Denver Latino community members seek more leadership roles in Colorado’s top offices after electoral wins

Legislators and community figures spoke during a press conference outlining their goals for the General Assembly.

Former state representative Polly Baca speaks as Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Former state representative Polly Baca speaks as Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Latino community members and organizers on Thursday laid out one primary goal they hope Colorado’s new governor and new-look legislature will tackle to in the upcoming year: Put more Latinos in leadership roles.

That was the message delivered by Servicios de la Raza executive director Rudy Gonzales and others Thursday during a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Denver’s West Colfax neighborhood.

Democrats last week swept statewide offices and took control of the legislature. The historic win included a record number of Latino legislators elected into office: Nine Latinos were elected to the General Assembly, where they will join five other incumbents to bring the total to 15, according to the Colorado Independent.

Most of them are Democrats — state Rep. Dave Williams is the lone Republican. The sweep wasn’t lost on people like Gonzales.

“As such, we want to see ourselves, we want to see us reflective in leadership,” Gonzales said. “And also definitely in leadership committees.”

Gonzales said new House Speaker KC Becker — who is replacing Crisanta Duran, the first-ever Latina House Speaker — has “a responsibility” to put Latino legislators in new committee leadership positions. State Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo last week became the first Latino President of the Senate, but there were no Latinos chosen in House leadership roles.

Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

There will also be a push by the community members to ensure more representation in statewide executive office roles. This year, no minority candidates were among the major party general election nominees.

Gonzales said they want to be a resource for govern-elect Jared Polis on issues and concerns related to the Latino community both in Denver and in Colorado.

“They are in those seats because of the Latino turnout and as such, we want our population, demographics, numbers, reflected in the leadership in those agencies, leadership in the cabinet, leadership in all those appointed positions,” Gonzales said.

Former state legislator Polly Baca was the first minority woman elected to the Colorado State Senate. This year marked 60 years since she first participated in political canvassing.

This year’s election, however, has been the one she’s celebrated more than any other “because of the progress” made. She called it exciting, adding she believes Polis will be “sensitive” to the Latino community.

“There are some places where we were obviously disappointed,” Baca said. “We don’t have a single representative in the five top offices in Colorado. There are no Latinos, no minorities.”

Baca said she expects Becker to appoint a Latino representative to at least one House committee chairman position. She also said Latinos need to urge more Republicans to ensure fair representation.

“That has to happen,” Baca said. “We deserve to be represented in the House. And let’s be very specific, we need to tell the speaker that’s her responsibility.”

State Rep. Joe Salazar gave up his seat in the House to run for attorney general. He said he doesn’t want Latino voters to be “pushed” aside after they helped secure a Democrat win.

Outgoing state Rep. Joe Salazar speaks as Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Outgoing state Rep. Joe Salazar speaks as Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“Our community elects people statewide,” Salazar said. “Our community elects people like Senator-elect Julie Gonzales and Representative-elect Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez.”

Salazar wants more accountability for his own political party; he said there is “an appalling lack” people of color in leadership in the Colorado House that needs to be addressed.

“In total, people of color represent over 25 percent of the entire General Assembly,” Salazar said. “And we are expecting that the Democratic Party honor that.”

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