Arlington Democrats Work to Solidify Latino Vote


(Monday, February 12, 2007 8:16 AM EST)

Getting more Latinos involved in the political process is an important goal for County Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada.

In an effort to bring more visibility to the issue, Tejada hosted a panel called “Winning the Latino Vote” at the Feb. 7 Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.

Tejada invited Frederico de Jesús, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's director of Hispanic communication; Sindy Benavides, former director of Latino outreach in Tim Kaine's successful bid for governor; and Andrés Tobar, current chairman of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, to discuss Latino issues on the national, state and local levels.

OnThe message all panelists reiterated was that “Latino issues are American issues.” They also wanted to dispel the misconception of immigration as the issue of most importance to Latinos.

“Education is usually the most important issue for Latinos,” de Jesús said.

Jobs, the economy and health care also are considered more important to Latinos than immigration, Benavides said.

The panelists discussed ways to get more Latinos out to the polls, especially by targeting correct audiences. Latinos in Arlington come from all over Central America, South America and Mexico, and each group might need a different approach to get them involved in the electoral process.

Educating young people and being proactive in recruiting Latino voters were also key ways to increase Latino voter turnout.

“What we have to do is reach out to the Latinos,” Tobar said.

The 20-minute panel during the meeting did not leave much time for a dialogue between the audience and the panelists, but Tejada hopes to have a more lengthy public discussion on these issues in the near future, he said.

County Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada is the highest-ranking Latino elected official in Virginia.

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