Latino political power grows at the Massachusetts State House
The forthcoming influx of Latino representation to Beacon Hill is no accident. Indeed, it’s an overdue wave.
Four years ago, Jeff Sánchez — then the highest ranking Latino legislator as the chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee — was ousted in a hard-fought and costly primary. Sánchez had been a Democratic lawmaker for 16 years. His exit from the Legislature stood as a huge loss for a sizeable and growing population group that is politically underrepresented.
But the tide is turning with a rising wave of Latino political power.
In Tuesday’s primary, seven newcomer Latinx candidates won their respective Democrat primaries in various districts across the state, some of which had been newly redrawn as minority-majority seats. Their wins will potentially bring the total number of Hispanic lawmakers on Beacon Hill to 13.
Meanwhile, of the potentially new Latino legislators, just Chelsea’s Judith Garcia and Chicopee’s Shirley Arriaga face an opponent in November. The rest, Sam Montaño of Boston, Manny Cruz of Salem, and Estela Reyes, Pavel Payano,and Paulinoof Lawrence, will be unopposed on the ballot.
“There were only three Latino legislators when I first got elected as state representative in 2003,” Sánchez, now a senior adviser at Rasky Partners, told me. “[Tuesday’s primary] election was a turning point for Latinos in Massachusetts. These victories reflect not only that Latinos can win in Latino districts but that Latinos can appeal to a greater electorate in the Commonwealth. We see it nationally and now we’re seeing it here. It’s about time.”
The forthcoming influx of Latino representation to Beacon Hill is no accident. Indeed, it’s an overdue wave. It also confirms that the state’s redistricting process last year, though not perfect, did reflect significant population changes and the rich racial diversity across the state.
In the past decade, the share of the state’s Hispanic population (of any race) in Massachusetts grew from 9.6 to 12.6 percent. It’s the second-largest proportion as ranked by race and ethnicity and it represents nearly double the percentage of the Black-only population (6.5 percent). These increasing numbers weighed heavily during the Legislature’s decennial redistricting process, which created 13 additional districts in the 160-seat House of Representatives and three additional in the state Senate where people of color account for the majority of the population.
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