Project Working To Support Latino Political Candidates
Latinos make up 17 percent of the U.S. population but hold just one percent of elected offices. That’s according to the Latino Victory Project, which is raising millions of dollars to change that.
Two San Antonians behind the effort were front and center at the Democratic National Convention ....making connections for the project.
At a convention exhibit booth draped in red and blue, volunteers with the Latino Victory Party spread the word about their project launched two years ago.
The Latino Victory Project's goal is to develop a pipeline of Latino leaders and elected officials who will address important policy issues. San Antonio architect Henry R. Munoz, III, launched the organization with "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria, who also lives in San Antonio.
"Well, I think the biggest challenge for young Latinos is feeling a sense of empowerment. We are the fastest growing population of this country, but we're also a community that has been left behind. And so the idea of civic engagement is very strong in our communities but we don't know the way," Munoz says.
Munoz says that's why mentoring young Latinos interested in politics is so essential. And there's another big challenge Munoz knows something about: money. He's the finance chairman for the National Democratic Party. He says funding a credible political campaign is difficult for candidates who also have to hold down jobs.
"Well my father used to tell me, 'No peso, no say-so', money has always been a problem because we are not a wealthy community and because of the wealth that is being built is just now getting to the point where it can be organized around this concept of inclusion," Munoz says.
The financial challenge is one that San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro faced during his early career as a lawyer.
"Well I had to quit my job, I was working in a law firm and there was no way I was going to be able to bill all the hours I needed to bill and also run against a Democratic incumbent and then run in November in a competitive district," Castro says.
Castro says he was able to live from savings during the lean times, but that isn't always possible for working-class Latino candidates. Castro says it's difficult for young Latinos to raise campaign funds if they've never done it.
"When you run against an incumbent for example, usually the money, the resources are mostly caught off from you. And so often times people not only take on a deep financial burden personally but they find it hard to raise money for their own campaigns when they start out," he says.
Austin Democratic State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez says getting the Latino community to actually vote and support Latino candidates can also be tough.
"My district is almost 70 percent Hispanic or Latino and just getting those people out to vote is a great challenge and it’s been a challenge for the party too for a long time," Rodriguez says.
And Rodriguez says there's typecasting.
"You know as Latinos we know we are capable of running this state or being in leadership positions in this state and it's just having the last name of Rodriguez or Garcia or Sanchez or whatever for non-Hispanics lots of the time there is this sense, 'Oh, they're going to focus on immigration issues', where really we are willing and able and capable of working on issues that affect the entire State of Texas," he says.
The Latino Victory Project is aiming to raise $5 million this next year to support candidates across the country. Some of it will be used for campaign donations. Some will be used to help candidates file for office, fundraise and run campaigns. A mentorship program will identify, recruit and train promising candidates.
Twenty-four-year old Jen Ramos is a Latina just getting in to politics. Less than a year ago, she went from waiting tables to serving as the Bernie Sanders campaign manager in Austin.
"And just coming to this point came with these struggles, I had to drop out of college because I couldn't afford it and I'm a Latina which makes things even more difficult because Hispanics make less than Caucasians individuals and even so women make less than that so factor all that in and I'm not exactly set up for success, the odds are against me," Ramos says.
Ramos believes a group like Latino Victory could change those odds by providing the support many Hispanic candidates need to win.