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Do Latinos Hold the Key to the CA Recall? An Interview with César Ybarra of FreedomWorks

César Ybarra is the legislative director of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group

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If you went back in time a couple of years ago and told someone that a Republican might hold the keys to the governor’s office in California, you’d be laughed at. Not even the most hopeful Republican would believe you. However, after a pandemic, numerous scandals, and policies that have raised the cost of living and unemployment in California, Gavin Newsom is on the brink of losing his governorship, and local conservative radio and TV host Larry Elder can be the next governor of California.

And even if you told someone that Democrats might lose a recall in California, if you told them that Latinos would have a lot to do with that… Well, you would’ve ended in a psychiatric hospital. But according to an Emerson College poll, 54% of California Hispanics support the recall, which for some, means that they are following the same trends as in South Texas and Florida, where some heavily democrat and Latino communities have been turning red.

One of those who believe Latinos might hold the key to Newsom’s recall is César Ybarra, who is a California native, and the legislative director of FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, who was kind enough to talk with us in an exclusive interview for El American.

César, thank you so much for being here with us. We’ll have a recall in California against Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday. What do you think will happen?

It’s really anybody’s game. There have been a lot of polls that have shown a very, very tight race. Whether Californians recall Gavin Newsom or they do not, the polls show that the Republicans are proponents of the recall are going to have an uphill battle to get this effort across the finish line. But the simple fact that this is even on the ballot and being considered just demonstrates that there is real anger among Californians against Governor Newsom’s way of governing.

What do you think will be the role of Latinos in this recall referendum against Gavin Newsom?

Forty percent of the state identifies as Hispanic. That means that Latinos are going to have a lot to say about Gavin Newsom’s future in California. I think the proponents of the recall election against Newsom should do everything they can to get Hispanics out to vote in favor of this proposition because of what we have seen, especially since Donald Trump became president in 2016 to 2020, Trump increased his Latino vote by 9%. In 2016 he had 4.5 million votes, in 2020 he had 6 million votes.

That 1.5 million difference was due in part to many Latinos who were among those voters. Latinos have a lot to say in Newsom’s future and that is why we are trying to educate all the people in California about the governor’s failed policies and take that discomfort to vote next Tuesday.

What do you see as, in general, the priorities of Latinos and especially Republican Latinos in the state of California?

Latinos just want to work, not pay so many taxes, and have good schools for their children. What has happened in Newsom’s administration is the opposite of that; the state of California is one of the most expensive to live in, the taxes they have to pay, particularly property taxes are very high. We have to remember that Hispanics tend to work in small businesses like restaurants. What happened in 2020? All these restaurants closed. The governor told them: You have to close and not go to places where people congregate.

And he did that while he was going to fancy dinners with lots of people

Yes, he went to the vineyards where all the rich people in the country, all the rich people in the world gather. He had a dinner with all their lobbying directors, all their special interests. He can, but the Hispanic cannot. And the truth is that this bothers people a lot, that politicians have some rules for themselves and others for the citizens.

Also, when you divorce the candidate from the policies, Hispanics tend to be more conservative. But the Republican Party has not yet done the work necessary to get these Hispanics to vote Republican. So maybe they’re with us on policy and legislation but they’re still voting Democrat anyway. We have a lot of work to do to make them see that our candidates are the ones who have the policies they support.

Gavin Newsom - recall in California - El American
Gavin Newsom’s policies during the pandemic have him in a tough recall election. (EFE)

Latinos in the California Republican Party

That’s like Ronald Reagan said: Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it.

That’s exactly right. And again: Whatever happens on Tuesday, whether Hispanics turn out for Newsom or not, we should be optimistic moving forward on how the conservative Latino movement will look like because of the trends that started under Donald Trump from 2016 to 2020, the fact that democrats feel very threatened by Latinos even in California, just shows that the momentum is on our side.

Look at what happened at McAllen, Texas with Javier Villalobos. He’s now the mayor of McAllen, Texas, one of the most Hispanic and democratic cities in the U.S. He campaigned on a message of safe communities, good governance, the messaging the Republicans have been advocating for decades. And he got elected there! What does that say? It says that once you draw the right messaging, Latinos will follow. It is evident by Javier Villalobos’s election there in McAllen. So we must continue with that momentum.

Do you see that California Latinos will follow this trend that we’ve seen in South Texas, as you mentioned, or Florida, where Republicans won South Florida districts, such as Rep. María Elvira Salazar? You mentioned that the Republican Party is not doing enough to win Latinos, what should they do to persuade California Latinos and win them for the GOP?

I think we should continue highlighting how the big-government policies of Gavin Newsom and the California Democratic party are ultimately affecting their pocketbooks. They want good access to healthcare, good schools, all these things. And the big-government policies that are being employed by the Democrats in California are just not helping. In California, the only way to enjoy the beautiful state that it is, is by being rich. 

We know that that is not the case in many Hispanic communities across the state. We need to focus not only on the governorship but on who we elect to the state legislature, to the city council because ultimately, a lot of these decisions affecting their pockets are proposed at the most local levels of government.

In South Florida, you have more folks from South America and Cuba, whereas in California more are of Mexican descent. So, there’s a difference in ideology there. But ultimately, we are, in a way, cut from the same cloth; we all hold traditional conservative values. I do see Hispanics turning out in favor of recalling Newsom, but if it’s not enough, we should not be disillusioned. Again, we should work within the party to promote good governance and just cut on the rhetoric that is controversial and not appealing to the average Latino voter.

Why do you think that, according to an Emerson College poll, more than 50% of California Latinos want to vote in favor of the recall against Gavin Newsom? What policies of the Newsom administration have led to this?

Back to the same thing: What happened in 2020? They told all Hispanic businesses like restaurants that they could no longer work because of the coronavirus. At the same time, those working at Walmart, for Amazon, for the postal service, and large companies, could work. How can a government tell a human being “you are not worthy to work but your neighbor is”? Those kinds of policies upset people and that’s why you see those kinds of polls where half of the Latinos in California want to get rid of this governor.

Many come from Latin America escaping socialism and communism. When they see American governors making these kinds of decisions that increase the role of government in their lives, of course, there is going to be skepticism! They don’t want that. So what we have to do is educate people about the proper relationship between the state and the individual and promote individual freedom and say that if there are going to be rules, let them be the same for everyone, not just for one sector of the community.

Growing the GOP platform through the recall in California

It is one thing to be against one politician and quite another to be in favor of another. It is different to be against the Democrats and another to be a Republican. Do you think the GOP is capable of adding these Latinos who are not happy with the Democrats to their platform? Do you think they can turn this “punishment vote” against Newsom into votes for Republican representatives and politicians?

Cesar: You are right, but this is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take 5, 10, 15 years or a generation to see the change we want in California. You’re talking about millions of people that we have to educate to change their vote. Although this change you’re not just seeing it in Hispanic communities, but Asian and black communities as well. They have voted Democrat for many years but seeing how crazy the left is getting, they’re already moving to the right. 

I always like to give this example. About 7 years ago, I was in Arizona working on a campaign in a Hispanic community with a survey of 10 questions, e.g. what did they think about taxes, energy policies, etc. 7 out of 10 of the answers were close to the policy proposed by the Republicans, but when you asked them who they would vote for, they said they would vote for the Democratic candidate. We have to try to find a way to get people to attach the policies to the candidate and not just see if they have the blue D next to them.

It is also important to recruit conservative Hispanics who want to aspire to political positions and represent the conservative Hispanic voice in California. Recruiting these individuals is very important to our efforts in the coming years.

Now that you say this about Arizona, it reminded me of an anecdote that Eduardo Verástegui, the Mexican pro-life activist, told in an interview we did with him. He was in a city in the United States and he gets into the cab of a Dominican cab driver and they start talking and Eduardo asks him about abortion and the cab driver tells him that abortion is murder, a terrible thing, etc. But after that, he asks him which party he identifies with and he answers that he is a democrat.

And Eduardo asks him why he identifies with the Democrats if they are so pro-abortion and the cab driver tells him it’s because of immigration and because the Republicans are racists. This brings me to the question: Do you think that the immigration policy and the rhetoric about migration of the Republican Party should change to attract more Latinos to the GOP?

Definitely. I am a migrant from Mexico and it bothers me when I see the Party use certain phrases or rhetoric that will not go over well with the Hispanic community and I know this because I see it in my family and friends. I feel like there is something to be said for that. But look at the example of McAllen, a very Hispanic community where they are living the humanitarian and border security crisis with the immigration and drug flow and all of this is penetrating their communities.

When you teach them that the federal government is incentivizing these individuals to cross into the United States and we don’t have the mechanism to prevent narcos from smuggling drugs and you educate them and explain that this is about keeping their communities safe, it changes a little bit. 

We all want immigrants in the United States; we are a country of immigrants, but for those fleeing countries where there is no law and order, the United States is a great country because it is a country where law and order are respected. When it is not respected in immigration issues, it is a problem. So, we have to do a better job at explaining what we support and I feel that when we explain it well we can win support on the immigration issue.

But I think there is support for policies that maintain a strong border and prevent the flow of drugs into the country, reduce incentives for illegal immigration. All of these things can have support but the Republican Party has to do a better job communicating what we support.

Do you think that Larry Elder as the top GOP candidate in California has done a good job communicating his platform with Latinos to convince them to vote for him?

Larry Elder is a true conservative, we know where he stands on the issues. What excites me about him is that he came from the ghetto in Los Angeles; he’s a self-made man. He has a great story to tell to the black and Hispanic communities in California: if you do what you love and follow your passion, there are endless opportunities here in America. So, I think Larry Elder is a good spokesman for that message because he’s not only someone who came from an underserved community and made it to one of the highest levels in mass communications, but is someone who can inspire minority communities to do the same.

And again, how do I know Larry Elder is doing a great job? Because when the left starts attacking you for being a misogynist, for being the voice of white supremacy, you just know that you’re doing a heck of a job because they can’t beat you on policy, so they need to go to the gutter to beat you. That’s just an example, when you get called a white supremacist, that means the left has nothing on your policies.

Last question, do you see a future for Latinos in the Republican Party in California? Will we see more Republican candidates in the state? If I’m not mistaken the only Latino Republican congressional representative in California is Rep. Mike García. Will we see more of this in California soon?

I hope so, but it’s going to take a village. This election is not going to be all; it’s an effort that organizations like FreedomWorks, the National GOP, and the California GOP need to make a priority. If we’re going to start winning in these predominantly minority communities, we have to get people from those communities who represent a part of that demographic who run for office.

I talked to a candidate the other day who’s an immigrant from Vietnam who is in Southern California and represents a large Vietnamese community. She told us that people are fed up with Newsom and the democrats and that’s why she decided to run: if no one is going to speak for our needs, then it’s us who need to take a stand. And again, it only takes one to inspire ten, ten to inspire a hundred and go from there. It’s a campaign that never ends, so we just have to take every day with humility and take our time to spread our message.

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