Colorado's Hispanic voters flex their muscles

By Stephanie Clary

The Latino vote will make the difference in this year’s election, Grace López Ramírez said at the Aug. 20 kickoff of Denver’s Mi Familia Vota campaign.

“It can make it or break it,” said Ramírez, the organization’s state director.

The nonpartisan group centered in Arizona and Colorado launched its get-out-the-vote effort with a press conference in the parking lot of the original Chubby’s Restaurant at Federal Boulevard and West First Avenue.

Ramírez said Mi Familia Vota’s goal is to register 5,000 new Hispanic voters through registration drives, town hall meetings, door-to-door campaigns and phone calls. The campaign also is planning to contact more than 60,000 registered Latino voters statewide who live in areas with traditionally poor turnout. The group hopes to get 20,000 of them to the polls in November.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials estimates there will be 9.2 million Hispanic voters in the United States this year, up from 7.6 million in 2004. The nonpartisan organization, which represents 6,000 Latino officeholders, said it expects to see voter participation surge because of the national immigration debate and outreach by candidates and mobilization efforts.

And Colorado Latinos are growing in numbers. U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in May indicate that the state’s Hispanic population has increased from 17.1 percent of the state’s population in 2000 to 19.8 percent in 2007.

Members of Mi Familia Vota aren’t the only ones working to boost civic participation among Colorado’s Hispanics. Other groups include El Voto Latino, which focuses on Weld County, and the Latina Initiative, a nonpartisan voter registration and mobilization campaign aimed at women.

And while all three say they will not be taking a stance on specific candidates, they will be working against certain measures on this year’s ballot.

Mi Familia Vota will be distributing a voter guide as the election nears and has taken positions against Amendments 46 and 47.

Amendment 46 would prohibit state-funded programs from giving priority to women and minorities. Amendment 47, the Right-to-Work amendment, would place restrictions on the way labor unions can collect dues, giving employees the right to refuse to pay fees in return for representation.

“We are going to be working to defeat both of those,” Ramírez said.

“For the Latino community, equal opportunity has been essential,” she added, alluding to Amendment 46.

As for Amendment 47, “we will be working to defeat that as well, because (of our) quest for economic empowerment for our community.” Ramírez said Latinos in Right-to-Work states live at a lower economic level than they do in states without such restrictions on union organizing.

Vickie Lara, director of El Voto Latino, said her group also has taken a stance against Amendment 46.

Dusti Gurule, executive director of the Latina Initiative, said the group also has decided to oppose Amendment 46, the attack on affirmative action, and Amendment 48, which would redefine “personhood” as beginning at the moment of conception.

“We feel that that’s an attack not only on women’s rights but also on their health,” Gurule said.

She called Amendment 46, “an attack on women and people of color because the playing ground isn’t level. Nobody wants discrimination. It’s not about favorites. It’s about equal opportunity.”

Gurule said her organization aims for increased Latina civic involvement every year, but this year it’s also focusing on harnessing the excitement surrounding the election.

“Every election is important,” she said. “This year, Colorado is such a key player in the election, and with the convention here, we’re really trying to make use of the attention people have, because I think people’s attention levels are so much more in tune with what’s going on.”

Ramírez also is excited because Colorado voters will play a major role nationally on Election Day.

“This is the first year Colorado really is a battleground state,” she said. “It’s an unprecedented voter registration year.”