Diversity Day at the Utah Capitol — coming on the heels of the Republican’s Latino Day even — drew about 500 people in the rotunda and was highlighted with cultural dances and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell at one point announcing he was happy to "be with my homies."
Bell’s comments drew laughs, but it was Gov. Gary Herbert slated as the keynote speaker at the event that drew attention.
That’s because he didn’t appear at Wednesday’s GOP’s Latino Day event — a decision both Herbert’s office and Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly Chairman Marco Diaz chalked up to scheduling conflicts.
But the chief organizers of Thursday’s event, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, paid for the rotunda and organized the speakers list, according to spokesman Geoffrey Fattah. Organizers were quick to point out that the event had been in the works for weeks.
Diaz admitted his event was a partisan affair and it featured no speakers from the Democratic Party. And Diaz was the only Latino speaker at the GOP event — though House Speaker Becky Lockhart’s great grandmother was Hispanic.
The Provo Republican curbed her partisan tone from Wednesday, where she urged Latinos to join the Republican Party. Instead on Thursday, she spoke to broader themes of inclusiveness and never mentioned political affiliation during her remarks.
"Utah is strong because of our diversity," Lockhart said. "Our varying backgrounds, interests, skills make our community and workplaces truly exceptional."
The divide between the two events illustrated what Diaz admitted to — Republicans have a long way to go to draw Latinos in. A combination of harsh rhetoric from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republicans in Utah who oppose comprehensive immigration reform has put the party at odds with this important voting bloc. Republicans lost the November elections to President Barack Obama by an almost three-to-one ratio.
"We’ve got work to do, plain and simple," Diaz said.
While the GOP had Diaz, the Diversity Day event featured speakers Utah Democratic Vice Chair Josie Valdez and Reps. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City.
Herbert and Houck stressed education among the 250 students that filled the Capitol rotunda — with Herbert worried about the low graduation rate among minorites in the state, specifically Latinos — the largest minority in Utah.
According to the State Office of Education, Latino graduation rates were 62 percent in 2012 while whites graduated at 82 percent.
"We have too many of our minority populations that aren’t graduating from high school and not going on," Herbert said. "So if you remember anything today, remember you heard it from the governor — stay in school, get a good education if you want a good job when you go off into the world."
And Chavez-Houck asked the crowd to tell their stories and to share them with everyone.
"Support each other over these years as you grow and as you achieve everything you want to achieve," she said. "It can be tough and I get that, but that’s why we stick together. That’s why we’re a community. That’s why we are a diverse community."
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