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More Latinos running in local elections
S.L. County » Despite a surge of candidates, they’re less than 6% of municipal-contest total.

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Joe Garcia, running for the West Valley City Council, said he’s running as a member of the city planning commission who is upset the council has overturned too many of its decisions limiting pawn shops— and as someone who wants to fix problems with the city police. "I’m not running as a Latino, but as a person to represent all the people who want to improve the city."

William Hogan Espinoza, running for mayor of South Salt Lake, says he is part-Latino but identifies more with the Navajo portion of his family heritage as owner of the Navajo Hogan restaurant. But he says he is running "because I’m upset with city spending and how business fees have gone up."

At a glance

Latino candidates in Salt Lake County municipal races

Alta » Maura Olivos, town council.

Midvale » Olga de la Cruz, mayor; Serafina Ochoa, city council.

Murray » Robert Orrigoni, city council.

South Salt Lake » William Hogan Espinoza, mayor.

West Jordan » Daniel Argueta, mayor; Isaac Giron, city council.

West Valley City » Alex Segura, mayor; Joe Garcia, city council.

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Still-small percent » While more Latinos are running this year, why are the numbers still relatively small?

Maura Olivos, a third-generation U.S. Latina who is running for the Alta Town Council, says it may be that many Utah Latinos are still fairly recent immigrants. "The first generation is often focused on getting established and doesn’t feel like it has a say, and English may not be that good. By the third generation they are more established and comfortable" to run.

De la Cruz said many Utah Latinos also may not have the contacts and networks needed to run and win yet. She said she built that by serving on city boards and in volunteer groups, and encourages others to follow suit.

Martinez said many people don’t run simply because they don’t think they can win — and may still be vastly outnumbered by non-minority neighbors. "You see them running in cities where there are more minorities, where they feel comfortable," she said.

Argueta adds that many people may feel they can’t make much of a difference. "They feel disenfranchised."

That may also have hurt Latino voting turnout, which in turn may depress how many from that community run for office.

For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reported earlier this year that only 20.9 percent of Utah Latino citizens older than 18 voted last year. While low, that was up from 15.4 percent in 2008. In comparison, 60.4 percent of non-Latino whites Utah citizens voted last year. Non-Latino white cast 92.3 percent of Utah votes last year, while Latinos cast 4.8 percent.

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Yapias said the greater number of Latinos running this year should lead to more in the future. "We’ve been used to others acting in our behalf. But we need to have more people of color run so that our voice will grow. When we see more people who look like us in office, they will be more sensitive to our needs — and Latinos will feel they can make a difference."

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