Picking Up the PACE of Latinos Running for Office in Utah

Jul 31, 2012

Salt Lake City is seeing a large number of Latino candidates running for seats in state legislative races. A total of 8 Latino candidates are running, and 6 of them are women.  Charlotte Duren finds out what’s behind the push from the Latino community to get involved in local and statewide politics.

For the past year ‘PACE’ Latino, Salt Lake City’s Political Action and Civic Engagement for Latinos in Utah, has been working to get more Latinos involved in government and running for political positions.

James Gonzales, PACE's Board Chair says, “We have some areas that we have some really strong candidates but we need to just put a little more work in and I think we are up to the challenge.”

This year 8 Latino candidates are running in both state and local races. Gonzales says PACE has spent the past 13 months examining the state’s districts in an effort to find where Latino candidates would be the most successful.

“We didn’t go after a specific number but by the end of the day we had 9 people interested in running in major party office in a state, legislative, senate or county level, and began putting the structures together for them have the support they needed within their party structures."

Initially 9 Latino candidates ran for office. However that number decreased when Ross Romero lost in the Democratic Primary for County Mayor.

One of the remaining 8 is Josie Valdez, a candidate for Senate District 8. Valdez says Latinos are making leaps and bounds in the Salt Lake political arena, working to solve problems in the community, as well as act as role models for Latino youth:

“Our community both Latino and non Latino see us not only as the immigrants, illegal, causer of problems. There is going to be a much more positive image of who we are and what we bring as far as strengthening our community.”

Valdez says Latino issues range from healthcare to immigration.  She adds candidates are particularly concerned with the high dropout rates among Latino students.

“We have so many of our Latino students dropping out of school, not graduating from high school, not participating fully in the educational system. And in order for us to create a better future for tomorrow, education, and the education gap, and the inequalities or lack of fundamental outreach to Latino students to stay in school and graduate is really critical.”

Rebecca Chavez-Houck is the incumbent in House District 24. She says this is not only a tipping point for Latinos in politics, but for women as well. 6 of the 8 Latino candidates running are women, which Chavez-Houck hopes will bring a number of new issues as well as a more diverse voice to the table.  

“There are a number of women of various background not just Latino women stepping forward to help new emerging candidate step forward and give them the advice and support they need to be successful. I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of something that is just going to grow in years to come.”