Latino Caucus numbers, influence growing at Colorado Capitol

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FILE – In this Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, file photo, the State Capitol is shown in downtown Denver. Colorado’s four-month legislative session starts Wednesday, Jan. 8, and majority Democrats want to build on legislation passed last year to extend health care coverage and lower prices. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado General Assembly’s Latino Caucus is the largest in state history, and its members have ambitious plans for the 2020 session.

There are now 13 members in the group that’s only open to Democrats. Their growing influence was illustrated by last year’s election of Leroy Garcia as Senate president, the first Latino to serve in that position.

More than one in every five Coloradans are Latino, according to the U.S. Census. To fully reflect the Latino population’s numbers, a Latino caucus — partisan or bipartisan — would need 21 members in the 100-member General Assembly, The Denver Post reported.

But the existing caucus has come a long way since 1974, when Polly Baca was elected as the first Latina in the state Senate — a century after her great-great uncle was among the first Latinos elected to the statehouse.

“I am so excited and encouraged by the number of Latino legislators that we currently have, and I’m particularly excited about this group of young Hispanic women or Latinas,” Baca said.

There is one Republican who is Latino and is not a member of the caucus. Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs supports President Donald Trump and his immigration policies, many of which the Latino Caucus has worked against.

Williams said his positions make sense for his conservative district.

Hispanic voters historically have tended to lean more toward Democrats and their policies, but those who are older or foreign-born are more likely to describe their political views as conservative, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

This year, Colorado Latino Caucus members are sponsoring or signing onto legislation dealing with immigration, the environment, health care costs, family leave, abolishing the death penalty and repealing Columbus Day.

The immigration bills include proposals to establish more oversight of the privately run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Aurora and another one that would prevent ICE agents from making immigration arrests in state courthouses.

The caucus also recently received approval from the IRS to register as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, and members plan to launch an educational outreach program to meet with Latinos statewide.

Caucus members say they try to give a voice to people who normally don’t have one in state government.

“What we heard from our community is there’s a lot of hope still with having us there,” said state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver. “They know that they can contact us and we will sit down with them, and we want to hear from our community.”

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