Latinos helped make Georgia a battleground state. Why are there so few in the office?

“I think we’re going to have more Latinos in the November ballot than we’ve ever had before, and that’s for sure, given that we have people on both the Republican side and the Democratic side,” he said. said Gonzalez, the founder and current CEO of GALEO. “That in itself is going to be historic… Now we still have a ways to go.”

Over the past five years, there have been several firsts for Latinos in the state. In 2017, Georgia elected its first Hispanic mayor and its first Latina to the state legislature. Two years later, Governor Brian Kemp made history by appointing the first Latino to hold statewide constitutional office. In 2021, the first Latino Republican was elected to the state senate.

This year, Georgia could elect the first Afro-Latino to the state Senate and House of Representatives. The two candidates, both Democrats, are supported by major Latino groups, such as Latino Victory Fund and GALEO Impact Fund.

The State’s Latino Leaders Are Fast to praise the progress that has been made in recent years, but want to ignore the talk of “firsts”. Because right now, they say, Latinos make up less than 1% of the state’s elected officials. And there are only three in the 236-member state General Assembly.

The first step for groups like GALEO and Latino Victory Fund was to inspire more Latinos to engage in politics and run for office, with the goal of harnessing the power of the growing community. Now comes the trickiest part – actually getting people elected.

To this end, the groups help candidates raise funds, organize events and educate voters. GALEO, in particular, has for nearly two decades spearheaded summits and programs to engage Latinos more in their communities.

But these are just some of the challenges faced by Latino candidates.

The latest round of redistrictings in the state “have sliced ​​and diced our communities to make it harder for people to show up at those offices,” Gonzalez said.

Other barriers, such as general voting in many local jurisdictions and lack of access to documents in Spanish in areas with high Latin American densities, are also significant obstacles.

Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta, is currently the only county in the state required by law to offer election materials in Spanish. Other parts of the state with large Latino populations don’t go as far.

The Latino Victory Fund has endorsed three candidates ahead of the May 24 primary: Jason Esteves, the chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education who is running for the state Senate; Phil Olaleye, the head of an Atlanta-based nonprofit running for State House; and Michelle Schreiner, a psychologist and community activist who is running for State House.

“The basis of our government is that we are a representative government. We can’t say we’re a representative government and only have 1% of Latinos in political power [in Georgia]. This is simply unacceptable,” said Nathalie Rayes, President and CEO of Latino Victory Fund.

Rayes explained that part of the reason there have been limited numbers of Latinos running for office in Georgia and across the country is that “the infrastructure is unfortunately not in place for our success.” , given the amount of money and access to a donor and political network, needed to run a successful campaign.

In a sign of the Latino Victory Fund’s commitment, the DC-based group’s top executives, including board chairman Luis Miranda, Jr., were in Atlanta last week to canvass the three nominees. The progressive group also organized a fundraiser for the candidates.

Latino Victory Fund plans to spend at least six figures to help candidates after the primaries, as well as the Democratic senator. Raphael Warnockthe Democrat’s re-election and Democrat Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial bid ahead of the general election.

“The last 10 years have seen increased political involvement by Latinos in Georgia,” said Esteves, who is Puerto Rican and became the first Latino elected to a Georgia school board in 2013. “Organizations like Latino Victory and those on the ground like GALEO and the Latino Community Fund have tried to cultivate and grow the pool of potential candidates to go along with what we’ve seen the momentum to be on the professional, business and civic side of things.

For Jason Anavitarte, the first Latino Republican elected to the state Senate, the prospect of having more Latinos, regardless of party affiliation, elected to the General Assembly is welcome — and much needed.

Anavitarte first became involved in politics as a member of the council of his hometown of Doraville in 2003. He was one of the only Latinos he knew involved in politics at the time, so serving to be a single Latino in the state senate was a familiar experience.

“There is no doubt that our presence has increased, but I don’t think it has increased at the rate at which the population has increased,” said Anavitarte, of Puerto Rican descent.

“We are definitely going to see Republican and Democratic Latinos elected this cycle,” Anavitarte added. “And that’s good, that’s positive. We have to have Latinos at the table.

Edward K. Thompson