The fight for the Latino vote in Utah has officially begun with dueling minority appreciation days between Republicans and Democrats scheduled for the last two days of the legislative session at the Capitol.
Melodia Gutierrez, the Latino outreach director for the Utah Democratic Party, said both parties began working on the event together, along with the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs and the diversity offices of both Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City governments. But the Utah Hispanic Republican Assembly stopped responding to requests for joint planning meetings and did not return emails or phone calls, she said.
The next thing she knew, the Republican Assembly had scheduled a Latino appreciation day at the Capitol a day before Multicultural Affairs’ minority day March 14, the last day of the legislative session.
The Democrats involved in the event say what was supposed to be a collaborative effort to honor all ethnic groups has turned into a political event by Republicans to woo Latinos into their camp.
To add insult to injury, they say, a memo from Utah Hispanic Republican Assembly Chair Marco Diaz to House Republican leadership touted the support the event has gotten from Reps. Johnny Anderson, Craig Hall and Eric Hutchings, three Anglo Republicans who beat Latino candidates in the last election.
Diaz says it is the Democrats who are not being inclusive. For years, he noted, Latino representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties jointly sponsored the Hispanic Appreciation Day at the Legislature. But this year, he said, the Democrats changed it to ethnic diversity day celebrating all minority communities.
The Republican Assembly, he said, wanted to keep the celebration of the Latino community, so it went ahead with its own event scheduled for March 13.
But that, says State Democratic Party Vice Chair Josie Valdez, appears to be just a Republican pep rally rather than a true outreach to the minority community. The Democratic event planners are arranging for 800 minority students to attend. The focus will be on closing the education achievement gap between minority students, especially Latinos, and Anglo students.
That event also has the support and participation of the chambers of commerce of several minority communities, including African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
For the Latino Day, the rental for the Capitol Rotunda space is being paid for by the House Republican PAC and the Utah State Republican Party.
Nonethless, Diaz, who touted the event in memos to the House Republicans and the Republican State Central Committee as an opportunity to reach out to Latino voters, said he still intends to support the Diversity Day on March 14 and hopes the Democrats will support Latino Day on March 13.
And just for the record, the four Latinos in the Utah Legislature are all Democrats: Sen. Luz Robles and Reps. Mark Wheatley, Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Angela Romero.
Keep the drivers smiling • One reader was so amused by what he saw on Monday he took a picture of it with his cellphone and emailed it to me.
The site was the Utah State Liquor store on North Temple. Parked in one of the customer parking stalls was a large van with large lettering on its side panels noting it is a Temple Square Tours van.