Colorado’s Latino Democratic leaders turn out for Clinton

This weekend, while Donald Trump supporters geared up for the next two months, a group of influential Latino Democrats rallied around presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on the metro area’s north side.

The group of about two dozen gathered elbow-to-elbow at La Casa Del Rey restaurant in Commerce City. They also heard from Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, who stopped by during a whirlwind tour through Colorado on Saturday.

The Latino leaders are a who’s who in Latino Democratic politics, including Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver, former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, former state Rep. Polly Baca of Denver and former Denver City Councilwoman and Democratic National Committeewoman Ramona Martinez. Adrienne Benavidez, a candidate for House District 32 who has spent more than two decades in public service, and Katherine Archuleta, a long-time Latina political leader who has served in two presidential administrations, are also members.

Garcia said the purpose was to galvanize Latino leadership in the Democratic party in Colorado, to remind folks not to take anything for granted and to turn out the Latino vote — while thanking voters for what they’re already doing. “We have to stay organized, stay on message,” 

Garcia, who left the Hickenlooper administration earlier this year to become president of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, noted the importance of keeping the Democratic majority in the state House and taking back the state Senate. Should that happen, he said, it will be historic, with two Latinas in charge: Guzman as Senate President and House Majority Leader Cristanta Duran of Denver as Speaker of the House.

But the task at hand, he stressed, is to elect Clinton, whose policies on education are crucial for minority students. Garcia noted that his own career has been dedicated to increasing educational opportunities for Hispanics and people of color. “A lot of us are in the positions we’re in because of education,” Garcia said. Nowadays, he said, too many people don’t have those same opportunities.

Colorado has the highest number of college graduates in the country, but that’s a number that mainly reflects the white population, 50 percent of which holds college degrees. There’s a huge gap for Hispanics, he said: Only 19 percent graduate from college. Those who don’t graduate often leave worse off, with student debt.

“The white workforce is getting grayer and older, but the future workforce is getting browner,” Garcia said. “We need to make sure they get an education.”

Castro then spoke briefly to the group, encouraging them to continue their efforts to mobilize Latino voters. He’s rumored to be planning a 2018 run against former GOP presidential candidate and current U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, though he demurred when asked if he plans that run. His focus, he says, is on helping Clinton win in November.

Castro made stops during his Saturday visit to the opening of Sen. Michael Bennet’s campaign office in Commerce City and to a nearby campaign office for state Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora, who is running for the 6th Congressional District seat against incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora.

Castro spoke to The Colorado Independent about what will motivate Hispanics to vote, particularly the younger set — 44 percent of the Latino voting population is under the age of 30.

IMG_2391“You talk to them about what’s at stake,” Castro said, “and whether in the coming years this country will still be a place of opportunity, with political leaders, including a president, who respects them and treats them with dignity.” Young voters are focused on whether they can still afford to go to college without massive debt and buy a home, he said. Older Hispanics are concerned about whether they will have the peace of mind to retire. “These are issues important to all Americans,” he said.

“The decisions made today will impact their lives for decades to come,” Castro continued. “We need to have a voice in choosing our leaders…if you get the wrong set of people in Congress and the legislature, those people will erode opportunity.” He cited the potential loss of college affordability and a threatened Social Security system as particularly troubling. “All of these things at every stage of life is at stake in this election.”

In Castro’s mind, Clinton will make sure America is a prosperous place for people regardless of ethnic background or faith. “She will uplift this country,” he said.

Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.