Democrats gripe that Latino town hall was a Utah Republican event masquerading as a nonpartisan forum

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) In this March 22, 2016, file photo Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, (center) attempts to assist voters at a presidential caucus at Mountain View Elementary School. Romero, one of three Latinx members of the Utah Legislature, was critical of a Republican Latino town hall that featured only white Republican lawmakers speaking to residents Thursday night in Taylorsville.

Democratic state Rep. Angela Romero wondered why her phone erupted with texts Thursday evening asking why she wasn’t attending an event promoted on Facebook as Utah’s “First Latino Town Hall” to discuss politics.

Some attendees questioned why the only officials speaking at the Taylorsville City Hall event were six white Republicans. No Latino legislators — all of whom in Utah are Democrats — were present.

“It was a Republican-sponsored event, but the Facebook ads didn’t say that,” an upset Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said in a Tribune interview Friday. “I applaud Republicans for trying to reach out to Latinos, but the way they did it was misleading. To advertise it as a first Latino town hall and then not include your Latino elected officials, I think, is a disservice to the community.”

It led to some caustic Democrat vs. Republican jousting on social media.

After some attendees asked online why no Latino legislators were there, Republicans tweeted that the event was open to all. Romero took issue with that, tweeting that she wasn’t invited, nor were any Democrats — and complained the GOP event was marketed as something it was not.

“Lots of missed opportunities here but of course it’s ‘my fault’ for not attending. I should have seen the event advertised on social media,” Romero tweeted.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, criticized the criticism.

He said instead of Romero saying it was a bad event with missed opportunities because she wasn’t invited, “How about this instead: ‘I’m so impressed that 6 weird white guys decided to spend an evening listening to another culture. This is how we will bring America together!’”

Romero tweeted in response, “Thanks for mansplaining me! P.S. I never said it was a bad event. It’s about transparency. This was a GOP sponsored event. Don’t market it as something it’s not.”

Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson said Friday that the event was sponsored by the Utah Republican Latino Coalition, one of the party’s official auxiliaries. But the Facebook ads, which were still online Friday, did not make the party sponsorship clear.

Later after early versions of this story appeared online, Cindie Quintana, chairwoman of that coalition, called the Tribune to say her group was not involved. She said that its early offers to assist were sidestepped by Anderson and a few GOP Latinos who planned the event themselves. Quintana said she also had suggested that Democratic Latino leaders be invited — but that appears not to have happened.

Anderson said some coalition leaders told him after the last election that the party is losing Latinos. They asked for a town hall with top leaders where Latinos could ask questions.

The GOP leader agreed that it was a good idea and he coordinated schedules to invite and feature Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and Rep. Jefferson Moss.

Some additional legislators saw it advertised online, and attended, Anderson said, and upon their arrival they were asked to sit on the stand. All of them were Republicans.

Anderson said advertising the event was left to Latinos that helped organize the event. He estimates that 250 people attended.

“It was packed. There was no intent to exclude anyone. Everyone was welcome,” Anderson said. As he opened the meeting, he said people of any party were welcome, and officials were there to listen to their concerns.

“I shook my head last night when I saw Angela’s comments. Can’t politics occur without divisiveness without someone feeling left out? It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said.

Democrat Ernie Gamonal for one applauded Republican efforts.

He congratulated the GOP on “their successful Latino event.”

“While I cannot abide the #PartyofTrump, this is America where we can choose,” Gamonal tweeted. “I applaud any effort to inspire and engage the majority-minority in governance. The @UtahDemocrats got some catching up to do.”

He suggested it was time for “Dems to reexamine Latino commitment,” noting a recent decline in Latinx representation in the Legislature. The retirement of Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck reduced the number from four to three in the 104-member Legislature, all of them Democrats.

Donald Aguirre, who attended the meeting, tweeted, “You bring America together by having all relevant leadership members at the table. Props on having a Latino town hall, but to glaze over the fact that no Latino leadership from the state House in attendance is a missed opportunity. It’s ok to admit that. You won’t melt.”

And Romero complains that the event advertising was misleading.

“It’s nice they are trying to reach out to Latinos, but to advertise it as a nonpartisan event and state that it was the first Latino town hall I think is a misrepresentation.”

She added it wasn’t really the first Latino town hall because Democrats have “hosted many town halls for the Latino community.”

Romero said 57 percent of her district’s residents are people of color, with the majority Latino. “So many of us don’t need to do town halls. We interact with the Latino community all the time because we are the Latino community and because we truly represent them in the Legislature.”

Chavez-Houck also tweeted about Republicans, “The irony is that they are working out outreach yet failed to fund any outreach and education for the 2020 Census. #fail