Latino leaders urge Maryland Democratic Party to not forget their communities

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

After a tough primary election ended last month, Maryland Democratic Party leaders vowed unity as they head into the November general election.

The Latino community wants to make sure it’s not left out of the party.

“As members of the party, we’re trying to push the party forward and say, ‘Look, we are no longer comfortable just doing Cinco de Mayo events. We’re no longer comfortable just to do Hispanic Heritage Month events,’” said Del. Ashanti Martinez (D-Prince George’s), who became chair of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus this year. “We need engagement year-round with our community in a very meaningful way.”

Martinez was one of 50 Latino elected officials, business and community leaders who signed a letter last week to party leaders and Democratic nominees for Congress to ensure Latinos are included in the political process. Their letter, a copy of which was obtained by Maryland Matters, calls on the party to encourage Latinos to register to vote, identify barriers that may hinder Latinos from voting and conduct civic education and leadership development in Latino communities.

“Too often we have seen lack of inclusion and support for our community, lack of representation of Latinos in positions of leadership and lack of investment in Latino voter outreach,” the letter said. “Latino leaders across the state need to feel seen and heard by the party and by the candidates the party puts on the ballot.”

Besides Martinez, the letter was also signed by Dels. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery), Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery) and Deni Taveras (D-Prince George’s), all of whom are members of the caucus’ executive board. Other signers included Dels. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee, and David Fraser-Hildalgo (D-Montgomery).

Martinez said the caucus has about 90 associate members, who are lawmakers that provide support and “allyship” to the caucus.

However, there are no elected Latinos in the state Senate.

There are no Latinos in the state’s congressional delegation.

The letter recommends that the party should “hire Latinos at the top levels of the Maryland Party who are bilingual and culturally aware.”

Baltimore City Councilmember Odette Ramos (D), who signed the letter, said the party should mirror appointments made by Gov. Wes Moore (D). At least four Latinos in his administration have decision-making powers, including Health Secretary Laura Herrera Scott, Human Services Secretary Rafael J. López, Secretary of Aging Carmel Roques and Yolanda Maria Martinez, special secretary of the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority, and Women Business Affairs.

“At least the governor recognizes that,” Ramos said Tuesday. “Because our population is growing so quickly, we really need a Cabinet that looks like the state. The party should do the same.”

‘We want to be better’

Democratic Party Chair Ken Ulman, who’s been in the job for about six months, said that before the letter was sent, party officials met with “about 80%” of the leaders who signed it. He said the letter matches discussions he’s had with Latino leaders.

One recommendation that could happen in the near future is incorporating “get out the vote” correspondence on the party’s social media pages in Spanish. Another request is to invest and post information in Spanish a section for new citizens on voter registration eligibility, the process to register, verification of registration and party affiliation.

A recommendation that could take longer is a call to hire Latino party liaisons in each of  the state’s eight congressional districts.

“I can’t commit to exactly how we’re going to do these things and when, but we are absolutely committed to making progress … to figure this out,” Ulman said. “We want to be better. We want to be more effective. We want to be as inclusive as possible.”

Latino leaders interviewed said they support the party, but still want to see some action before the Nov. 5 general election.

The Latino community continues to remain the fastest-growing demographic in Maryland, and accounted for 11.5% of the state’s population in 2023, according to Census Bureau estimates.

The Pew Research Center projects that Latinos will make up nearly 15% of the electorate nationwide in this year’s general election, but only about 6% of eligible voters in Maryland.

But advocates say the party should not overlook any part of the state’s Latino population, even those who may not be able to vote now. They can still be voices in the community.

“I think we need to be talking to everyone in our communities because everyone has value. Whether or not people can vote, they know people who do,” said Kony Serrano Portillo, a councilmember for the town of Edmonston in Prince George’s.

“We spend a lot of time as a party in the general election trying to get this independent voter. I don’t see any difference between individuals who would be voting [in the future],” she said. “We want them to be included in our party.”

Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have the highest percentage of Latinos in the state, with about 20% each, according to the Census Bureau.

Ramos did not endorse a U.S. Senate candidate and declined to say who she voted for in the last month’s primary won by Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D), who faces former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in the general election.

Ramos said she recently spoke with Alsobrooks to ensure her campaign reaches out to the Latino community.

“I’m focused on defeating Hogan. Period, end of story,” Ramos said. “He would be terrible for Maryland and frankly for the United States. This is the race that everyone will be paying attention to, because it will alter what will happen in the Senate.”

The Alsobrooks campaign agrees.

“Throughout this campaign, Angela has and will continue to reach out to Latino leaders and community members across the state of Maryland,” Alsobrooks spokesperson Gina Ford said in a statement Thursday. “She has built a wide coalition that we will continue to grow because for Angela, this race is about the future of all Marylanders.”

Maryland Matters is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Maryland Matters maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Steve Crane for questions: Follow Maryland Matters on Facebook and X.

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