WASHINGTON — For many Latinos, 2016 was supposed to be the year they’d see one of their own on the presidential ballot. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio did their best on the Republican side and for a while Hilary Clinton kept their hopes high until she picked Tim Kaine to be her running mate.
“I’m disappointed she didn’t pick a Latino,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the non-partisan National Association of Elected and Appointed Latino Officials, NALEO, which represents more than 6,200 members.
He argues that many well-qualified Latinos have been passed over for the VP spot even after they were interviewed for the job.
At least three Latinos, Housing Secretary Julian Castro, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and California congressman Xavier Becerra met with Clinton during the vetting process.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, is also disappointed that Hilary Clinton didn’t choose a Latino as her running mate but understands that Tim Kaine could be more helpful to win in November.
“Trump made those comments against our community so I think it will be easier to convince Latinos to vote for democrats,” Richardson said.
Richardson says that Tim Kaine is the second best choice for Latinos because he lived in Honduras and speaks Spanish.
But Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat Texas State Legislator who represents parts of Houston, warns Kaine to be careful about where and when he uses his bilingual skills.
“I typically talk to older Latinos in Spanish but around younger Latinos or mixed crowds I stick to English,” Garcia says, acknowledging that some non-Spanish speakers could get turned-off by the change of language.
Arturo Vargas says the challenge for the Clinton and Trump campaign is that they will truly engage with Latinos between now and November.
“I don’t want to see Hilary Clinton or Trump go to West Los Angeles for a fundraiser and ignore East LA and the Latinos who live there,” Vargas says.
Gov. Richardson agrees. He argues that the candidates need to talk to Latinos directly on issues beyond immigration.
“The media thinks we only care about immigration, we are Americans and we care about other issues like the economy, education crime prevention, foreign policy and relations with Latin American countries,” Richardson says.
Even without a Latino candidate on the top ticket, 2016 will be a historic year for Latinos in politics. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the first Latino to win a primary and was the chief rival of Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio won the Minnesota and Puerto Rico primaries.
Arturo Vargas points to the success Cruz and Rubio had this year as a good sign of things to come for Latinos but warns that both parties need to do more to reach out to the community and support more Latino candidates.
Bill Richardson thinks the parties should focus on recruiting Latinas who he says are under represented in politics. He thinks the next president should appoint more Latinos to higher cabinet positions to increase their visibility and possibility to reach the presidency.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said during an event sponsored by NALEO in Philadelphia that it is time for political leaders to take a chance on Latinos.
“I see the first Clinton administration and I look at the Obama administration, an there is this little ceiling,” Garcetti says, adding that Latino White House staffers over the last eight years got a promotion or two but they are only “senior-junior people right now. They’re not the junior-senior people, let alone the senior people.”
Garcetti says political leaders want “big names” for the bigger posts, but points to Loretta Lynch who he says was not well known before she was appointed Attorney General, but went to law school with president Obama.
He says that as a Democrat it is important that Hilary Clinton as President understands that one or two cabinet positions for Latinos is not enough. “We want to see a leadership pathway for the next generations,” Garcetti says.