While the general trend of the 2002 elections favored the Republicans, Latino Democrats made a number of gains. Latinos will gain three more seats in Congress, bringing the total to 18 Democrats and four Republicans. Except for Cuban-Americans, most Latinos favored Democrats. Three of the four GOP Latino representatives live in Florida.

Despite President Bush’s high popularity rating in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, recent polls show that most Latinos feel Democrats are more in tune with their needs than the Republicans.

The voters in Arizona’s new 7th Congressional District have elected Raul Grijalva as their Representative. The new district takes in part of southwestern Arizona and includes the Tohono O’Odham Nation reservation and has a large Latino population.

Grijalva, a former member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, won support from a broad coalition of public officials, labor unions, and environmental organizations as well as Latino and women’s groups. Leaders of the Tohono O’Odham Nation also endorsed him. Grijalva joins Ed Pastor, a member of Congress since 1991 and, until now, the only Latino member from Arizona.

Linda Sánchez, former head of the orange county Central Labor Council, joins her older sister, Loretta, having won election in California’s 39th CD. She campaigned on a program of quality jobs and better schools. Sánchez said that she wants to be on the Judiciary Committee because “they consider a lot of issues that specifically impact minority communities and people of color.” She also said she wanted that assignment because there are no Latinos on that committee.

In New Mexico, Democrat Bill Richardson was elected governor over Republican John Sánchez.

Other Latinos who won first term victories included José Peralta, who won election to the New York State Assembly with 74 percent of the vote. Peralta, a first generation Dominican, campaigned on promises to get more funding for the schools in New York City in order to reduce class sizes and close the pay gap between teachers in New York City and those in wealthier suburban school districts.

Peralta is a member of Office and Professional Employees Local 153 and recently helped to create the Students Organized Under Labor (SOUL) group that works to link union and student issues.

Other breakthroughs occurred in Massachusetts where, for the first time, four Latinos will serve in the legislature. State Representative Jarett Barrios won the seat vacated by Senate President Tom Birmingham. Barrios has a long history of activism on labor, immigrant, gay and other issues. He was recently arrested in an act of civil disobedience in solidarity with striking janitors.

The Mission Hill section of Boston also elected a Latino, Jeffrey Sánchez, to the State House while a Latino representative from Lawrence lost his bid for a third term when beaten by his former campaign manager.

Colorado voters soundly defeated the attempt by Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire who had sponsored referendums against bilingual education in California and Arizona, to do likewise in Colorado.

Defeat of the Unz’ proposition was defeated after its opponents received $3 million dollars from Patricia Stryker, a philanthropist whose daughter is in a school where all children learn in both English and Spanish. Stryker’s donation made it possible to conduct a TV ad campaign that played a decisive role in turning public opinion away from Unz’ English Immersion proposal.

A similar proposal passed overwhelmingly in Massachusetts where opponents lacked resources to advertise on television. An exit poll conducted by the Mauricio Gastón Institute of the University of Massachusetts found that 92 percent of Latinos voted against the proposal.

Latinos also voted overwhelmingly against Mitt Romney, the winning Republican candidate for governor. In that race Democrat Shannon O’Brien got almost 90 percent of the Latino vote.

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

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