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Latino Leaders Talk Top Political Priorities, With An Eye On The Future

Latino voter
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Twice as many Latino voters turned out for the 2018 midterms than did for the 2014 election.

Latino political leaders from across the country convened to discuss the 2020 election, and what the future might look like under a Joe Biden administration.

The Latinx Community in the 2020 Election & Beyond” brought together Latino lawyers, political scientists and activists to discuss the implications of the 2020 election and Latino voter turnout.

The event began with remarks from native Texan and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro. The former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development broke down the election’s biggest takeaways.

“The good news from 2020 is that the Latinx community showed up and turned out — especially young Latinos. They helped to propel Democrat Joe Biden to victory,” Castro said. “On top of the Latinx vote was crucial in traditional states like Florida and in our home state of Texas.”

The event was the last of a series examining issues facing Latinx communities. Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth and the Network for Justice hosted.

According to Castro, Latinos came out at a greater level this year than in the 2016 presidential election and voted increasingly more Democrat, but reminded his Democratic colleagues to not get too comfortable.

“The big story is that the Latinx community is both an indispensable part of the Democratic coalition,” he said. “But this community will be competed for by both parties for a long time to come.”

The group of speakers included: Lisa García Bedolla, Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division, University of California at Berkeley; María Teresa Kumar, Founding President, Voto Latino; and Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Saenz took the lead on what he thinks President-elect Joe Biden’s first step should be.

“You have to start with the Cheetos approach and look at what has orange fingerprints and reverse those things,” Saenz said. “Truly the damage has been so deeply established that you then got to do work long term to make sure that those who were harmed by those policies are returned to where they should have been.”

The Trump administration policies Saenz referred to are those creating barriers to citizenship and separating families who've been in the U.S. for years. He said if Biden reverses those, he will make inroads with Latinos.

Others spoke about investing in Latinos year-round, not only during campaign season.

“It’s not enough for campaigns to come knocking on our doors and train field organizers and then get them stuck there,” said Kumar. “We should be encouraging people to run for office.”

A top political priority for the group included electing Latinos to office.

“Not just representation in the low level, but the Latino community also wants representation in the top cabinet positions,” said Saenz. “Right now we need to insure that there is a Latino or Latina in the Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury or Attorney General in all of the states.”

They said they hope the Biden administration will prioritize creating future policies that will incorporate and acknowledge the growing U.S. Latino community.

Lisa García Bedolla from the University of California at Berkeley said it's important for Latinos to feel welcomed in America and one way is through civic education.

“We don’t teach people how to access government in order to take care of the things that they care about,” said Bedolla, a political scientist who focuses on the Latinx community. “That’s the information that people really need to have and those are the conversations that need to happen with people who are from the same community. We really need to invest in that.”

The group of Latino leaders said they are ready to hold the Biden administration accountable and will demand change.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

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