Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press
FILE - Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. questions Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, during the committee's hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Sanchez was the keynote speaker at the Utah Democratic Party’s annual Legislative gala.

SALT LAKE CITY — Anticipation for the 2016 legislative session filled the Grand America’s Imperial Ballroom Saturday night as hundreds dined, mingled and donated at the Utah Democratic Party’s annual Legislative gala.

Utah’s top Democrats, including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, and all Democratic members of the Utah House and Senate gathered for a night of celebration looking ahead to Monday, the first day of the legislative session.

“It’s like the feast before the famine for the 45-day reign of terror,” said party Chairman Peter Corroon. “During the upcoming session, our Democratic legislators will be talking about issues that are important to Utahns: education, health care, better wages and election reform."

Attendees applauded elected officials who will be representing the party at the Legislature and heard from keynote speaker, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., chairwoman of the congressional Hispanic caucus.

"This morning, I was blessed to look out my room at the beautiful mountains here, and I saw skiers coming down the mountain," Sanchez said. "And it's my hope that justice will roll down these mountains, too. Justice for women, justice for the poor, justice for God's creation, and justice for working men and women, because that is what working American values are about. That is what Democratic values are about, and that is what's going to bring Democrats victory, not just for our party, but for our future."

Utah Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, and Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the state's Democratic lawmakers will be fighting for Medicaid expansion, more funding for education, equal job opportunities and pay, and better air quality.

"We're going to be up there fighting for Utah's working families," King said.

In addition to looking ahead to the upcoming legislative session, Corroon also urged his fellow Democrats to look ahead to the 2016 election. He said in order to give Democratic values a stronger voice in the GOP-dominated Utah Legislature, the first step is to get more Democrats elected.

"Progress will not be made until the political makeup changes," he said.

Corroon said the upcoming election year could bode well for the Democratic party on both a state and national level.

"I'm confidant that not only are we going to elect more Democrats in Utah this year, but we're also going to elect a Democrat for president of the United States," he said.

Sanchez said she would "be happy to cast her vote" for any of the three Democratic presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"On the other hand, if you watch the Republicans, they remind me of a pilot for a new TV show called 'America's Most Mean and Nasty,'" Sanchez said. "One of those guys in the GOP clown car is going to end up their nominee for president, and all of them seem to take special delight in demeaning Latinos. And that, my friends, gives us a huge opportunity."

Sanchez said she believes the Hispanic vote will play an important role in the upcoming election — in Utah and across the U.S.

"The number of Latinos eligible to vote is surging. It's 40 percent higher than it was just eight years ago, and nationally about 800,000 turn 18 and become eligible to vote each year in the U.S.," she said.

However, she said the biggest challenge the Latino community faces is actually turning out to vote.

"That's why everyone in this room must reach out to those who think they don't have a voice and convince them that they really do and that their vote really matters," she said. "If we get our people to vote, we win."

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

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