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(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) Andres Paredes, candidate for Utah House of Representatives District 26, attends a meeting for the East Central Community Council at McGillis School on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012.
Utah’s Latino candidate disparity illustrates parties’ race gap
Politics » House District 26 contest pits lone Hispanic GOP hopeful against Hispanic Dem.
First Published Oct 15 2012 01:01 am • Last Updated Oct 15 2012 01:01 am

No matter who wins the House District 26 race in November, it will be a Hispanic from that area sworn in on Capitol Hill in January.

But while Democrat Angela Romero is one of nine Hispanics from her party seeking office in the Legislature, Andres Paredes will be the lone Latino Republican on the ballot vying for a statehouse seat.

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It is a reflection of the changing demographic of Utah, but also illustrative of the wide disparity between the two political parties and their ability to draw Hispanics into their respective tents.

"The fact that it’s9-to-1 tellsyou a lot," said Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah. "It tells me that the Republican Party hasn’t been reaching out to the Latino community and is more known for being punitive to the Latino community."

She said that while the trajectory of Latino growth in Utah will likely continue to rise, it’s up to the political parties to understand how to react to it.

She said Republicans are behind with both Latino voters and candidates due to some harsh immigration rhetoric.

Some high-ranking state Republicans have sought to sound the alarm, with Gov. Gary Herbert saying last month that the GOP sometimes "loses the ‘I care’ debate" and that it has "been off-putting to some in the Latino community."

Paredes agrees.

"When I look at the immigration issue and I see some things that the extreme Republicans say or do, it’s not a surprise that it’s a factor in why Hispanics have trouble reconciling with the Republican Party," Paredes said. "I wouldn’t blame them for feeling that way."

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Broader perspectives » For the Legislature to reflect Utah’s 13.2 percent Latino population it would need 10 Hispanics in the House and four in the Senate.

In the last legislative session, there were a total of five Latinos in both chambers.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, has been in office since 2008. She said diverse representation will bring broader perspectives to issues on education, health care and immigration reform.

"When you see faces in committee hearings that are reflective of that diversity, I think it guarantees the discussion moves forward," Robles said. "I’m excited about that and I think it will empower the state and be positive for all Utahns."

Romero, a 39-year-old program manager at the Sorenson Unity Center, said she has been working within an ethnically diverse community "behind the scenes" for most of her adult life.

But then Democratic House Minority Leader David Litvack said he wasn’t going to seek re-election in House District 26, which runs mostly along 400 South as its northern boundary, from 900 East to almost 7200 West.

Romero spoke with several Democratic lawmakers who encouraged her to run.

She said it’s a chance to honor what she learned from her grandmother while growing up in Tooele.

"She raised me with the values of treating people the way you want to be treated. If you see someone being bullied, you don’t stand on the sideline and watch — you go help them," Romero said. "I see many in House District 26 that, just due to their circumstance, may not feel they have a voice in their corner. I want to be that for them."

Romero, who has been canvassing since July, said education is her top issue.

But sometimes, immigration comes up at the door.

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