Latino candidates work to awaken the 'Sleeping Giant'

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 6:12 p.m. MDT

The power couple have lived in Utah for the majority of their lives and have been involved in Latino and Chicano — meaning people born in the U.S. but of Mexican descent — politics in the state since the 1970s. Together they have helped elevate the political interest in the Latino community.

"People would say, 'Oh it is so wonderful that eight Latinos are running and how do you feel being a Latino candidate?'" said Valdez. "We like to respond by saying we are a candidate for this office because we are professional, because we are prepared, experienced and educated and because we have been a servant of the people for many many years.

"If you are not at the table, you are probably going to be served on the menu," Valdez said. "Well we (the Latinos) don't want to be served on the menu; the decisions are made sitting at the table."

Overcoming obstacles

With the Latino population increasing, obstacles still arise in Utah for the Latino community to close an education gap that some say is limiting their political involvement.

"In politics you need two things to run: money and votes," said Marco Diaz, who chairs the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly. "Unfortunately, the Hispanic community has not been traditionally good at either one, maybe because of the education, maybe because they are not traditionally used to forking out money. It has been hard to raise money within our gente (people). Number two, Hispanics usually don't vote as much. Those are the things you need if you want power, and I think that is where the gap exists."

On issues concerning the minority demographic, Valdez has said that some legislators believe that the Latino community does not care about minority issues because they don't call the state Senate complaining about them.

"They make no real effort to cater to the needs of the Latino community because they don't hear from them," she said. "So, they figure they are a none entity in the formula.

"They (Latino community) really are a 'sleeping giant,' but the time to sleep is over, it's snoring and it's time to wake up and take action," Valdez said in Spanish.

Wheatley said Latino issues are the same issues as the predominant community with the exception that a lot of the Latino issues are compounded.

"We are a voice for the entire community, but especially the Latino community," he said.

The couple explained how the candidates can create change if elected.

"This is how these eight candidates will help. There (are currently) two in the House and two in the Senate," Valdez said. "Well, with eight of us there is now eight votes, but not only eight votes, eight voices that can go to the other side in a one-on-one sit and say 'we need to discuss this educational gap, let me tell you a story about (an immigrant).'"

In Salt Lake County, Wheatley and Valdez are joined by incumbent Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake; incumbent Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake; Angela Romero, running for House District 26; Liz Muniz, running for House District 34; Celina Milner, running for House District 34; and Elias McGraw, vying for a seat in House District 38.

Latino Republican candidate Andres Paredes is running against Romero for House District 26.

Other Latino candidates in the state include Cimarron Chacon of House District 75 in Washington County, who is a part of a newly formed minority coalition that addresses Latino and other minority group issues in her county.

Meanwhile, the Latino community will be losing representatives, starting with Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, who serves in District 7, who won't return because of redistricting. Also, House District 6 Rep. Brad Galvez was impacted by redistricting and was defeated in the primary for District 29 in the Utah House of Representatives.

The education gap

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