Latino Leaders: The National Magazine of the Successful American Latino
Oct-Nov, 2003

The 42 most influential latino politicians - Hispanic Power

Francis Lora

READING THE LIST makes it apparent that we have made a great splash in the American political systems in relatively few years, and that this is the century where some of the people profiled will make political tidal waves.

However, considering how many of us there are, we are surprised that most right now are still wading in the shallows of the political pool.

Furthermore, although it is a highly diversified list in terms the people selected their positions, their political affiliation, ethnicity, and age, reading it drives home that two groups dominate the list. Mexican-Americans are by far the most numerous Hispanics, and Cuban-Americans have economic muscle, with most of their cash going to Republicans.

To truly make a splash in US politics instead of the ripples Hispanics have made so far, we need to get everyone on board. And we have to turn to the following leaders and those like them.

Joe Baca

Congressman for California's 43rd District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of 47: 01/23/47 (Age: 56)

Hard to read if he's going to shoot high, or stay in the lower house.

The youngest of 15 children, Baca is a Vietnam War veteran. He served as a paratrooper, before graduating with a sociology degree, and working for 15 years in community relations.

He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1992, and US Congress in 1999. His journey and career from shoeshine boy to congressman epitomizes immigrants' aspirations. He works through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus" ... to have more Hispanics sit on the boards of directors at major corporations."

Hector Barreto

Small Business Administration Administrator

* PaRty Republican

* Influence area: National economy

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth Age: 41

When his father handed the keys to 18-year-old Barreto and said, "Open the restaurant" ... he did. His experience in family companies, in his native Kansas City, Missouri, gave him experience on the know-how of small business in an entrepreneurial and human scale. He started his political career fundraising for the Bush campaign in California. His father founded the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is an icon for the US Hispanic Business commune.

Appointed in 2001, as the head of the Small Business Administration (SBA) his work involves handling the SBA's portfolio of almost 45 billion dollars' worth of loans.

Xavier Becerra

Congressman for California's 31st District

* Party Democrat

* Influence area: From La to Washington

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth 01/26/58 (Age: 45)

Despite a proven electoral track record, a solid support base, Xavier Becerra has shown no signs of preparing for higher office. But he is ambitious and could be deciding when to run.

"I still want to be identified as a Latino, but that's not all I do," he once told local media

Becerra became the first Latino to serve on the influential House Ways & Means Committee.

With Becerra at its helm the Congressional Hispanic Caucus won increased funding for bilingual education, But when he met Fidel Castro in Cuba and failed to call for elections, the caucus Republicans quit it in protest.

* Party Republican

Background: Cuban-American

* Area of influence: Lincoln National--One of the most influential Hispanics Mario Only just arrived on the national scene

* Background: Cuban-American

* Date of birth.

Lincoln 13/06/54 (Age: 49) Mario 25/09/61 (Age: 42)

Lincoln y Mario Diaz-Balart US Congressmen from Florida

Lincoln has a strong chance of entering Florida's governor's mansion or the US Senate. Mario has too--but he will have to wait his turn behind his brother.

The Florida-born Diaz-Balarts are Fidel Castro's relatives, but staunch opponents of his dictatorship. They are nephews of Castro's first wife, who divorced him and headed for Miami.

Lincoln helped provide free legal services to the poor, before becoming an assistant state attorney in Miami, and a law firm partner.

He entered the Florida Legislature in 1986 with its largest-ever margin of victory, and on election to the US House of Representatives, he became the first Hispanic on the powerful Rules Committee. Lincoln helped strengthen the US embargo against Cuba, and restore disability benefits and food stamps to legal immigrants who were denied aid by the Welfare Reform Law. He also wrote the Central American Relief Act, granting US residency to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Mario was president of a marketing and public relations firm in Miami, before becoming an aide to Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez. In 2002 he joined Lincoln in the US upper house, coming from the Florida Legislature where he was consistently ranked among its most effective legislators.

Henry Bonilla

US Congressman for Texas' 23nd District

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: Intimate between Republicans and Latinos in a key state

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 01/02/54(Age: 49)

Bonilla faced a serious challenge in the last election, so the Democrats will target him next time round. His survival may well depend on if he can hang onto President Bush's coat-tails-Texan Latinos do not vote in a big way for other Republicans, but Bush has personally connected to them. San Antonio-born Bonilla was the first Hispanic Republican from Texas elected to Congress, when he switched from journalism to politics. He rose quickly through party ranks to serve on the House Appropriations Committee, and is now chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and member of the Subcommittee on Defense and of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. His district is the largest in Texas and when announcing funding for Del Rio Border Patrol Forces in Texas, Bonilla said, "The Border Patrol is our nation's first line of defense in homeland security; I'm here today to thank you for your dedication, your determination and your courage. Our nation is safer today because of the work you do."

Bonilla is co-chair of the Congressional Border Caucus and Vice-Chair of the U.S./Mexico Congressional Caucus.

Gery Chico

Candidate for US Senate

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: If senator, breaking the national political mold

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of Birth: 08/24/56 (Age: 47)

Chico has a 50-50 chance of becoming the Democratic candidate in next year's primaries, where he faces a tough line-up of Democrat rivals, and an electorate that could break up along ethnic lines.

If he makes it he would probably beat out a Republican candidate to take his seat in the upper house, bringing an end to the three-decade draught of Latinos in the US Senate. He would also be the first Hispanic Senator ever elected from Illinois.

Chico served as Mayor Richard M. Daley's Chief of Staff, and in 1995 Mayor Daley appointed him President of the Chicago Board of Education. Chico championed a broad series of educational and fiscal reforms, continually raising the bar for the third largest school system in the nation. His successes garnered critical acclaim on the national level, and he is widely credited with the impressive turnaround of Chicago's public school system.

Chico has excellent relations with the business community and serves as vice-chairman of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and as a trustee for the Field Museum and Mexican Fine Arts Museum.

Cruz M. Bustamante

Lieutenant Governor of California

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: If governor, a rock in the national political pool

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 01/04/53 (Age: 50)

California is a jewel in the crown of US national politics, and if Bustamante sparkles in the recall race it will be a giant step for Latino politics: we are looking at a potential vice-president in 2008 if he becomes governor. Born into a Mexican immigrant family he grew up working in the fields of San Joaquin Valley and would have been a butcher if he had not discovered politics. He said of Latinus, "Twenty years ago they said we were a sleeping giant--we were never asleep. Our growth, our political sophistication and our business success has happened because we kept at it."

At his first press conference as the first Latino Speaker in California, a reporter asked Bustamante if he had a "... radical ethnic agenda."

He replied that although we come from different backgrounds, we all have the same agena: good schools, safe and clean neighborhoods, decent jobs so we can take care of our families; and an opportunity for every person to make the most of their Godgiven talents. "That's not an ethnic agenda ... that's an American agenda!" he said.

Henry Cisneros

Chairman of American City Vista

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Ground-breaking veteran and mentor

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 06/11/47 (Age: 56)

San Antonio-born Cisneros is one of the most respected leaders in Latino politics and acts as an advisor to many others. Currently in business, he founded the New America Alliance, one of the most powerful Latino organizations in the country. And although he does not had public office, he is more powerful than many who do. In 1981, Cisneros became the first Hispanic mayor of a major US city when he was elected Mayor of San Antonio, the nation's 8th largest city and served four terms to 1989, For the next three years he hosted "Texans", TV show and "Adelante", was a national daily Spanish-language radio commentor, before becoming Bill Clinton's secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Cisneros says, "Over the next decade we're going to see a sea change in America and I fully expect that by 2008 we're going to have a Latino candidate for the presidency. By the end of the decade we're going to have major candidates for the senate in Illinois, California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Colorado. This is a locomotive running down hill."

Linda Chavez-Thompson

Vice-Chair of AFL-CIO trade union

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Major influence in organized labor

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 08/01/44 (Age: 59)

When Chavez-Thompson talks people listen. And with Latinos in the service sector joining unions en masse, revitalizing organized labor, companies listen too.

A second generation Mexican-American, born in Lubbock, Texas, she was one of eight children whose parents were cotton sharecroppers, and began working in the cotton fields aged ten. The entire family worked all day in the hot Texas sun with adults earning fifty cents an hour and Linda earning thirty cents an hour. Her back-breaking labor in the scorching cotton fields of west Texas planted the seed of her future career. In her ninth grade year, her family faced poverty and she dropped out of high school to help support them. In 1963, aged 20, she married her first husband and went to work cleaning houses. Chavez-Thompson joined the Laborer's International Union in 1967, and became a union representative for Hispanic American members. Appointed by Bill Clinton to be labor secretary, she withdrew when it was revealed she had employed an illegal immigrant as a maid, which cut her political trajectory short. Nonetheless, she is still a political heavyweight.

Fernando "Freddy" Ferrer

Former candidate for New York mayoralty

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local, but potentially national if he takes New York

* Background: Puerto Rican

* Date of birth. 04/30/50 (Age: 53)

Knowing that winners never quit and quitters never win, he will run again for The Big Apple's mayoralty, but this time will succeed. And as Hillary Clinton knows, New York is a stepping stone to bigger things. It is also one of the key states that make or break candidates during presidential elections. Born in the South Bronx, Ferrer was drawn early on to community work and politics. After five years on City Council, he moved on to a 14-year stint as Bronx Borough president. Under his aegis, the ravaged South Bronx began the painstaking task of urban rebuilding, after years of decline. In 2001, Ferrer almost had the Democratic mayoral nomination in his grasp, but came up against the "fear card and the race card" played by his opponent.

Ferrer now runs the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a non-profit, progressive policy organization dedicated to economic and social justice. Asked what he would change about his close but not close enough 2001 bid for New York City mayor, he quips, "I would do nothing differently-except win."

Michael Flores

Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the State of California

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local and international

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 02/05/57 (Age: 46)

Flores is extremely talented, energetic, and has the potential to go further, but is keeping his cards to himself. However, his future is not clear in the event of Governor Gray Davis losing the California recall race, especially if a Republican calls the shot in Sacramento. Appointed in 1999 by Governor Gray Davis, Flores oversees the international activities of the governor. He orchestrates the governor's trips to other countries, the visits of foreign dignitaries, and various events that strengthen California's ties with its international partners. A native of Sacramento, Flores earned his degree in psychology from California State University and did graduate work in clinical psychology at Morehead State University (Kentucky). Before entering the political arena he spent 16 years in various state agencies (e.g., Departments of Justice and Corrections) working on issues concerning juvenile crime. As an associate consultant (1986 to 1991) to the Senate Democratic Caucus, he drafted legislation protecting insurance claims of terminally ill patients. In his current post he is the liaison for California-Mexico affairs and coordinated the governor's visits to Mexico and the Irish and Mexican presidents' to California.

Al Gonzales

Assistant to the President and White House Counsel

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: Justice system

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 08/04/55 (Age: 48)

Although he b widely expected to become the first Latino on the US Supreme Court, suspicions of the Christian right about his possible stand on abortion may block his appointment.

Gonzales grew up in a try-bedroom house in Houston, where his immigrant father worked six days a week doing two jobs to provide for his family.

Gonzales joined the US Air Force and was stationed in Alaska before going to its Academy, where a professor got him interested in law. This lead him to Rice University--his parents did not finish elementary school and his seven siblings never went to college. His legal career took him to the Texas Supreme Court, making him the second Latino in the institution. Working side by side with then Governor Bush, he dealt with everything from which gifts the governor could receive to execution orders.

His job is to advise George Bush on every legal aspect related to the White House. Inside Bush's inner circle, Gonzales is probably the closest Latino to the President. Being the legal accomplice to Bush's every political move ks really risky.

Ed Garza

San Antonio, Texas Mayor

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Now, local, but if re-elected national.

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 01/30/69 (Age: 34)

Despite having attracted big business to this traditionally Latino city, bringing jobs, he is considered by many to be too close to the business community, and so might not be re-elected. If he is, he is heading for US Congress

At 34 he is San Antonio's youngest city Mayor, now in his second term. After 9/11 he made San Antonio the second most prepared city after New York by implementing an anti-terrorism plan. While studying Business Administration for two years in the University of Texas, he then changed plans and earned a Masters in Urban Planning at Texas A&M University. As a third generation Latino, he has earned the confident vote of fellow Latinos, but also the non-Hispanic vote, which was granted to a Latino like it had never been before during former elections.

He says that within the next ten years, we will see many Latino leaders reaching higher offices, and many of them coming from Texas.

Garza is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School and still lives in San Antonio's historic Woodlawn Lake neighborhood where he grew up.

Charlie Gonzalez

US Congressman for Texas' 20th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Texas Politics is a family legacy

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 05/05/45 (Age: 58)

Charlie Gonzalez followed his father, the late Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez into politics, and it is not clear if he has any plans to go further. He is serving his third term in Congress. Gonzalez has important expertise in the legal field which started in private practice and was followed by over ten years as a high-rated trial judge.

He is a powerful spokesman for Latinos has been deeply involved in civic activities in San Antonio, and has sponsored budgeting and legislation to benefit his community.

It was through the Civil Rights Task Force that Congressman Gonzalez took a lead role in the 2000 decennial census, encouraging all Americans to complete and return their census forms. Recognizing his leadership on the census for the Hispanic Caucus, the House Democratic Leadership selected Congressman Gonzalez to also Co-Chair the Democratic Caucus Census Task Force. Most recently, the Congressman was appointed to Co-Chair the Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Election Reform and the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, to ensure that elections meet civil rights laws, voting rights laws, and election laws.

Tony Garza

US Ambassador to Mexico

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: International and national.

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth 07/07/59 (Age: 44)

Hard to say if he will stay in diplomatic service or run for office, but he is young, ambitious and talented. Born in Brownsville, Garza is a second-generation Texan whose grandparents hail from Mexican border states. He has been US Ambassador to Mexico, one of the country's most important diplomatic posts, since November 2002.

"As someone who grew up along the border, I came to understand long ago that the destinies of our two nations are forever linked," Garza told the American Chamber of Commerce Mexico last March. Many Mexicans were encouraged by his selection, assuming Garza's direct access to the White House ensured their concerns over immigration and NAFTA would be heard in Washington. In 1994, shortly after George W. Bush became Governor-elect, he made his first appointment, naming Ambassador Garza as Texas' 99th Secretary of State and a Senior Advisor. Insider were hardly surprised when Bush chose Garza to be the ambassador, considering the two Texans' long-time relationship. The connection dates back at least 15 years, to when Bush, then governor of Texas, supported Garza's successful bid for the Cameron County judgeship.

Ron Gonzalez

Mayor of San Jose, CA

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 08/20/40 (Age: 63)

Well entrenched with a solid base at the heart of Silicon Valley, with its billions in revenues for the state--which is where his power lies--yet shows no obvious ambitions.

Before his election as mayor, Ron Gonzales worked as an executive with the Hewlett-Packard Company, where he led a national education initiative that established partnership between Hewlett-Packard, local school districts, and universities. He has established innovative programs that help recruit and retain teachers in San Jose public schools by providing loans to help them buy homes and to encourage college students to choose a career of teaching in San Jose schools. As a two-time mayor and member of the Sunnyvale City Council (1979-87), Gonzales helped initiate governmental efficiency measures that were recognized in the best-selling book Reinventing Government. He was re-elected in 2002, and he led a renewed increase in reinvestment and redevelopment of communities throughout the city in collaboration with residents, grass-roots organizations, and local businesses Gonzales is committed to move all of the city's departments to performance-based standards in three years.

Luis V. Gutierrez

US Congressman for Illinois' 4th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Nationally as an immigrants' rights champion

* Background: Puerto Rican

* Date of birth: 12/10/53 (Age: 49)

Having faced strong opposition in his primary, he needs to consolidate his position, and is not moving up in the near future. Gutierrez worked for ten years in Chicago and Puerto Rico as a teacher and a social worker.

From 1984 to 1985 Gutierrez was the administrative assistant for the mayor's subcommittee on infrastructure, before serving as an alderman on the Chicago City Council. In 1992 Gutierrez entered the US House of Representatives with 78 percent of the vote and was reelected in 1994 with 75 percent. In 2001 be crossed party lines to support the candidacy of Republican Ramiro Gonzalez, for the presidency of Cicero, Chicago. Since the bitter Bush-Gore 2000 fight the atmosphere in congress has become increasingly partisan making it harder for Latinos from different parties to support each other. His tireless leadership championing the causes of the Latino and immigrant communities has led to greater responsibilities within the U.S. Congress and has earned him widespread acclaim throughout the country--culminating in his selection as the most admired Latino leader in the country, according to a recent nationwide survey.

Rosario Marin

Former U.S. Treasurer and potential US Senate Candidate

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: California

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 08/04/58 (Age: 45)

Resigned her post to run for the US Senate in her California home base but has not yet officially registered her candidacy. She is very popular in both California and in the Republican Party, and has the brains, drive and guts to take the Democrats on in their home turf. But she probably lacks the campaign cash to go for it. Marin was brought by her parents from Mexico at the age of 14 and unable to speak any English. While attending college in Los Angeles, Marin also worked full-time at City National Bank, where she went from assistant to the receptionist to almost Assistant Vice President. Her first-born child's Down syndrome made her campaign for disability rights.

Marin was one of the highest ranking Hispanics in the Bush Administration--her signature was on dollar bills and she encouraged poor Latinos to get bank accounts. Marin started her political career during Governor Pete Wilson's term. Mayor of Huntington Park in 1994, she also worked as Public Relations Manager at AT&T, as well as continuing to pursue her education and achieving different academic accolades.

Raul M. Grijalva

US Congressman for Arizona's 7th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local, but potential to be national

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date or birth: 02/19/48 (Age: 55)

Savy enough to make it to the Senate but as a first-term congressman in his late fifties time is going against him.

Born in Tucson, Arizona to a bracero worker who emigrated from Mexico in 1945 to help offset the loss of skilled American ranch hands serving in World War II. His parents stressed the importance of education to their three children, and it was that encouragement that led Raul to his career into life-long public service. He has lived and worked in District 7 his entire life.

Grijalva hit the headlines voting against the bill to wage Iraq's rebuilding, arguing domestic social and economic needs must come first. He has raised both anger and admiration, but he is determined in his commitment to benefit his largely Hispanic district.

He has strongly sought to protect undocumented workers from violence, promoting a comprehensive border policy, "Homeland security is a natural problem, and resources must be put into it along the border", he said to the Tucson Citizen, but "without choking off the flow of people and commerce crossing the border".

Mel Martinez

United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: Every city in the US

* Background: Cuban-American

* Date of birth: 10/23/46 (Age: 57)

Will run for Florida's governor post but be up against entrenched Lincoln Diaz-Balart who has a local base, and veteran Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is also in the wings possibly contemplating a run.

In 1962, Martinez left Cuba as part of the efforts of a Catholic humanitarian organization that managed to bring 14,000 Cuban children to the US. Speaking Spanish only, he lived with two foster families and eventually, his family joined him in 1966. He graduated from Florida State University College of Law in 1973.

His achievements in the private and public sector, his commitment to community, social service and faith-based agencies gained him the position of Secretary of the Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD focuses on improving the quality and availability of public housing and ensures affordable options for low-income people. Prior to this post, Martinez won the Chairman of Orange County election in Florida, where he managed to reduce property taxes twice. He served in the Governor's Growth Management Study Commission and had an outstanding input as Chairman of the Orlando Housing Authority.

Ruben Hinojosa

US Congressman for Texas' 15th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National, impacts nationwide education

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 08/20/40 (Age: 63)

Unlikely to move up the ladder. This native of Rio Grande Valley, South Texas, serves on two House Committees: Education and the workforce; and Financial Services, and is also a Co-Chair of the Democratic Caucus Education Task Force. He was the main force behind the major legislative initiative known as: "The Higher Education for the 21st Century Act". This bill brought forth funds for $69 million for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs); enhanced visibility of HSIs within the Higher Education Act; relaxed restrictions attached to institutional eligibility for HSI designation; and improved financial means by which HSIs strengthen schooling. When Hinojosa was member of the Small Business Committee, he improved access to loans for small businesses; removed tax and regulatory burdens for the Small Business Administrations Programs. He also headed a campaign to found a Women's Business Center at The University of Texas-Edinburgh. Before his election to Congress, Hinojosa was President and Chief Financial Officer of H&H Foods, which had 300 employees, and was awarded by the US Department of Commerce and by The Small Business Administration in Washington D.C.

Carlos Mayans

Mayor of Wichita, Kansas

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: Local, but has potential to be national

* Background Cuban-American

* Date of birth: 07/08/48 (Age: 55)

Being mayor of Wichitia shows an ability to get the cross-section vote without a Latino bloc, which can restrict many Latino politicians when they want to run statewide. His drive could take him much further.

Mayans also symbolizes the future--the spread of Latino political power beyond traditional strongholds.

Wichita, Kansas seems like the last you would find a Cuban-American as mayor. But that is exactly where Mayor Carlos Mayans now holds the city's reins. A local TV station, in supporting his bid for mayor, gave Mayans kudos for his tenacity and creativity in lowering airfares at the Wichita airport through the use of state lottery money--an effort locally dubbed "Air Carlos." Born in Havana, Mayans came to the US after the revolution and stayed bray in a Florida refugee camp. He asked to be sent to Wichita, where his younger brother and sister were already in foster care. Also raised by a foster family, Mayans worked his way through high school while working in a burger bar before serving in the army as a medic.

He later started his own insurance agency.

Robert Menendez

US Congressman for New Jersey's 13th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National

* Background: Cuban-American

* Date of birth 01/01/54 (Age: 49)

Heading for New Jersey governor's mansion or US Senate. Robert (Bob) Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants and the only Cuban-American Democrat in the US Congress, although he is as tough on sanctions against Castro's government as any Republican.

He was raised in Union City and currently resides in Hoboken. Last year Menendez was elected Chairman of the Democratic Caucus and became the highest-ranking Hispanic in congressional history; in fact, the only Hispanic to ever hold a leadership position in either party.

He has been a fierce critic of all Republican policies he considers biased against immigrant groups and has promoted contact between the House leadership and Hispanic advocacy organizations. "I see it as my mission to be an advocate for Hispanics across the country in our national agenda in the Congress." His contributions on behalf of Latino civil rights have provided him strong clout. As Juan Andrade Jr, president of the US Hispanic Leadership Institute, has pointed out, he will be an outstanding national figure since the Latino vote must be an important concern for coming presidential candidates.

Silvestre Reyes

US Congressman for Texas' 16th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National, and Mexican border issues

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 10/10/44 (Age: 59)

Staying put

Congressman Silvestre Reyes was born and raised in Canutillo, Texas, just five miles outside the El Paso city limits. He is married to Carolina Gaytan Reyes, and have three children: Monica, Rebecca, and Silvestre Jr. Reyes, now in his fourth term, became the first Hispanic to represent his El Paso district in the US Congress. Silvestre Reyes built his career on the US-Mexico border.

As El Paso's chief US border patrol agent, be earned a reputation as a tough player, instituting Operation Hold the line to stem illegal immigration across the Rio Grande. After 26 years with the INS (1969-1984), he ran for US Congress, winning a seat. El Paso and the neighboring Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez comprise the largest community along the US-Mexico border.

Bill Clinton chose him to discuss border issues with then Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. Reyes considers himself a political moderate, but leans rightward on immigration. He opposes the new guest worker program sought by Mexico's President Fox, arguing it would lead to exploitation of the migrants it is supposed to benefit.

Gloria Molina

Member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local, but noticed nationally

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 05/31/48 (Age: 55)

A forerunner who found her niche and stayed there, Molina is the most prominent elected Latina official in California--Los Angeles County has a population of 10 million--end a power broker.

When Xavier Becerra and Antonio Villaraigosa both ran for the mayoralty of Los Angeles, threaterring to split the Hispanic vote, it was Molina who got them to meet in her home, along with Henry Cisneros, to persuade one of them to drop out.

They both refused, but she is one of the few politicians with the muscle to have gotten them to meet in the first place. Before becoming the first Latina elected to the State Assembly, the LA City Council, and to her current post, she worked in the Carter White House.

A native Angelina, she is the eldest of ten children. She has a legislative reputation for standing up for the average citizen against formidable odds--big government, banks, public utilities, etc.

Her legislative successes--too numerous to list here--have earned many accolades, including, one of the Democratic Party's "Ten Rising Stars."

Bill Richardson

Governor of New Mexico

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National, the first Latino governor in more than a century

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 11/15/47 (Age: 53)

Will probably run for the US Senate when his term is served. He was born to a Mexican mother and American father in Pasadena, California, but he spent most of his youth in Mexico City. A staunch Democrat and activist for the Latino community, Richardson stresses that Latinos "cannot just focus on the traditional Hispanic issues of immigration and civil rights." In a list of his accomplishments, shaking hands is not the least--during his successful 2002 campaign for governor of New Mexico, he broke the world record for handshaking, squeezing 13,392 hands in eight hours. Among Richardson's other "minor" accomplishments: He is a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, served in Congress for over 14 years, and was the first Hispanic to hold two Cabinet positions--Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of Energy. In February, 1997, he became the first Hispanic US ambassador to the UN. Known as a skilled troubleshooter, Richardson traveled to such hot spots as North Korea, Iraq, Cuba, and Sudan, and mediated the end of Zaire's civil war.

One of the brightest stars in Latino politics.

Grace Napolitano

US Congressman for California's 38th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National, helps small minority-owned businesses

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 12/04/36 (Age: 66)

Not likely to go any higher. Born in Brownsville, a Texas border town, Napolitano married soon after finishing high school and moved to California, where the couple raised five children, and she worked for Ford Motor Co. On retiring she worked full time in Norwalk, her home for the last 35 years. She was first appointed member of the Norwalk City Council, winning her first election in 1986 by a mere 28-vote margin. But her reelection, four years after, won her the the highest margin of votes in the city's history. She serves as mayor in 1989, before heading to California Assembly. Napolitano is now in her third term in the US Congress having won reelection with 71 percent of the vote. She serves on the Resources, International Relations, and Small Business committees. She is member of several caucuses, such as: Hispanic, Women, Indian, Armenian, Greek, and the centrist business-oriented New Democrat Coalition (NDC).

Napolitano is in favor of reforming the system of federal "contract bundling," an impediment to many small businesses, and in helping minorities obtain badly needed capital for business.

Ciro D. Rodriguez

US Congressman for 28th District, Texas

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth 09/12/48 (Age:54)

Ciro D. Rodriguez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1977 as Democratic congressman from the 28th Congressional District, which includes his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

Rodriguez holds a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in social work. He has taught at the college level and been a caseworker for the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

In Congress he joined the Veterans Affairs and Armed Service Committees to promote the interests of the 50,000 veterans in his district, and to promote military base redevelopment, such as the Brooks City Base from the old Brooks AFB, and the transformation of Kelly AFB to Kelly USA, a state-of-the-art maintenance and logistics center.

His congressional interests are far ranging, from prudent spending to protecting Social Security and MediCare, public education, remediation of pollution to project the environment, ecotourism, and historical preservation.

Raul Romero

Bush advisor on Latino issues

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: National--head-hunted Hector Barreto and Rosario Marin

* Background: Panamanian-American

* Date of birth: 07/25/53 (Age: 50)

Dark horse. Has the right connections and skills, and is placed in the right spot to head in one of many directions Romero, a Panamanian immigrant whose family fled the Manuel Noriega government, insists his fundraising efforts are a way of repaying the president for his father's ouster of Noriega in 1989. Considered influential in Bush's appointments of Latinos to top government posts, such as US Treasurer Rosario Main, Romero is again being tapped for Bush's 2004 campaign, mainly as a scout for Latino talent. Romero is a well-connected businessman who's lent his considerable influence in Latino circles to the benefit of the president's political career. Bush enlisted Romero, the CEO of a Houston construction company, to seek contributions from Hispanic business leaders for his two gubernatorial campaigns and later in his bid for the presidency. After being elected Texas governor, Bush appointed Romero to head the General Services Commission, which supervises state construction projects, and watchdog groups note that Romero's firm received substantial government contracts at the time

Ken Salazar

Attorney General, Colorado

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local

* Background: Spanish-American

* Date of birth: 04/02/55 (Age: 48)

Potential future governor of Colorado, which has one of the fastest growing Latino populations, and unlike states that are traditionally Hispanic and have crowded fields for an ambitious politician, Colorado gives him a clean shot for the top job.

Attorney General Salazar is a fifth-generation Coloradan from the San Luis Valley and is descended from Spanish conquistadors. For many years he has worked as a farmer, small business owner, and natural resources lawyer.

He has served on the Governor's cabinet as executive director of the Department of Natural Resources and chief legal counsel to the Governor. Salazar was elected Attorney General in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. Salazar has served on many boards and commissions including the Colorado Water Conservation Board and selection committees for United States Attorney and Federal District Court judges in Colorado As Attorney General, he is the Chairman of the Peace Officers Standards and Training Board. He is the Chairman of the Conference of Western Attorneys General, end of the Environment Committee

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

US Congresswoman for Florida's 18th Distinct

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: National and international

* Background Cuban-American

* Date of birth: 07/15/52 (Age: 51)

May run again for higher office. Havana-born Ros-Lehtinen was the first Cuban-American woman elected to Congress and is its only Republican Latina. She came to the United States with her family when she was seven years old. She lives in Miami and has represented Florida since 1989. Since 1982, Ros-Lehtinen has demonstrated 20 years of legislative leadership. She served four years in the Florida House of Representatives and then became a state senator. She currently serves on the International Relations and Government Reform Committees. Though conservative in some issues, this outspoken opponent of Fidel Castro is a champion of Hispanic causes and tax reform, an international defender of human rights and democracy, a politician who condemns oppression. She is very connected to her constituents and their concerns. People like her, so she is likely to represent them for a good while. "There's still so much to do," she has said. "Cuba is still not free. My mission is not over, and if God gives me an opportunity, and voters vote me back in, I'd like to remain."

John Sanchez

Position: Heads Bush '04 campaign for the Southwest Region

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: In a tight race, his skills could make or break the presidency

* Background: Spanish-American

* Date of birth: 01/11/63 (Age: 40)

In the event of a Bush win, he could get a job in Washington before trying again for the New Mexico governorship or the US Senate.

The man in charge of the Bush '04 campaign for the Southwest Region descends from Spanish settlers of New Mexico with a history in politics. His great-great-grandfather was a territorial legislator in 1860 and his grandfather a Republican legislator in 1930. The youngest of eight, Sanchez beat out the state speaker of the house to become a state representative, His trajectory is what many aspire to: he grew up in a poor family and later became a successful businessman as a roofing contractor. In 2002 he lost to Bill Richardson in a Hispanic Vs Hispanic governorship race. Sanchez says, "The biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the Democrats want to keep Latinos reliant and dependent on big government through the hand out, whereas Republicans want to empower Latinos through lower taxes and personal responsibility, and smaller government with the hand up--and will allow Latinos the ability to live the American Dream."

Lucille Roybal-Allard

US Congresswoman for California's 34th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National, trail blazer for Latinas

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 06/12/41 (Age: 62)

Roybal-Allard took over from her father, who was also a congressman, and faces the problem of all California politicians aiming higher--too many candidates for too few positions.

Lucille Roybal-Allard was born and raised in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California, and since 1992 has represented her district, which has the largest Hispanic majority in the nation.

She was the first Latina elected to Congress and the first woman to chair the Hispanic Caucus. Her career in Congress has given her a reputation as consensus builder and supporter of social legislation. Proud of her Mexican roots, she thinks the Latino population is not just a minority group. "Latinos in the past have been placed in a very narrow slot [assuming] we only care about immigration and bilingual education, when the reality is that all issues of American society are also our issues."

Her commitment to the residents of her district is reflected by her civic activities and intensive work to address the people's needs through the House Appropriations Committee, where she serves.

Orlando Sanchez

Candidate for mayor of Houston

* Party: Republican

* Influence area: Local

* Background; Cuban-American

* Date of birth: 10/14/57 (Age: 46)

Came close to winning the mayoralty last time, and is in with an excellent chance of Victory in the next contest. Cuban-born Sanchez arrived in Texas at age six when his family escaped the Castro regime. Hispanic Houstonians came to recognize his father's voice as the Spanish radio announcer for the Colt .45s, an early version of baseball's Houston Astros. Heading for his second bid for the mayoralty of Houston this fall, Sanchez has many convinced he'll triumph this time around to become the city's first Hispanic mayor. Sanchez made an extraordinary showing in the mayoral race of 2001, coming within 10,000 votes of incumbent Lee Brown. His strong performance in that race stimulated widespread interest among GOP leaders eager to court the Hispanic electorate, who urged the 45-year-old Republican to run for Congress. Instead, he ventured into the business world, joining the Odyssey Group, an investment management firm. Sanchez has focused his campaign on improving city service, reducing traffic congestion and eliminating government waste and corruption while cutting taxes, pointing to his three terms on the city council as proof of his political competence.

Loretta and Linda Sanchez

US Congressman for California's 47th and 39th Districts

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Linda--Local Loretta--national.

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: Loretta 01/07/60 (Age: 43) Linda 01/28/69 (Age: 34)

Both are articulate, outspoken, smart, active, fundraisers, and ambitious. And Loretta's a telegenic four-term Congressman. They will go far, but face the crowding problem of all major Latino states--there is only one governorship and two US Senate seats to go for. Born in the City of Orange to Mexican immigrant parents Linda's election was historic as she joined her sister, both Democrats from California, in the US Congress, in 2002. Both ran against Republican men. Also she serves on the Judiciary Committee, the Committee on Government Reform, and the Small Business Committee. In addition, Linda's also an advocate for California's working families. Prior to coming to Congress, she worked for the Orange County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Loretta is a businesswoman. Prior to her work in Congress, she was a financial manager at the Orange County Transportation Authority, and started her own consulting business in Santa Ana, assisting public agencies and private firms with financial matters. She serves on the Homeland Security Committee. While on the House Committee on Education she has protected parental involvement initiatives.

Nydia M. Velazquez

US Congressman for New York's 12th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local, potentially national

* Background: Puerto Rican

* Date of birth: 04/03/53 (Age: 50)

Ambitious bet only has a New Yolk base, may run for governorship or mayoralty. The first Puerto Rican US Congresswoman, Nydia M. Velazquez, was one of nine children in a sugar cane worker family. Velazquez stared school early, skipped several grades, and became the first person in her family to receive a college diploma. She also received a Master's degree in Political Science from New York University. She eventually went on to teach Puerto Rican studies at CUNY's Hunter College in 1981. Politics and debate are a natural gift to Velazquez when it comes to speaking for the rights of minorities, women and children and low-income people. Her first contact with politics was witnessing discussion at the family table, concerning sugarcane workes' conditions. She has been a fierce advocate of The Family Violence and Prevention Act. She has also been a promoter of small business legislative priorities, related to tax regulations, access to financing, trade, technology, and pension reforms. In 1992, her grassroots political campaign took her Capitol Hill, but few people make it higher without massive campaign funding, which usually comes from big business.

Jose Serrano

US Congressman for New York's 18th District

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National and international

* Background: Puerto Rican

* Date of birth: 08/24/43 (Age: 60)

Will probably run for New York mayoralty or the US Senate. Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, he was taken to New York aged seven and settled in The South Bronx, which has been his home ever since. Serrano was elected by an overwhelming majority to represent his district in The Bronx in 1990. He is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation. He successfully fought for posthumous citizenship for non-citizens who died as a result of the September 11th attacks and who had already started the petition process to become US citizens. He's considered the architect of the "English-Plus" Resolution, which expresses the sense that the government should pursue policies to encourage the use and learning of various languages. Serrano introduced it as a substitute to an English-only measure. He also authored "The Cuban Reconciliation Act," which would repeal the Cuban embargo and the sanctions imposed by the Helms-Burton Act. In 1997, Serrano reintroduced an act to enable Cuban nationals to play professional baseball in the United States.

Antonio Villaraigosa

Former LA Mayoral Candidate

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: Local

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 01/23/53 (Age: 50)

Will run again for Los Angeles' mayoralty, and if he has learned from his last campaign, this time he will win.

Antonio Villaraigosa was born and raised in Los Angeles by a single mother and became a trade union leader and Speaker of Los Angeles Assembly. In 2001 the then City Attorney and rival candidate, James Hahn (a moderate Democrat), defeated him in the mayoral contest. Villaraigosa nevertheless continues to aspire for higher offices. And why not when more than 9,000 fans and supporters poured out to overflow Villaraigosa's campaign headquarters on election night, even though all polls predicted his loss? He still has the support of the powerful County Federation of Labor, which put all its street muscle into his campaign Villaraigosa assembled a classic progressive coalition as he had done for his mayoral run. "I'm not going to take the easy route," he says. "Even though they're going to attack me for it, I'm still opposing the death penalty, still opposing three strikes, and still opposing those who want to declare war on our youth."

Hilda Solis

US Congressman for californias 32nd district

* Party: Democrat

* Influence area: National impact on Hispanic issues

* Background: Nicaraguan-Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 10/20/57 (Age: 46)

Possibly aiming to run for higher office in six years or so Hilda Solis is now serving her second term in a Congressional district that encompasses the San Gabriel Valley and parts of east Los Angeles. She is a lifetime resident of the San Gabriel Valley and currently lives in El Monte with her husband Sam. She holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Southern California and worked in the Carter Administration In the House of Representatives she serves on several powerful committees, giving her clout for her political passions, which include the rights of working families, better quality health care, and protection of the environment, tn August of 2000, for her work in environmental justice, she became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

She recently introduced a bill to grant naturalization to Hispanic who fought in Iraq. Solis believes that education--both academic and political--is the key to future Hispanic success, which will one day end in a Latino US President.

Raul Yzaguirre

President of the National Council of La Raza

* Party: Non-aligned

* Influence area: National at grassroots and Congress.

* Background: Mexican-American

* Date of birth: 07/22/29 (Age: 64)

Leads the most powerful grassroots Hispanic organization in the US. He grew up listening to his grandmother telling him about mothers confronting the Texas Rangers and beating their hands on their chests saying "What have you done to my son?" "Why did you kill him?" His grandfather was almost lynched for breaking the Texan curfew on Mexican-Americans. When Yzaguirre was seven or eight years old he went to a political meeting to try and organize the defeat of an Anglo constable. The constable came in and beat people up, breaking up the meeting.

Such experiences made Yzaguirre the formidable leader he is today from a young age--he organized his school and chapters of the GI Forum and traveled all over the state, meeting some the famous civil rights leaders.

"You can't grow up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas and not notice that there's lots of poverty and discrimination in our community," which was how I got into the civil rights movement, he said. Eventually he helped found La Raza, an organization that community-based politicians turn to for advice and support.

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