Latino voters in the 8th district are interested in issues, not politics, this election season
Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District could help decide the balance of power in the US House of Representatives with a race many consider to be a toss-up.
The district sits Northeast of Denver and covers Weld and Adams counties and it also has the largest Latino voting bloc in the state. Nearly 40 % of the population there identifies as Latino.
Stacey Suniga lives in the district and leads the Latino Coalition of Weld County. She says this is an important opportunity to bring Colorado Latinos into the political process.
“We are part of this community,” she says. “We built this community, and we should be included in those decisions.”
However, she says, the Latino community is not a political monolith.
“A lot of Latinos don't really identify as a party,” Suniga says. “They identify as a culture and as their needs, and those things weren't being met for years.”
The majority of Latino voters in the 8th district are registered as unaffiliated. For them, the election is about issues impacting their lives and who will address them.
“It kind of opens up the opportunity for people to really be able to vote in people they think will represent them,” says Suniga. “And I think that's new for us in this area.”
The top issue facing Latino voters right now is inflation and the economy, which is hitting the community particularly hard.
Milo Marquez, head of the Colorado Latino Action Council, says some Latino families are also still dealing with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, they see everyday costs climbing.
“A lot of these Latino families who are marginalized and even other folks in these marginalized communities are struggling,” he says. “So, as we see inflation, of course, it affects our community first because we have not built that generational wealth that other communities have.”
For younger generations though, climate change is also a major concern. Like rising inflation, it’s front-and-center for many people.
“Folks are talking about the prairie fires that Colorado experienced last December,” Marquez says. “They want folks out there that are elected that are going to solve that problem.”
Reproductive rights and immigration reform are two other issues Latino voters are thinking about — but they are lower on the priority list because other issues are more immediately impacting day-to-day life here in Colorado.
Whatever the issues are, Marquez says the large Latino voting bloc in the 8th district is drawing a lot of political attention.
“I think both parties see an opportunity because of the large population,” he says. “They're both going after those votes. You see the Republicans setting up offices in the new congressional district, and you see the Democrats doing the same.”
The district’s congressional race is considered a toss-up between Republican Barb Kirkmeyer and Democrat Yadira Caraveo. That means both parties hope to win over the Latino community to put them over the finish line.
According to Marquez, some efforts to reach voters have gone too far. For example, last month, a flier with anti-transgender messaging was sent to Latino voters in the 8th district from a conservative political organization. Marquez says its purpose was to divide the Latino community and discourage voting.
However, issues, not politics , remain most important.
“I think right now people are just really wanting to vote for what's going to help their family, their job, their career, their economic growth,” says Angel Merlos, an organizer with LIBRE Action who was born in the 8th district.
While the environment is a priority among many Latinos, he says agriculture and fossil fuels are an important sticking point. Many Latinos work in these industries and it provide s many jobs in the 8th district.
“Weld County is known for their oil and gas,” Merlos says. “I think they also want to balance how we address this issue without losing all these jobs that a lot of families in Weld County depend on.”
Merlos also says the 8th district is an important moment for the Latino voice in Colorado. Stacey Suniga of the Latino Coalition of Weld County agrees, but she also says this is just the beginning.
“It needs to be ongoing,” she says. “It'll be interesting to see who is going to keep contacting Latino people after the election.”
She says the real test will be which elected officials and political party continue paying attention to Latinos in the 8th district and across Colorado.
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