United States Project

A newspaper publisher joins the effort to boost Latino turnout at the Iowa caucuses

February 1, 2016

Tonight, as Iowa residents head to caucus meetings around the state to cast the first votes of the 2016 presidential race, fleets of campaign organizers, operatives, and strategists will be focused on meeting their turnout goals.

So will at least one newspaper publisher. Tarsicio (Tar) Macias founded the monthly Latino newspaper Hola Iowa in 2014, and like any publisher, he wants to reach as many readers and advertisers as he can. But Macias also has a larger ambition: to help boost Latino voter turnout across the region.

“I not only want people to read our articles,” he says, “but my purpose is to get Latinos politically active.”

Macias has partnered with the Iowa chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens in an effort to draw at least 10,000 Latino voters to the caucuses Monday night—a target that, by one estimate, is nearly three times the turnout in 2008, the last time both parties had competitive races.

The Latino population in Iowa is still small; only about 5.6 percent of the population was Hispanic as of 2014, according to the US Census. The Pew Research Center estimates that fewer than 3 percent of the state’s eligible voters are Latino, and even among those who are eligible, turnout has often been disproportionately low. (The original stated goal of the 2016 turnout campaign was 25,000, but that has been reduced.)

But the Latino population has been growing rapidly, and it’s young—so there are a lot of potential future voters to be reached, along with older voters who simply have never been approached before. If the turnout campaign hits its goal, 5 percent of tonight’s caucus-goers could be Latino. Joe Enriquez Henry, LULAC’s Iowa state director, believes the campaign of robocalls, mailers, door-knocking—and the partnership with Hola Iowa—has already succeeded in reaching new voters this year.

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“We’re going to have strong turnout in our community,” Henry says, “based in part on what Hola Iowa has done.”

For Macias, the decision to partner with LULAC was easy. He is a longtime member of the group, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan civil-rights organization founded in 1929. A first-generation American, Macias came to the US from Mexico with his mother in 1987 at the age of 14 and settled in the Quad Cities, which straddle the Illinois-Iowa border. He has lived there ever since.

He published his first newspaper, Hola America, from East Moline, Illinois, in 2000. From the outset, he says, he viewed Hola America as a “community-minded” enterprise that would encourage more Latinos to take an active role in public life.

“It’s more of a community service than a business sometimes,” he says.

Hola America went on to become, according to Macias, the most widely read Hispanic newspaper in western Illinois and Iowa. In October 2014, with the 2016 caucuses very much on his radar, he launched Hola Iowa.

In its first issue, Hola Iowa implored readers to vote in the November 2014 midterms. The paper has doubled down on its get-out-the-vote message with the approach of the caucuses and the partnership with LULAC, which began in July. Hola Iowa, which also has a website and is written in both English and Spanish, has publicized LULAC’s get-out-the-vote effort, and Macias himself has played an active role in strategy for the campaign.

“Our community needs to make it a habit to vote,” Christian Ucles, LULAC’s Iowa political director, wrote in Hola Iowa’s special caucus edition, which came out last week. “We have so much to lose if we don’t participate; we have so much to lose if the candidates continue to view us as non-voting factors. We have so much to lose if candidates (like Trump) think they can dehumanize and demonize our community all because they don’t fear our voting power.”

That’s a reference, of course, to GOP poll leader Donald Trump, who kicked off his presidential run by talking about “rapists” from Mexico and has made a wall along the southern border a touchstone of his campaign. Hola Iowa, like LULAC, does not endorse candidates or take a partisan stance—but Macias does not hesitate to condemn Trump’s comments about immigrants. “That’s not so much political; it’s a statement against hate,” he says.

As for the other candidates, Macias credits Bernie Sanders (whom he interviewed for a recent edition), Martin O’Malley, and Jeb Bush—the only one who has bought advertising in Hola Iowa—with doing the most outreach to the state’s Latino community.

But the caucus edition focused less on the candidates themselves than on the process, offering readers information on registration and polling sites, as well as instructions on how to actually participate in a caucus. LULAC’s Henry said his organization provided the caucus instructions—they’re surprisingly complex, especially on the Democratic side—and Macias translated them into Spanish.

In addition to his publishing duties, Macias has traveled the state and joined in strategy meetings for the effort. But the voter-drive partnership is not just a civic-minded move. It’s good business as well.

“We contracted to do ads in his paper,” Henry says, “and encouraged him to write about us, which he does.”

For Hola Iowa, a start-up still gaining a foothold in much of the state, another benefit of the arrangement is wider distribution. Macias says the paper already reaches Iowa’s top 10 Latino markets, but it hasn’t hurt to have LULAC handing out copies at campaign events, and Macias distributes the paper at organization meetings and other locations.

He doesn’t see any conflict of interest in this cozy relationship with an advocacy group, albeit a nonpartisan one. “I consider myself a community business person,” he says. Like some other minority-owned publications Hola Iowa sees little distinction between its editorial stance and its civic duty to its community.

For now, the goals of Hola Iowa and the goals of LULAC are inseparable. Monday night’s results may not be a direct referendum on their efforts, but Macias and Henry will take them personally either way.

Deron Lee is CJR’s correspondent for Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. A writer and copy editor who has spent nine years with the National Journal Group, he has also contributed to The Hotline and the Lawrence Journal-World. He lives in the Kansas City area. Follow him on Twitter at @deron_lee.