Despite growth, Hispanic representation still minuscule

The number of Latino elected officials has grown nearly 75 percent over the past two decades, but Hispanic politicians still comprise less than 2 percent of all elected officials in the country, according to an analysis by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO).

The new analysis found that there were 7,087 Hispanic elected officials as of 2021 out of more than 500,000 elected positions nationwide.

That means around 1.5 percent of all elected officials are Hispanic, compared to 18.5 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau.

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“It is not representative. Absolutely. And not only is it not a good number, but it's heavily concentrated in Texas and California, New Mexico. And then the numbers plummet,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO.

NALEO on Wednesday released its yearly National Directory of Latino Elected Officials, with a breakdown of Hispanic elected officials and state-level analyses of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Texas.

California and Texas account for more than half of all Latino elected officials because of their sheer size, their large Hispanic populations and high participation of Hispanics at the municipal and school board level.

Texas alone has 2,808 Hispanic elected officials, a majority of whom serve in nonpartisan local positions.

Although elected Hispanic Democrats outnumber Hispanic Republicans in every state but Florida, Vargas said the most important growth in representation over time will come from nonpartisan positions.

“I don't think either party is doing enough, number one. But number two, the other thing to keep in mind is that the overwhelming majority of Latinos in elected office are in nonpartisan offices,” said Vargas.

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At the federal level, Hispanic representation has grown substantially in both parties, but remains far from parity.

The Senate has six Hispanic senators out of 100 members, two Republicans and four Democrats, and the House has 30 Hispanic Democrats and nine Hispanic Republicans, according to NALEO’s count.

NALEO’s numbers do not match up exactly with Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) membership because of methodological differences in who qualifies as Hispanic and who doesn’t.

The CHC, whose current membership is all Democratic, lists 34 representatives as members.

By any count, Hispanics account for less than 10 percent of the House of Representatives.

According to Vargas, the redistricting process going on now is an opportunity to increase representation at all levels.

“Typically, we should expect to see gains that in Congress after a reapportionment and redistricting, if the redistricting lines are drawn fairly, because that will create more opportunities,” said Vargas.

While the 2022 elections could bring a jump in Latino representation, Vargas said the effects of redistricting are generally felt over a few election cycles as districts better conform to the existing population and incumbents retire.

For Hispanic politicians to grab those opportunities, however, it’s helpful for them to have prior experience seeking lower office.

“So one of the things that we did see the Republican Party do over the past several years is trying to grow the number of Latino Republicans running for nonpartisan offices, you know, for city council, for mayor, for school board and building the bench,” said Vargas.

“That is a smart strategy — whatever party wants to increase its numbers, building a bench to have candidates that are ready and prepared to run for higher office when the opportunities present themselves, is the smartest strategy,” he added.