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Report: Latinas vastly underrepresented in elected offices

In a year when everyone is talking about two demographics–women and Latinos–a new report shows that Latinas represent just 1 percent of elected officials nationwide.

A few numbers from a new report by the group LatinasRepresent:

  • There are 435 seats in Congress; 9 are held by Latinas (2 percent)
  • Out of the 7,383 state senators and representatives, 78 are Latina (1.1 percent)
  • 5 out of the 320 statewide executives across the country  are Latina (1.5 percent)
  • Only one Latina has ever been elected governor
  • No Latina has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate

LatinasRepresent, a partnership between Political Parity–whose focus is to increase the number of women in the upper levels of government–and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda,  will kick off a national awareness effort Thursday in Colorado, a swing state where Latinos made up 14 percent of the voters in 2012. The aim is to increase the number of Latinas in elected office. Within the context of 2014 and campaigns in general, both parties would do well to swell the ranks of Latina officials. Often, elected officials and politicians at every level become surrogates for other candidates–President Obama, for instance, used Hilda Solis, his former Labor secretary and a former congresswoman–to reach certain communities and demographics.  They end up being “force multipliers,” going where the candidate can’t (and speaking languages the candidate can’t).

Not only is this an incredibly small pool for both parties to draw from, but few of the elected Latinas have national name recognition. And such small numbers also make it more difficult to recruit candidates–women see other women who look like them as examples and inspiration.

LatinasRepresent wants to boost the numbers so that they are more in line with the demographic representation of Latinas, who number 25 million, or about 8 percent of the country’s population.

A full list of Latina elected officials is here, courtesy of the Center for American Women and Politics. The initiative kicks off during an election year in which a number of high-profile races feature Latina candidates. 

Here’s a quick look at Latinas to watch in 2014

1. Gov. Susana Martinez (R-N.M.)–The first Latina governor has a good chance of being elected to a second term. So far, five Democrats have filed to run against her, including Nevada State Sen. Linda Lopez. Martinez was said to be on Mitt Romney’s VP shortlist in 2012. And if Chris Christie ever gets around to making a shortlist of his own, she would certainly be on that one, too.

2. Leticia Van de Putte–Democrats really want to turn Texas blue, and this cycle they will have Wendy Davis running for governor and Van de Putte running for lieutenant governor. Both are long-shot bids but will be closely watched by national Democrats who want to capitalize on their strength with women and Latinos.

3. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen–The first Latina woman to serve in Congress, she was elected in 1989. This year is shaping up to be an interesting one already. She was chosen by House leadership to deliver a rebuttal in Spanish to President Obama’s State of the Union address.  But Ros-Lehtinen is also facing questions about her involvement with two Ecuadorian bankers convicted of embezzlement. She is one of the few Republicans who backed the immigration bill that came out of the Senate in July.

4. Lucy Flores–Currently a state senator in Nevada, Flores is said to be mulling a race for lieutenant governor. That race could have all sorts of national implications–if she wins, the current governor, Brian Sandoval (R), is said to be less likely to challenge Harry Reid in 2016 because he doesn’t want a Democrat to inherit his job, according to a recent report.

5. Eloise Gomez Reyes–Running in a crowded field for the seat now held by Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Calif.), Reyes doesn’t have the backing of the Democratic party. But she has something else–the backing of Emily’s List. And so far, she seems to be doing pretty well on her own running against the party. She pulled in $302,000 for her campaign in the last quarter.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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