In the last presidential elections, the Republicans made strong efforts to take Latino votes away from the Democrats. The Democrats also pumped up their efforts to keep this vote in their column.

Everybody expected a stronger showing from the Latino voters than in previous national elections. The surprise came when almost seven million Latinos turned out to vote making it the largest number of Latinos voting in any election in the United States. The Latino vote had been expected to come in at 5.8 million.

The importance of the Latino vote can be seen in the use of multilingual ballots. In the Nov. 5 elections, 30 states will have ballots in languages other than English, and while Spanish isn’t the only language the ballots will be printed in, it is the predominant one.

With the increase in voter participation has come an increase in Latino officeholders and candidates. Today there are 19 Latino Representatives in Congress (not counting the two non-voting delegates from Guam and Puerto Rico); at the state level, 186 Latinos have been elected as state legislators and 51 as state senators.

In 2002 Latinos are expected to make electoral gains. In New Mexico both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates are of Latino heritage. On the Democratic side Bill Richardson holds a lead over John Sánchez.

Richardson served in the House of Representatives until he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the UN in 1997 and afterwards was made Secretary of the Department of Energy by President Clinton. When Al Gore was running for the presidency, Richardson was interviewed by Warren Christopher as a possible vice-presidential candidate.

In Texas, Tony Sánchez will be running on the Democratic ticket for governor. Sánchez heads up what’s been called the “Dream Team” and the “rainbow ticket” in the Texas Democratic ballot. The other members of the “Dream Team” are the African American Ron Kirk, elected two times as mayor of Dallas, and the current State Comptroller, John Sharp, who is white.

In California, Linda Sánchez, executive secretary-treasurer of the Orange County Central Labor Council, is running in the 39th Congressional District. If elected, she will join her sister, Loreta Sánchez, along with four other Latino representatives from the state.

In Arizona Latinos are running in four of the state’s eight congressional seats. The most likely to win is Raul Grijalva in the 7th Congressional District. The 7th CD is one of two new districts in the state. Grijalva is the favorite in the heavily Democratic district.

Randy Camacho is running against extreme Republican right-winger Trent Franks. Democratic party officials hope that Franks extremist views will motivate moderate Republicans and independents to vote for Camacho.

If Grijalva and Camacho are elected they will join Ed Pastor in the U.S. Congress.

In New York City, the borough of Queens will have its first Latino member of the State Assembly representing the Jackson Heights area.

In the southern states Latinos will gain legislative seats. In Georgia Sam Zamarripa will be the first Latino state senator. The Puerto Rican Pedro Marin from Lawrenceville is the first Latino member of the state legislature.

In Massachusetts Jarrett Barrios is poised to be the first Latino state senator replacing Senate President Tom Birmingham who made a run for governor.

Barrios is a two-term state representative. He first won election in 1998, a year that also saw the election of José L. Santiago of Lawrence, and Cheryl Rivera of Springfield.

Another Latino is ready to join these three. Jeffrey Sánchez won a primary battle in Boston making his election to the legislature almost certain.

In Florida Democrat Eddie Diaz will face the Republican incumbent Ric Keller in the 8th Congressional District. Diaz, originally from Puerto Rico, has won the endorsement of the Florida and area unions.

The 8th District is in the Orlando area which has about 350,000 Latinos, mostly Puerto Ricans who, like most Latinos, traditionally vote in the Democratic column.

Even in Kansas, Latinos are jumping into the political fray in the hope of getting elected. The Puerto Rican, Carlos Nolla, is running against the GOP incumbent Todd Tiahrt. Nolla, who lost to Tiahrt two years ago, believes that the Republican is now vulnerable and can be beat. Nolla is counting on labor, enviromentalist and Latino support.

Another issue that will mobilize Latino voters will be the anti-bilingual education initiatives on the ballot in Colorado and Massachusetts. Both these referendums are being financed by California’s Silicon Valley millinaire, Ron Unz. Both ballot questions have clauses that are more draconian than California’s Proposition 227 and Arizona’s Proposition 203, including the right to sue teachers for using bilingual education, even if that would help the student learn. Both the California and Arizona initiatives were bankrolled by Unz.

Latinos and other language minorities as well as teachers, labor unions, public officials and others are active in both Massachusetts and Colorado to get those initiatives defeated.

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

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