Latinas Making a Difference in U.S. Politics: Dems and Republicans Court Hispanic Vote


From our 2015 Archives

Both Democrats and Republicans have been stepping up efforts to attract Latino and Latina voters in recent elections. Among Michelle Obama’s guests at the 2015 State of the Union was climate scientist Nicole Hernandez Hammer, a Guatemalan immigrant who has studied how climate change disproportionately affects Hispanic communities. Republicans, in turn, offered a Spanish-language response to the State of the Union.

In several states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, Latinos make up enough of the electorate to sway election results. It’s clear that both parties are taking measures to court Hispanic voters, but some advocacy groups are also looking to increase Latina representation in elected government roles.

Latinos in Congress

The Congress of 2015 has the highest percentage of Latinos in US history. Hispanic representation in Congress rose by one member this year, bringing the total to 29 in the House of Representatives and three in the Senate. Despite the increasing Hispanic presence in government, Latinas continue to be underrepresented in Congress. All three Latino senators are Cuban American men. Of the 100 women serving in the 114th Congress, nine are Latina.

National Awareness for Latino Issues

Last year, LatinasRepresent—a collaboration between Political Parity and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda—launched a national awareness initiative to increase the number of Latinas in elected positions. In a video put out by the partnership in January of 2014, Hispanic elected officials talked about the need for better representation in government. “Clearly, our congress won’t be doing its job until our elected representatives look like the America that we were elected to represent,” said congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA), who became chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2015. She and her sister, Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) are the first sisters to ever serve simultaneously in the United States Congress. Both sisters were influenced by their mother, Maria Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant who went to college in her forties to study bilingual education.

Spotlight on U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

While most Latinas in Congress are Democrats, they are represented on both sides of the aisle. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) became the first Latina and Cuban American elected to the United States Congress when she was elected to represent Florida’s 27th congressional district in 1989. In 2012, she became the first Republican in the House to support gay marriage when she cosponsored a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Her son, Rodrigo, is openly transgender. Ros-Lehtinen is a founding member of the LGBT Equality Caucus.

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