State Farm joins in Latino voter drive

Jul 9, 2008

Bradenton Herald--July 09, 2008


State Farm Insurance has joined a national coalition encouraging one of the fastest growing minority populations to become citizens and register so their voices are heard.

Agents can opt into the campaign – dubbed "Ya Es Hora," or Now is the Time – launched in January 2007 by, among other groups, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

The company announced the initiative last week as part of what officials say is its apolitical effort, "State Farm es Para Mi," or State Farm is For Me.

"We want to do what we can to help the Hispanic community to achieve that (American) dream," said company spokeswoman Aymee Ruiz. "Who they vote for and what is their alignment, that’s a personal decision."

State Farm’s involvement allows the movement to reach intimately into communities through its agents.

"Here’s a member of the private sector really taking on a partnership that collectively helps us all strengthen our communities by increasing participation on the local level," said Erica Bernal, association senior director of civic engagement.

In 2007, 1.4 million people applied for citizenship through Ya Es Hora, about 500,000 of whom are awaiting the status due to a backlog, she said.

The Hispanic vote is one of the fastest growing in the nation, and one that is particularly significant in Florida as these voters could potentially swing the state, said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist.

"The Hispanic vote this time is probably the most unpredictable and yet the most significant," she said.

Once predictable with South Florida’s large Cuban community voting Republican and Puerto Ricans in Central Florida leaning Democratic, those ties are loosening, MacManus said.

"Citizenship means being a good community citizen," she said. "That obviously spills over into benefitting the business community. It’s good business and good politics."

For State Farm agent Kim Vole, who opted into providing the citizenship and voter information at her Parrish office, the move by her company is a win-win.

"We help the community, and they come back and see us," she said.

After hiring on a bilingual employee, Vole has seen more Spanish-speaking clients. She thinks this effort will only further increase her visibility in that community.

"It’s a great opportunity," Vole said. "There’s a lot of money out there that I don’t think people realize is available to them."

Of Manatee County’s more than 198,000 registered voters, 6,772 are Hispanic, according to data from Manatee’s Supervisor of Elections Office.

About 2,600 of those voters are registered as Democrats and about 1,700 as Republicans.

While the Hispanic electorate represents 9 percent of voters nationwide, it makes up 14 percent of Florida’s voters, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Following the numbers, Manatee’s Democratic and Republican organizations say they are going after the Hispanic vote this year.

Yet it’s premature to predict how those voters will swing, said Kathy King, chair of Manatee’s GOP.

"It depends on the success of this program," she said, of Ya Es Hora. "They clearly are the youngest and fastest group, and we expect that to increase going forward."

King believes Hispanic voters will align with Republicans due to the party’s values of faith, family and business.

C.J. Czaia, chair of the county’s Democratic Party, said this growing Hispanic electorate is due in large part to concern about U.S. immigration policy.

But that doesn’t mean a struggle ever present in getting the community involved politically isn’t still a hurdle, he added.

"Anything that we can get in this country to get people active politically is great," said Czaia.