Illinois’ Growing Latino Vote Could be Critical Component in Deciding Comptroller Race

Nona Tepper Medill News on assignment to the Illinois Channel
Nona Tepper
Medill News
on assignment to the Illinois Channel

By Nona Tepper

Illinois’s nearly 1 million Latinos may decide the victor in this year’s hotly contested race for Illinois Comptroller.

 “I think when Latinos come out to vote, the fact that [Mendoza] is Latina gives her the edge, easily getting 90 percent of the Latino vote,” said deputy city clerk Carina Sanchez, adding: “It is contested, however. I think the challenges of the presidential campaign are influencing Latinos to come out.”

Illinois Latinos comprise one of the largest such voting blocs in the nation, and 69 percent responded nationally that they are “absolutely certain” they will vote come November, according to an October 2016 report from the Pew Research Center.

In 201212 percent of Illinois voters were Latino. The majority voted Democratic through the ticket, a trend which appears to continue through 2016.

Debate Produced by WTTW, Chicago
Debate Produced by WTTW, Chicago

Democrat Mendoza currently leads incumbent Republican Leslie Munger 8 percentage points in the race for comptrolleraccording to a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll released earlier this month. Twenty-two percent of voters surveyed said they were undecided. The comptroller is essentially responsible for keeping the state’s checkbook, and processing the checks that go out to pay bills that were authorized by a state budget. Now that the state doesn’t have a budget, Comptroller Munger is paying bills that were either approved, as was K-12 Education, or by Court Orders. 

Munger’s campaign did not respond to interview requests, but said in a debate that aired on WTTW last week, that the poll is not accurate because it was conducted before her campaign started advertising. “I think the numbers have changed and the race is quite tight right now,” Munger said.

Comptroller Leslie Munger, in her Capitol Office, 2015
Comptroller Leslie Munger, in her Capitol Office, 2015

Indeed, the Illinois Republican Party recently donated $2 million to Munger’s campaign, which has helped fund a series of campaign ads for the Republican. Nearly all of the funds in the GOP’s main campaign committee have come from Gov. Bruce Rauner, who also appointed Munger last year as comptroller as a temporary replacement for Judy Baar Topinka.  Comptroller Topinka died shortly after her re-election in 2014.

“The Rauner budget stalemate has caused a lot of services to be eliminated or lost funding, and a lot of Latino families rely on some of those services,” Sanchez said. “That’s definitely driven people out[to vote].”

Trump’s rhetoric has also driven Latinos to the polls. In his presidential nomination speech, he referred to many illegal immigrants as drug dealers and rapists, and said the U.S. should build a border wall between the two countries that Mexico should pay for.

But, the very idea of building a border wall is offensive to many Latino voters and one of the primary issues that could drive a large Latino turnout.

Voto Latino, one of the nation’s largest Latino civic groups, claims that it has helped register more than 100,000 new voters nationwide.  A recent Pew analysis also found a 26 percent spike in citizenship applications compared to this time last year.

“They made the decision to become U.S. citizens and be able to vote,” Sanchez said. They take that responsibility very seriously.”

Sanchez said that when Latinos come together as voting bloc, they can create change in Illinois. She cited the example of the far northwest city ofAurora, which used to be a Republican district butnow has Democrat Linda Chapa LaVia as state representative.

“The congressman used to be Republican,” she said. “But predominantly Mexicans and Latinos moved in, shifted, and you had one of the first Latina elected state representatives come out of there.”