As we begin this new legislative session, Utah Hispanic leaders from both Republican and Democrat parties are united once again to lobby and fight for common legislation that will affect the Hispanic community. Rare are the occasions when Latinos from both parties put political differences aside in order to support common ideals and work for common goals.

During the 2004 session, a sleeping giant, the Hispanic community, awoke and was forced to become active in the legislative process and take action against anti-immigrant groups.

As Hispanic leaders, we realized that no group or political party was going to defend us or fight for us. So we sdecided to unite and defend those issues that we feel strongly will affect our community in the state.

We decided to take control of our own destiny in this state.

Last year, in order to get organized and become more effective during the legislative session, Hispanic leaders from both parties decided to join hands and create a new group called the Utah Hispanic Legislative Task Force. This group is made up of members from both political parties and from many walks of life.

All of us are professionals and executives who voluntarily dedicate our time to support our group and to be watchdogs for those issues that affect our people.

Among some of the issues of high interest to us are: access for Latinos to affordable health care, access to higher education, fair housing and employment, access to drivers' licenses for all eligible residents of Utah according to our current laws, as well as other important social causes.

As the Hispanic Legislative Task Force, our obligation is to inform and educate our representatives and senators about legislation and issues that will affect our people.

The Hispanic community in Utah is growing every year. It is becoming one of the most affluent and influential minorities. From Ogden to Provo, from Wendover to Park City, Hispanics are becoming prominent business owners, teachers, university professors, community leaders and executives.

Hispanic-owned businesses are being created everywhere across Utah. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is getting stronger every year in Salt Lake County. The newly formed Ogden Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce shows the tremendous increase of Hispanic businesses in the greater Ogden area and North Davis County.

Our people are slowly moving from the working class to the middle and the upper class. We can no longer afford not to be involved in the legislative process. It is of vital interest to us. We have learned the lesson that we cannot just sit around and do nothing.

The Hispanic population in the United States is now the largest minority. As we grow and become the most influential ethnic group in U.S. politics, there are also new responsibilities and obligations that we must take as American citizens. One key challenge for Latinos in this country is that we must learn how to be in power. We must learn how to be responsible public servants and use our influence for the good of all the people and not just Hispanics.

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Since we haven't had positions of power and influence at the state and the national level, we must learn how to deal with power and influence and use it wisely. We now have Al Gonzalez as attorney general, Carlos Gutierrez as commerce secretary, two prominent Hispanics in the U.S. Senate and many other influential Hispanics across the nation. In Utah, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has shown his interest in appointing Latinos to his cabinet. For that, we thank him.

During this new legislative session, we are sure to see some bills we will support and some we will not. There will be some bills we will strongly fight. The important point is, at this time, we are united as Republicans and Democrats.

We are working together as never before. We will be active and present on Capitol Hill.

Joe Reyna and Luz Robles are the Republican and Democrat co-chairs respectively of the Utah Hispanic Legislative Task Force.