Joe A. Reyna | Salt Lake Tribune
Hispanics across America were emotional Wednesday because for the first time in history, two of their own were elected to the U.S. Senate outside of the state of New Mexico.
In Colorado, Democrat Ken Salazar won the race against beer baron Peter Coors. In Florida, former Housing Secretary Mel Martinez won his bid against his Democratic opponent. So, not only do we have a Mexican-American from Colorado and a Cuban-America from Florida, we also have one Democratic senator and one Republican senator.
The first Latino U.S. senator was Octaviano Larrazolo, a Republican appointed by the governor of New Mexico in 1928. Then we had Dennys Chavez, a Democrat from New Mexico who was appointed and then re-elected from 1935 to 1962. Joseph Manuel Montoya, also a Democrat from New Mexico, served in the U.S. Senate from 1964 to 1977.
In California, former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin failed to get the Republican Party’s nomination for a U.S. Senate seat earlier in 2004. In Texas, there have been several attempts by Latinos to get elected to the U.S. Senate, but no one has succeeded so far. The states with the most Hispanic representation are Texas, California and Florida. Utah is among the states with the fastest-growing Hispanic population along with Georgia, North Carolina and Colorado.
The fact that Americans chose two new Hispanics for the U.S. Senate indicates that the Hispanic population is receiving its long-deserved recognition. It also indicates that we as Americans we are becoming a more diverse and a more inclusive people.
The other good news is that more Latinos are becoming involved in the political process and many are now running for public office in a number of states and representing both major parties.
Among some of the key issues of interest of the newly elected Hispanic senators are to reform our immigration laws and health care, improve the quality of our education and contribute to a stable economy. However, one of the most important themes Sen.-elect Martinez will be focusing on is America’s relationship with Latin America particularly with Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
On the other side, Sen.-elect Salazar will most likely put more emphasis on improving our relations with our neighbors to the south, including Mexico. Both senators are also interested in promoting American Hispanics to ambassadorial posts throughout Latin American countries and the appointment of Hispanic judges to the federal bench, particularly the possibility of appointing the first Hispanic to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nov. 2, 2004, was an outstanding and historic moment for all Americans. That is because the triumph of electing two Hispanics to the U.S. Senate does not belong only to Latinos. It belongs to all Americans. This election is proof that our democracy works and that America gives the opportunity of representation to everyone, not only the majority.
With so many important issues at hand, both senators will have the opportunity to make a difference and to represent not only Hispanics but everyone in their states.
Because at the end of the day, what matters is that we are all Americans and citizens of this great nation, and we must learn to live together and help one another, no matter the social level we find ourselves. The new Hispanic senators will help all of us get there.
Joe A. Reyna is deputy mayor of economic affairs of Ogden City Corporation.