Senate and House Democrats met with Latino media outlets and community leaders on the first day of the legislative session as a part of a continued outreach the minority party has been pushing to build upon heavy Latino support in the 2012 elections.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was the only new Hispanic elected in the past election — the remaining two in the House and one in the Senate were re-elected Democratic incumbents. There are no Latino Republicans in the Legislature
Romero said she wanted the community to know she was pushing hard on education issues — noting her district struggles with Latinos dropping out at high rates.
"It’s an issue I’ll be tracking closely," she said. "I think it’s where we need to make a big impact."
Organized by Utah Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Josie Valdez and Latino Outreach Director Melodia Gutierrez, the event gave Democrats a chance to unveil some of their legislative priorities in the remaining 44 days of the session.
"What we’re trying to do is encourage the Latino media to cover the session on a regular basis," Valdez said.
She said the breadth of issues tackled by the Legislature affects the Latino communities — including items like education and health care. According to current Census data, Utah’s Latino population is 13.2 percent.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, attended what will be the first of several semi-regular outreach events and said it was important to bring the Legislature closer to the minority population.
"The thing that wakes me up in the middle of the night is one statistic," Dabakis said. "What’s written on my hand and one I keep in my office ... is the fact that our minority graduation rate in this state is disgraceful. It’s the single-worst statistic in our state. It’s embarrassing, humiliating and it’s a 9/11 kind of emergency."
Utah has the fourth-worst graduation rate for Latinos, checking in at 57 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The state’s overall graduation rate is 76 percent.
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