Latino Leaders Say Minority’s Clout Growing

Posted August 26, 2008 at 7:17pm

Latino political leaders gathered Tuesday at a luncheon in Denver to highlight the growing importance of the Latino community for the Democratic party.

Many prominent Latinos were in attendance, including actress Eva Longoria Parker and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), who spoke at the event.

Richardson and others spoke of the importance of the Latino vote in this election and in the future, citing recent census projections that whites will be the minority in 2045. The bureau predicts that Hispanics will make up 30 percent of the population by that time.

“It’s not just the southwest, it’s not just New Mexico and California, it’s national,” Richardson said. “The nation is going to go the way Florida, New Mexico and Colorado go, and that’s the Latino vote.”

Mickey Ibarra, founder of the event’s host, Latino Leaders Network, insisted the event was to remain nonpartisan, but many of the speakers openly endorsed the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). And although Latino voters overwhelmingly supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the primaries, those in attendance expressed willingness to unify behind Obama’s candidacy.

“I gotta tell you, when Hillary Clinton says to me, ‘I want you to work for Obama like you worked for me,’ it means something,” said Texas state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D).

Ibarra said that immigration reform, health care and education are the key issues for the Latino community, but the economy figures to be important this year.

“The housing crisis that we’re currently experiencing has impacted our community more than others,” he said. “We have far too many folks vulnerable to foreclosure because of the kinds of loans that they receive.”

Federico Peña, former mayor of Denver and a co-chair of Obama’s campaign, was honored at the event, the 14th luncheon hosted by the organization.

Peña, who Richardson called a “visionary” in the area of public transportation, was elected mayor as an underdog thanks largely to record turnout from minority groups.

In his speech, Peña noted parallels between his mayoral campaign in 1983 and Obama’s this year.

“I sensed in this city what I feel in this country today,” he said. “This undercurrent of discontent.”

He also stressed the need for further gains by the Latino community.

“It will make no difference if we are the largest population if we are dropping out of schools,” Peña said. “It will make no difference if we are the largest population if we are sitting in jails.”