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Latino candidates face political challenges
La Voz Photo - Strive Prep Excel students, La Voz Publisher, Pauline Rivera and the American Heart Association personnel dressed in red, gathered to create awareness for heart disease and Latinas.

By James Mejía

This year’s mid-term election will help determine the state’s political direction for the next several years. At stake are Colorado’s statewide offices – Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, University of Colorado Board of Regents and Attorney General. Only Wayne Williams, the Secretary of State, is running for re-election. The other four seats are wide open with vigorous primaries in both major parties.

The Governor’s race is anticipated to be the most expensive in state history. Two months before the end of June primary, the first television commercials have been aired by Democratic candidate and US Congressman, Jared Polis. Despite the expense and fireworks of our state’s highest office, many in the Latino community are watching down ballot races most closely given the high number of Latino candidates running this year.

Races to Watch

One of the most interesting races to watch and featuring a Latino candidate is taking place in State Senate District 32 where Democrat, Robert Rodriguez, seeks to assume the seat of incumbent Democratic Senator, Dr. Irene Aguilar. Aguilar is term limited and has endorsed Rodriguez. Rodriguez’ primary competitor is Zach Neumann, a self-proclaimed social entrepreneur and a lecturer at the University of Colorado.

Rodriguez is a former Vice Chair of the Denver Democrats and an administrator at Independence House, a halfway house that offers services to help criminal offenders reintegrate into society. His platform includes economic opportunity and the right to earn a living wage, and more attention on education from universal Pre-K through graduate school.

It is likely that the winner of this primary will be elected in the general election since the district is 46 percent Democrat compared to 17 percent Republican.

District 32 covers a wide swath of Southwest and Southeast Denver. Washington Park, Alamo Placita, and Country Club are included in the district along with Harvey Park, Ruby Hill and Baker neighborhoods. The population of the district is 32 percent Latino but only 19 percent of the electorate is Latino. Around 18,000 Latino voters are in the district but total votes in the last midterm primary in 2014 was under 9,000 votes.

In Colorado House District 4, Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez is running to keep the North Denver seat Democratic and Latino. Current Representative, Dan Pabon, is term limited. A grandchild of Chicano icon Corky Gonzales, Gonzales-Gutierrez is a North Denver native and Colorado State University graduate. Gonzales says her experience as a mother has enhanced her abilities as a candidate, “Being a mom, understanding systems like child welfare and juvenile justice gives me a unique perspective on the many challenges our families face and what can be done to address them.”

Pay equity for women, greater accountability in the state’s criminal justice system, healthcare as a human right and affordable housing and livable wages are among her most discussed campaign narratives.

Gonzales-Gutierrez faces two-time school board candidate, Michael Kiley, Denver attorney Amy Beatie, and military veteran and healthcare worker, Ed Britt, in a primary battle that will determine the next state representative from district four. About half the district is comprised of Latinos, well over half district four voters are registered Democrats and one-third of the electorate is Latino. Of nearly 45,000 registered voters, only 4,045 votes were cast in the last midterm primary in 2014.

As Speaker of the House, Crisanta Duran presides over her last couple of weeks in the Colorado House, her term-limited representative District 5 seat is open for grabs. Political upstart, Alex Valdez is running in the heavily Latino district – Latinos make up half the residents and one third of the voters. With nearly 10,000 Latino Democrats in the district and less than 3,000 votes cast in the last midterm primary, Latino voters will largely determine the next State Representative from the district.

Valdez founded one of Colorado’s largest solar companies. An openly gay candidate, Valdez is a supporter of DACA, believes health care to be a human right, wants to increase access to public transportation, and curb access to firearms.

Valdez faces off against 11-year military officer, Gabriel Thorn, and renewable energy advocate, Meghan Nutting.

Latino candidates are also making strides on the other side of the political aisle. Republican Tony Sanchez is mounting a campaign against popular House Representative, Brittany Pettersen, for Senate District 22. Pettersen has stayed in the news since her willingness to share the story of her mother’s opioid addiction. Given the increase in attention on the state’s opioid crisis, Pettersen’s personal experience has kept her in the spotlight.

District 22 in Jefferson County is considered a swing county and a bellwether for the political mood of the state. The approximate 20 percent Latino vote is large enough to decide the general election outcome. Democrats comprise about 34,000 voters compared to 30,000 Republicans. However, unaffiliated voters is the largest group of the electorate with around 42,000 voters.

While Pettersen takes momentum from a successful year at the legislature to the campaign trail, Sanchez has performed well as the underdog before. In 2014, Sanchez soundly defeated a better-known candidate, Mario Nicolais, in the Republican primary by a 2 to 1 margin. In the general election, Sanchez earned 49 percent of the vote against Democratic State Senator, Andy Kerr.

Despite predictions of a big year for both Democrats and for women, the Sanchez-Pettersen match up could be one of the more exciting and close contests of the political season. Support of unaffiliated voters in Jefferson County and the Latino vote will determine the winner in this race.

Latino Turnout

Given the high number of Latino candidates running for the state legislature, voting advocates are hoping that Latino turnout increases to levels only seen in presidential election years. Much attention has been given to anticipated high turnouts for women and Democrats in the face of the MeToo movement and Trump’s vitriol targeting nearly all minority groups. Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border and negative stance toward DACA Dreamers is likely to increase Latino voting. The political future of Latino candidates in tough primaries will rely heavily on Latino turnout.





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