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Utah Latinos say outreach from political parties is lacking

Signs show voter polling locations  in Cottonwood Heights on Nov. 8. Latinos are Utah's largest and fastest-growing minority group, making up 10% of the state's voters in 2020. But some say political parties are doing little outreach to Hispanic voters.

Signs show voter polling locations in Cottonwood Heights on Nov. 8. Latinos are Utah's largest and fastest-growing minority group, making up 10% of the state's voters in 2020. But some say political parties are doing little outreach to Hispanic voters. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News )


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SALT LAKE CITY — Even at a campaign event aimed at engaging Latinos, Saratoga Springs resident David Hurtado found himself to be one of only a few Latinos in the room.

"If you look around in this room — even though this is a Latino event — the majority of the people you see here are all just white people," Hurtado said at an event Sen. Mike Lee hosted with Libre Initiative (a national conservative group sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers) a week before the midterms.

"And that's not a knock. That's OK, that's fine — but that means that the message is not getting anywhere with us. It's only maybe 20 or 10 of us here and that's it."

Hurtado, a Venezuelan immigrant who has lived in Utah for 12 years, is among a number of Utah Latinos who have expressed a desire to see better outreach from political parties in Utah. Latinos are Utah's largest and fastest-growing minority group, making up 10% of the state's voters in 2020, according to Pew Research Center.

To put that in perspective, Sen. Mike Lee won this year's Senate race by 10.6%.

Utah major political parties aren't alone when it comes to not connecting with Latino voters. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund found that only half of Latino voters had heard from a campaign or political party during the midterm season. The majority of those who were contacted said they had been contacted by the Democratic Party.

"Both parties missed a clear opportunity this cycle to communicate directly with Latino voters, with half of voters going most of the midterm season without hearing from a single campaign or candidate," Arturo Vargas, the fund's CEO, said in a statement. "Nevertheless, Latino voters have strong views on many of the most pressing issues of the day and are watching candidates closely."

Two sides of the same coin?

Utah is a tough place to be Latino, says Amanda Perez, a Dominican marketing manager in Utah County who identifies as a Democrat.

"We have a big Latino population, but 90% of the time I feel like I belong to a super-small minority in this state," she said. "I personally don't think that either party is doing a great job at communicating to Latinos and their needs. Most of the issues discussed are important, but nobody is talking about immigration and the awful treatment of immigrants in the past years."

Perez isn't alone. Film producer Bryson Alejandro, a moderate who was born and raised in Utah to a Colombian mother, agrees that neither major party in the state is effectively reaching Latinos. However, he said that certain individuals, such as Gov. Spencer Cox, have been successful at reaching Latinos. Cox held his first Latino Town Hall as governor in late October.

"I think what can be done is that outreach of informing, helping people get registered to vote and helping my community realize that we have a voice and our voice can be used for good, it can be used for positive change," Alejandro said. "There's so many of us here that we could make a difference when it comes to local elections and even statewide elections."

Hurtado, the man who attended Lee's campaign event for Latinos, believes the Democratic Party is doing a better job reaching Utah Latinos due to what he said was a better relationship with Spanish-language media like Telemundo and Univision. He identifies as a constitutional conservative but votes Republican and believes there needs to be more political events that Latinos can relate to.

"Although we are a very conservative state, we can see — I can see at least — the Democrat Party reaching out to the Latino community more effectively than the Republican Party and that's just facts," he said. "Just because they understand that us, the Latino community, being the biggest minority in Utah, they need to tap into that niche.

"Unfortunately, I don't see the Republicans doing that as effectively as Democrats do. And that has an effect on the turnout for voting."

At least nationally, Hurtado's instincts seem to be correct. Politico reported that Democratic groups outspent Republicans almost 3-to-1 on Spanish-language TV and radio ads during the election cycle. Although spending on Spanish-language media appeared to be at a high, Spanish-language advertising still accounts for a tiny share of overall political spending on TV and radio — around 2.5% overall for Democrats and 1% for Republicans since the start of 2021, Politico reported.

Political consultant Richard Jaramillo says Utah's Democratic Party still has a long way to go when it comes to connecting with Latino voters.

"As somebody who has been a political operative in the Democratic Party, and someone who has professionally worked particularly with candidates of color and Latino candidates specifically — yeah, it's been a historic problem in the Democratic Party of having dedicated, committed outreach, engagement and inclusion of Latinos and even more diverse communities generally."

He said some progress was made when the state Democratic Party hired a Latino outreach director about a decade ago. However, he said the director was fired after a year or two and their replacement only lasted a few months.

"It really showed the lack of long-standing commitment in the Democratic Party," Jaramillo said. "The leadership in the party at the time did a lot of damage because it reinforced a belief that they don't really care about us. That was an unfortunate chapter, and we really haven't seen anything since to show that that's not the case."

Party politics

Both parties have segments dedicated to Latinos on the state level: the Utah Republican Latino Coalition and the Hispanic Caucus of the Utah Democratic Party.

The Hispanic Caucus did not respond to KSL.com's requests for an interview. However, Eva Lopez, chairwoman of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party, said the party has intentionally carved out space for Latinos and many of its elected officials look for ways to elevate Latino voices, such as conducting outreach in Spanish.

"The party is not perfect but has elevated the voices of its elected officials and retained Latino talent in its caucuses," Lopez said. "Our party invites and celebrates the diversity. Much of our success is because of our Utah State Democratic Hispanic Caucus and our infamous Margarita Ball (fundraiser event). Lots of voters are trying to find community and we have made sure to build a community where our members' voices are heard."

The Utah Republican Latino Coalition is about 400 members strong, according to the coalition's chairman, Arturo Morales. He said his party welcomes everyone and is doing all it can to bring more Latinos to the Republican Party.

"I think there is going to be a wave of minorities coming through the ranks in the near future, where you will see a lot more Hispanics in public office," he said.

Morales isn't aware of any Republican Latinos in the Utah Legislature, but he said that a lack of Latino representation in state offices isn't a disadvantage for recruiting more Latinos to the party.

"I just don't think that the Republican Party has to create a specific event for Latinos, or specific things for Hispanics," he said. "Once they see that their voice matters, that it makes a difference, then they want to do more — and that's what we focus on."

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Sydnee Gonzalez is a multicultural reporter for KSL.com covering the diversity of Utah's people and communities. Se habla español. You can find Sydnee at @sydnee_gonzalez on Twitter.

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