DENVER — Gov. Bill Ritter shored up support with the state’s growing number of Latino voters Tuesday, appearing with a group of roughly 40 of the community’s leaders, who came to the downtown Auraria campus to endorse him as the best choice for governor in 2010. In discussions with The Colorado Independent, Latino leaders at the event made it clear that Ritter has been working hard to smooth relationships with the community and to address grievances. They also made it clear that Ritter’s Republican rivals have moved in the opposite direction, their recent efforts further alienating Colorado Latinos.
Ritter emphasized that he would continue to work toward establishing greater equity in the Colorado education system in order to provide greater access for Latino students. The move, he said, was part of drive to create a better more highly skilled workforce across the state. He also underlined the benefits brought by last year’s Health Care Affordability Act, which he said added 100,000 more people to the ranks of the insured.
“Latinos and Latinas are disproportionately uninsured” in Colorado, he said. So although the act is designed to lift up all of the citizens of the state, “there is disproportionate benefit oftentimes for communities of color.”
State Sen. Able Tapia of Pueblo acknowledged that he had been concerned with Ritter’s votes against union interests and the appointment of Michael Bennet to Ken Salazar’s Senate seat. That was a lost opportunity for the Latino community here, he said. But Tapia told The Colorado Independent that he sat down with Ritter and discussed his concerns and he came away satisfied.
Tapia said Ritter told him that the largely unreported reasoning behind the choice of Bennet, for example, was purely practical.
“He said that looking at the new Obama administration and its focus on education, the governor saw Michael Bennet as the best fit to help bring federal education dollars to the state and to work well generally with the new administration.”
Tapia said federal stimulus dollars have lifted the economy of Pueblo and commended the governor for helping pass state legislation that will allow high school students to earn credits toward college. He said that it’s a valuable step to bring in additional job training and raise earning potential. Tapia also praised Ritter for the work he’s done on the state budget, for “cutting into the bone” but doing so fairly.
Joe Salazar, founding member of the Colorado Latino Forum, which was organized to help place more Latinos in government as a response to Ritter’s appointments, said he believed Ritter “the right governor for the state of Colorado, not just Latinos.
“I think that the alternative is not right for Colorado,” he said.
Former state Sen. Polly Baca said she was looking for Ritter to veto anti-Latino bills such as the one that would put in place the employee verification system that Josh Penry, the Colorado Senate minority leader and former gubernatorial candidate, called for in a press conference held Monday. Baca said that she could only support such legislation if it were part of a larger immigration reform package.
“I want to see something that provides citizenship to those people who are here now,” she said.
Baca and Salazar would like to see elected officials support instead legislation that discourages racial discrimination. They pointed to coming legislation referred to as “Informed Consent.” The bill would mandate that police officers get written consent before performing body searches.
Ritter told The Colorado Independent that he couldn’t comment on the likelihood of his signing such a bill before he had the chance to review it.
All of Latino leaders agreed that choosing between Ritter and GOP rival Scott McInnis was easy. They shook their heads at the way McInnis seemed to embrace controversial anti-illegal immigrant firebrand and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo in designing the “Platform for Prosperity” on which McInnis was now running.
“The Republican Party isn’t reaching out to the Latino community… They couldn’t care less about the Latino community,” Salazar said.
Baca said that Ritter would do well to continue to maintain open channels with the Latino community and to do that in part by attending Latino events where he could make further connections and pick up on Latino concerns.
“We are all here together today because we share one common vision,” Ritter said. “It isn’t about race, it isn’t about ethnicity. It is about people and it is about the promise of this state.”