As Nashville's Hispanic population grows, will Latino political influence do likewise?

Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 9:05pm

Local demographics geeks surely took note of this recently released U.S. Census Bureau statistic: From 2000 to 2010, Davidson County’s Hispanic population increased approximately 134 percent. 

Whether that boom results in a corresponding rise in local Latino political clout as the Aug. 4 election for Metro Council approaches is a source of debate that is likely to stretch well beyond Election Day. 

Those who follow local politics say many of the county’s approximately 61,000 Latinos — up from 26,000 in 2000 — are either not eligible to vote or eligible but not registered. In contrast, these same people stress that 61,000 represents 9.7 percent of Davidson County’s roughly 626,000 residents, yielding both a general constituency base — particularly for those people running as at-large candidates — and a future voting bloc that cannot be ignored. 

Mike Pigott, a veteran follower of Metro politics and founding partner of Nashville-based PR firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox, said that despite the strong Hispanic population growth, “the percentage of that population that are eligible voting citizens is still fairly small.” 

“That said, the candidates are taking [the views of Latinos] seriously because the days when they are voting citizens is right around the corner,” Pigott said.

No doubt, the days when Hispanics offer respectable numbers within many of the county’s 35 Metro Council districts are already here. For the 2007 election, Davidson County had six council districts with Hispanic populations of 8 percent or higher. In contrast, and depending on whether the Metro Council approves a proposed new district map, the 2011 election could see a Davidson County with 15 districts whose Hispanic populations are 8 percent or higher.

In 2007, Hispanics made up 14.8 percent of District 13, the highest concentration in a council district. With the proposed map, eight districts offer Hispanic populations of more than 13 percent. The most significant number is 40 percent for District 30. 

The numbers alone are impressive, regardless of who votes on Aug. 4. But they’re not necessarily an accurate gauge for how local Latinos might vote or influence their council representatives. 

John Lamb, editor of the website Hispanic Nashville, said the United States, now home to more than 50 million Hispanics, has had a critical mass of Latinos for some time. 

“I think only recently has that expectation or anticipation [of Hispanic political participation and clout] played out in reality in certain pockets of the nation,” Lamb said. “You could say it played out in the 2008 presidential election and in specific 2010 elections. 

“But until 2008, people were saying it was coming, and the perception was that it fizzled,” Lamb said. “If you use that as a guide, it’s hard to judge if we’re just starting the conversation in Nashville.” 

Yuri Cunza, president of the Nashville Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that conversation is under way.

“The goal of the chamber is to raise awareness about the importance of voting,” Cunza said. “That’s how we will have a solid presence and influence on the affairs of [Metro government].”

Cunza, who said he won’t pursue a council seat despite continuing to draw attention, doesn’t know the percentage of Davidson County Hispanics who are eligible to vote and actually registered. Some sources say the number is no more than 5 percent. For example, in 2008, just 1.4 percent of Tennessee voters (34,000 people) were Hispanic, despite the state being more than 4 percent Latino at that time, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. 

Still, the chamber leader said many of Davidson County’s Hispanics “are excited about playing a more prominent role in local politics.” 

Only one Hispanic to date, Fabian Bedne, is running for a Metro Council seat. But Cunza said that when assessing future local Latino influence, one must look beyond voters. 

There are about 1,500 Davidson County-based businesses registered to and owned by Hispanics. Cunza said he is not aware of figures from 2000, but added that number likely was much smaller then. Many of the current businesses involve accounting, law and marketing, industries in which owners tend to be
politically active and influential. 

“There has been exponential growth that is clearly visible,” he said. 

Hispanic Nashville’s Lamb said it’s almost impossible to predict how Hispanic voters might influence elections in the near future. 

“I don’t know that anybody is assuming that there is going to be a new voting bloc,” Lamb said. “But again, looking back to the 2008 election, there was a concerted effort to register Davidson County voters who weren’t previously active and engaged.”

The Davidson County Election Commission does not keep track of the ethnicity of registered voters. And Pigott said one would need to “dig into the census numbers” to determine what percentage are citizens and voting age. 

Clearly, the ramifications of Hispanic growth go beyond Davidson County. 

The 2010 census shows that Tennessee is home to about 6.35 million people, with 290,000 Hispanics representing 4.6 percent of the total population. 

Middle Tennessee has five of the state’s 10 counties most populated by Hispanics: Davidson, Montgomery, Rutherford, Sumner and Williamson. 

The state’s overall population boom among Latinos mirrors Nashville’s at about 134 percent. 

“Anybody who has political aspirations or is already in office is starting to take the numbers seriously,” Pigott said. “You need to have a dialogue today.”  

18 Comments on this post:

By: skeptic1 on 4/4/11 at 8:01

Clout? Of the 1500 businesses(?), how many are economy-enhancing manufacturing businesses and how many are little hole-in-the-wall carnicerias and tacquerias? And then, how many of those 61,000 hispanics are currently eligible to vote? How many are illegals and how many are gang members? Think it through before you bestow any "clout" on the newcomers.

By: localboy on 4/4/11 at 8:48

To answer the headline's question, nope, not anytime soon.

By: mg357 on 4/4/11 at 11:15

When you have 1 in every 6 adults, and 1 in every 4 children in this country classified as Hispanic; the facts speak for themselves. Consider the birth rate in the Hispanic community of anchor babies and the drain on the coffers of society and you'll have your answer. Why this hasn't been addressed before now is completely beyond belief. What are our lawmakers thinking.......mg

By: gdiafante on 4/4/11 at 11:25

Mg, they're busy busting teacher unions, creating their own currency, adding creationism to public schools...you know, the important stuff...

By: nashmusic2244 on 4/4/11 at 11:50

The numbers are growing, yes. But if the Hispanic and other immigrants don't make an earnest effort to learn English, they will remain simply a non-effective statistic.

Seek your churches, friends and chamber to learn English. The power rests in understanding and speaking the language of the USA, English.

Break the cycle of relying on others, English will set you free.

Eddie Garcia

By: mg357 on 4/4/11 at 11:52

gdiafante; Considering the recent revelation that 82% of public schools are failing; just what in the devil are we paying for? Money down a rathole that's what! Think it'll be 100% failure next year? Do you remember the debate between Bush and Gore when Bush suggested vouchers for private schools? This was the laugh of the century! When Gore asked him what to do if that failed and Bush said to give the vouchers to the parents and let them teach; heck, most of them can't even read so more money wasted. I have an idea but it is extreme and would meet with violent opposition to be sure. All I know is that this foolishness cannot continue; we cannot afford to keep financing a lost cause....mg

By: mg357 on 4/4/11 at 11:55

nashmusic; Don't you think the 1st priority would be to become legalized and become a participant/taxpayer like the rest of us are?

By: TRHJR on 4/4/11 at 11:56

williams line up 20 mexicans ... bet-ya 19 ain`t legal to vote .....18 don`t want to vote .....

By: gofer on 4/4/11 at 2:56

If you remove the illegal aliens, then you can cut that number by 40+%. Taxpayers are shelling out billons of dollars. 35% of ALL immigrants are on some type of govt. support. Whatever happened to immigrants being able to support themselves when coming into this country??

By: borninNashville on 4/4/11 at 5:19

Five out of every ten Hispanic residents in the state are U.S.-born citizens, and one in ten is a foreign-born Tennessean who has since become a U.S. citizen in a naturalization ceremony.

So 6 out of 10 Hispanic Tennesseans are every bit American as any other American.

Approximately 2 of those 6 are actually registered to vote and do in fact vote.

By: mg357 on 4/4/11 at 6:01

born in nashville; Only in America! No other country permits this atrocity of granting citizenship and it cheapens beyond recognition the blood shed to keep us free....mg

By: msslau on 4/5/11 at 5:11

no hispanic is or ever will be ever bit American as any other American and they sure in hale ain't no Tennesseans.

By: RTungsten on 4/5/11 at 9:11

All this "Mexican growth" and I still cannot find decent Mexican food in this city. Pathetic.

By: fishfry on 4/5/11 at 10:34

It would be wonderful if they would become citizens and incorporate into society by learning English and actually contributing by paying taxes and voting. However, the ones we have met do not want to even learn the language (just enough to get by) have overcharged in our neighborhood for services rendered (because they already have a complex about "being used") and stay within Spanish speaking groups of people. I think they will want the power of politics but probably in the "California way" -

By: gdiafante on 4/5/11 at 12:01

"...do not want to even learn the language (just enough to get by)"

So you expect fluent English? Funny.

"...have overcharged in our neighborhood for services rendered (because they already have a complex about "being used")"

Buyer beware. That's the beauty of capitalism...no one is putting a gun to your head.

"...and stay within Spanish speaking groups of people."

Yes, because Americans are so welcoming and inclusive...lol

Thank you for the laugh today.

By: Wompcat on 4/5/11 at 4:15

Hispanics, GO HOME.

By: EddieA on 4/5/11 at 5:02

A discussion of the Hispanic population increasing and voting as a block is interesting.

According to US population statistics and dispersion, people of Hispanic descent will have the largest voting population in America in the year 2040. This is one of the bases of the 2007 novel, 'George's Flag'. The novel is the fictional story of the creation of a third political party, the Hispanic Peoples Party, and the election of the first Hispanic-American president.

In the novel, Hispanics voting as a block, take every available political office in the 2040 Presidential election: President, state governor, congress, senate, judicial, city mayor, and city council. The epic 548 page novel, chronicles the transformation of the United States from an English speaking nation to a Spanish speaking nation, as political power shifts.

The novel was selected for the 2007 Southern Festival of Books and reviewed in the Nashville City Paper in 2008. The Nashville City Paper review link is: http://nashvillecitypaper.com/news.php?viewStory=60379

By: yucchhii on 4/13/11 at 12:59

If they DO NOT BELONG HERE, they he "NO" say!!! PERIOD!!!