November 7, 2008

Latinos Achieve New Political Milestones in Congress and State Houses

Latino candidates continue to reach new milestones in Congress and state houses across the nation, according to an analysis of Election 2008 conducted by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. In State Senates, Latinos are also demonstrating significant political progress in communities with emerging Latino populations.

U.S. House of Representatives: In the U.S. House, all Latino incumbents won their re-election campaigns. They will be joined by New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Ben R. Lujan (D), who will become the first Latino to represent New Mexico in Congress since Governor Bill Richardson (D), whose tenure in Congress ended a decade ago. With Lujan’s election, there will be 24 Latinos serving as voting members in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, attorney Pedro Pierluisi (D) emerged victorious in the contest for Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico. Pierluisi will take the seat currently held by Luis Fortuño (R), who won his election bid to become the Governor of Puerto Rico.

State Senates: Wyoming has gained its first Latino State Senator, with the victory of State Representative Floyd Esquibel (D) in District 8. In Tennessee, State Representative Dolores Gresham (R) won her election bid, and will become the first Latina in the Tennessee State Senate. In Massachusetts, community activist Sonia Chang-Diaz (D) will become the first Latina elected to the Massachusetts State Senate, and the second Latino to have ever served in that legislative body. In Utah, Luz Robles (D) will become the second Latino to serve in Utah’s State Senate. Overall, Latinos saw a very modest net gain of four State Senate seats, bringing the total number of Latinos to 65.

State Lower Houses: Oklahoma’s House of Representatives has gained its first Latino member, with the victory of small business owner Charles Ortega (R). The number of Latinos in the Connecticut House of Representatives increased from six to eight. In addition, the number of Latinos in the New Mexico House of Representatives increased by one to reach 32, the largest Latino state house delegation in the nation. Nationwide, there appears to be a net decrease in the total number of Latinos in state lower houses, from 190 to 177. This is due in part to the departure of five Latino State Representatives who were successful in their bids for higher office.

According to Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the NALEO Educational Fund, “It is important that we take a careful look at trends in Latino representation in state lower houses to determine if our progress is starting to slow. Latinos are proving that they can attract votes from and govern diverse constituencies. Latinos will continue to embrace opportunities for full participation and leadership in every region of the nation – our future progress depends on it.”

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