Tucson Citizen
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Latino leaders: Our clout growing

The Associated Press

PHOENIX - The Hispanic community's political clout isn't proportional to the size of its population, but the nation's largest minority group is gradually gaining influence, several Latino leaders said yesterday.
Though politicians across the country are courting Hispanics, one of the Latino community's biggest political challenges is raising its voter turnout, said leaders at the National Council of La Raza's convention in Phoenix. The group is dedicated to promoting Latino issues.

Hispanic turnout is poor because of low voter interest, some Latinos aren't legal citizens and a significant portion of the community is too young to cast ballots, the leaders said.

"You have got immigrant groups that you are going to (have to) wait for the second generation, who always have a greater degree of participation than the first," said Alex Zermeno, board chairman for the Unity Council in Oakland, Calif.

Latinos, who vote at a lower percentage than other minority groups, should have a greater influence in many elections, said Adam J. Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.

"The end result of this is that Hispanic voters have less true direct representation, and as a result their issues are not as focused on as they should be," Segal said from his office in Washington, D.C.

Though Hispanic political advances are happening at a slower pace than they should, Latinos are becoming more politically astute, even in places not thought of as bastions for Latinos, Segal said.

Latinos are gaining more influence across the nation, though the momentum is stronger in certain regions, said George Martinez, an official with the Oro Development Corp., a nonprofit agency in Oklahoma whose clients include migrant workers.

"The political clout in Oklahoma is not what we would like for it to be," Martinez said. "We are getting there slowly."

In a speech yesterday before the civil rights group, presumed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said Hispanics have values that made America strong. "You embody the American ideal," he said.

Ronnie Perez, a counselor from Phoenix, said he believes Hispanic clout is in line with the size of the country's Latino population, but that voter participation remains a big problem.

"(Hispanics) may not feel their vote makes a difference, and it's also that they may not feel that the issues that are currently being discussed are relevant to them," said Ruth Armendariz, recruiter for a bank.