Latino Texans are Disproportionately Underrepresented in Local Government

Just 10 percent of communities are represented by Latino elected officials, but 40 percent of the state is Latino.

By Joy DiazOctober 24, 2016 12:08 pm| ,

Texas has the second-largest Latino population of any state, after California – 40 percent. The state also has more Latino elected officials than any other states.

But a new report by the Austin American-Statesman says that’s not enough. Only 10 percent of elected officials in Texas are Latino – about 1.3 million Latinos throughout the state live in areas with no Latino representation at the local government level.

Jeremy Schwartz co-authored the report with Dan Hill. He says the Statesman started the project with a deep data analysis of the numbers. Then they focused in on the areas with the largest disparities between population and elected officials, e.g. the highest Latino population, but the lowest number of local Latino officials.

Schwartz says the reasons for these disparities are varied:

“There are certain things that you see across the spectrum – low voter turnout is part of it,” he says. “In some of these places [there’s] a difficulty finding candidates to run.”

But this doesn’t mean there weren’t good Latino candidates for office, Schwartz says. In places like Muleshoe, the Statesman found that there were good candidates, but they were threatened by bosses not to run, or those who did run had their lives turned upside down once they were elected into office.

“There was an interview that we did with the first Latino county commissioner in Floyd County,” Schwartz says. “He used to haul cotton for the local gins. After he got elected he saw his business basically dry up and so he was forced into a new line of work. I think in some ways you hate to say it but the Latino entrance into politics, in some places, is seen as such a threat, especially given the demographic changes that are going on – becoming the majority in what were traditionally majority-Anglo counties and cities.”

So what impact does the lack of representation have on communities? Schwartz says Latino citizens feel overlooked.

“We went to places that flood regularly because there has been no investment put into drainage or flood mitigation – largely [Latino] communities with governing boards that are all Anglo,” he says. “The feeling there definitely is ‘If we had more representation, our needs would be better listened to and taken care of.’”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.