The Top of Utah has many Latinos, but few are running for office

Apr 8 2012 - 10:41pm

OGDEN -- Statewide, about a dozen people with Spanish last names or who identify as Latino have filed to run for elective office.

Only a few of those names are in the Top of Utah, and no Latino has filed for federal office.

The U.S. Census reports that 30 percent of Ogden's population is Latino. About 17 percent of Weber County and 8.4 percent of Davis County are Latinos, who make up about 13 percent of the state population.

Latinos in Utah still mostly tend to be noncitizen immigrants or younger than 18 years old and therefore cannot vote.

The population is large enough that Latinos need representation, former Ogden City Councilman Jesse Garcia said, especially in such places as school boards and local government.

The biggest problem is that there are not enough people willing to run, Garcia said.

"If we aren't willing to run, we can't complain, but the need is there."

Garcia said he feels that he should have mentored more people while he sat on the city council.

"I don't know what the magic word is to get people to run," he said. "I think there are a lot of really good people out there, but how to get them to run, I don't know."

Former Ogden School Board member Christina Morales believes that there needs to be more recruitment by the local political parties. Local parties should meet with and encourage more Latinos to be politically active.

"This town has just made it very difficult to run for office," Morales said. "We just can't seem to get to that point."

And the problem is not limited to Latinos.

"I don't know if this is so much a Hispanic issue as it is a minority one," Morales said.

Morales said blacks and other ethnic groups, such as Pacific Islanders, do not have much representation either. A big problem she sees is that many minorities run as Democrats, which limits their chances in a state where the Republican party holds a super-majority.

Latinos have a better chance to be elected when they run for nonpartisan positions.

"When they do run for partisan offices," Morales said, "they lose."

One candidate who has attracted more than just the Latino vote is Utah Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero.

Romero represents Senate District 7 in the Salt Lake City area, which he describes as being about 95 percent Caucasian. The Salt Lake City area has the majority of the Latinos currently in office or who have filed for candidacy.

Although he is Latino, Romero feels that all of his constituents basically have the same needs.

"At the end of the day, Latinos are no different than anybody else," Romero said.

However, when it comes to addressing specific needs, it is often necessary to become politically involved, he said.

"It's extremely important that everybody engages in community building, and one of the ways is through elected office or appointed office," Romero said. "There is a large opportunity for the Latino community to get politically engaged and make a political impact."

Romero is running for Salt Lake County mayor. The county itself is 17.1 percent Latino, so he plans to reach out not only to traditional Democrats, but to independents from the area's diverse community.

Reaching out will become important for everyone, Romero said, as the nation and the state becomes "browner and grayer."

As the demographics in the state and the country change, Romero said, it is important that there are people in government who understand the diverse communities and make sure the communities' needs are met.

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