McALLEN, December 12 - Eliza Alvarado, president of the Advocacy Alliance Center of Texas, likes to recite a line from President Kennedy’s inaugural address when discussing her group’s ambitious goals with staff.
The line goes: All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
Alvarado takes a similar position when it comes to AACT’s goal of a 65 percent voter turnout in the Rio Grande Valley. “We have started well. This year was a great team effort. But we are not there yet. We want to keep this going and help make the Rio Grande Valley even better than it is today.”
AACT is a non-partisan, non-profit seeking to create a culture of voting in the Valley, which traditionally lags the state in turnout. The group hosted a Holiday Posada for its media partners at the home of McAllen businessman Alonzo Cantu on Tuesday evening. Cantu is one on the AACT board of directors.
AACT wanted to thank the various media outlets because without their help it would not be able to get its message to as many people. Valley media outlets donated about $1 million dollars in free advertising during the 2012 primary and general elections. “We want to thank our media partners for letting people know when to go vote, where to go vote. They were great partners,” Alvarado said.
The AACT ad that resonated most with Valley residents, Alvarado said, was the one pointing out that only two out of ten people in the Valley vote. The statewide average is six out of ten. It made people want to do something about it, she said.
“I would give my presentation in high schools and everyone was aware of this fact. When I asked how many people vote in the Rio Grande Valley, the students would say, ‘two out of ten, miss.’ It was something that really connected. That PSA catapulted us into the spotlight. It was a wake-up call,” Alvarado said.
AACT will not be able to play this card again because thanks to Valley voters, the percentage is now up to 40 percent. In the November election, the turnout of registered voters in Hidalgo County was 46 percent. In Cameron County it was 43 percent. In Starr County it was 39 percent.
Asked what will replace the ‘two out of ten’ message, Alvarado said TV ad producer Rodrigo Rodriguez, an AACT board member, would likely shape a message to educate Valley residents. “We will probably ask the people of the Valley, did you ever think your vote would help spur another university here. Did you ever think it would lead to comprehensive immigration reform? Or help bring about health care reform. These are big issues for the Valley and this is what high voter turnouts can lead to,” Alvarado said.
And so begins Phase 2 of AACT’s strategic plan. Just because 2013 is an off-year, with no statewide or presidential elections, it does not mean the group slides into slumber. Far from it, Alvarado said.
“The coming year is going be very important. We have to plant the seeds for our next big push. We plan to educate people on what a difference their vote has made,” Alvarado explained.
Among the ideas being discussed by the AACT board are a distinguished speaker series, where big name draws come to the Valley to talk about the importance of voting. Alvarado said she got this idea from the successful distinguished speaker series put on each year by UT-Pan American. UTPA President Robert Nelsen is on the AACT board. Also being considered are town hall meetings and workshops.
Thus far, AACT has relied for its funding on local organizations and institutions, many providing in-kind donations, such as IBC Bank, Lone Star National Bank, and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance paying for phone banks. In 2013, however, AACT is set to look for funding from further afield, such as philanthropic foundations that might want to see the Valley’s voter turnout soar.
“We are looking for funding. We worked really hard to show our organization was credible, that it was non-partisan; that it carried a message. We wanted to establish credibility. Now, with that credibility established, I think we can go after monies from elsewhere,” Alvarado said.
“We were not going to take someone’s money and then not give them any results. We set out to do the exact opposite. We said, ‘we are going to build ourselves up and have you believe in what we are doing and move on from there. This is what we are doing, this is what we did; these are the numbers and the percentages and we are not making this up, we actually registered over 10,000 new voters.’ I think it is a big deal. We are vested in growing and we are looking for partners who want to invest in us financially.”
Alvarado paid tribute to other entities that were working hard to improve voter turnout in the Valley. She acknowledged that having many school districts hold their board of trustee elections in November played a big part in the improved turnout. “Let me be clear. We give credit to the community as a whole. It was not just about our billboards or our PSAs. It was about people wanting to go out there and vote for their candidate,” she said.
At the Holiday Posada, AACT handed out a list showing how well their partners had done in improving voter turnout. Not surprisingly, AACT Ambassadors achieved a 100 percent turnout. The rest of the list comprised:
Cantu Construction: 95 percent
Valley Land and Title: 89 percent
TMC: 81 percent
GMAR Realtors: 79 percent
Veterans: 78 percent
Lone Star National Bank: 77 percent
UTPA employees: 74 percent
First National Bank: 74 percent
Texas National Bank: 74 percent
Valley Baptist Health Systems: 74 percent
RGV IPA: 73 percent
Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance: 73 percent
Hidalgo County Employees: 73 percent
TSTC Employees: 71 percent
ISD Teachers: 68 percent
City of Pharr Employees: 65 percent
STC Employees: 63 percent
IBC Bank: 56 percent
UTPA Students: 55 percent
STC Students: 47 percent
Alvarado said she was particularly pleased with the turnout of students in the 18 and 19 age bracket. “We had over 30 percent voting, which is really good. We are going to build on that. The teachers are already asking us to come back to their campuses. We are building the movement,” she said.
“Moving forward, we can definitely get better at this. Our mobile units were a big success, working with the Elections Administration office in Hidalgo County. We can get the other hospitals involved, other organizations to partner with us. We can get more access to easy locations. We can improve turnout in a lot of ways. I tell people how important it is not to lose momentum. Yes, this is an off-year but there are important things that happen. We want to keep going.”