating at my table. One was poor registration and the second was fear of taxes. The Republicans have done a good job scaring people about taxes. However, none of these people has to fear an increase. They are simply too poor.
Speakers called attention to the adjacent congressional district, a short distance away, where Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who fought strongly for the public option in health care, is fighting for his life against negative, lying ads that criticize him for taxes and losing jobs while it has been the Republicans who have continuously fought every jobs bill that's come down the pike. His vote for health care may turn out to be a blessing in a very gerrymandered district in which it is impossible to please everyone.
Taking people to the polls and voting early is critical now, everyone agreed.
The luncheon's organizers did a good job. They reminded everyone that there is plenty of time to do phonecalling and walk door to door. The crowd left the restaurant by bus, van and foot to the nearest early voting poll. The long lines there are a good sign,
Photo: Anne Whitaker phone-banks in San Antonio. She never did this before! She can't count the hours she has called or block-walked. (PW/Vivian Weinstein)