By Benjamin Neufeld
“Both here in the metro area and also in communities across the state, we saw the strength and power of Latino communities going to the polls, and the strength and power of Latino candidates winning their races,” said State Senator Julie Gonzales during the opening speech for the Colorado Democratic Latino Caucus’ 2022 Policy Summit on December 5, at the Tivoli Turnhalle on the Auraria campus.
The Summit took place to, “strategize about policies that will advance quality of life for Coloradans in 2023,” according to the event’s invitation. Following a sweeping victory for Colorado Democrats in the midterm elections, lawmakers in the Latino Caucus used this summit to seek input from the community on how to leverage their new power in state government and where to focus their energy during the upcoming year.
“People who were elected to office were not serving our community and were disconnected from things happening on the ground. And that’s when I said, ‘I can do better. We deserve better.’”
Elizabeth Velasco, Representative-elect for Colorado’s 57th district
Attendees included members from both Colorado’s Latino community and beyond, as well as organizers, policy advocates, representatives from Governor Polis’ office, and national level politicians including the offices of U.S. Senator’s Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper.
State level politicians led the event’s various activities. State Senator Julie Gonzales and Representative-elect for Colorado’s 57th district, Elizabeth Velasco, gave a welcome speech. A keynote speech by former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro, concluded the event.
Additional politicians led breakout sessions focused on various policy areas. Breakout session discussion topics included economy, health, criminal justice, environment, immigration, housing, and education. Guests had the opportunity to attend up to two of these breakout sessions. The focus of these sessions and the event as a whole was to, “debrief the implications of the 2022 midterm election cycle and look ahead to the upcoming 2023 Colorado legislative session, where members of our caucus will advance policies to improve the wellbeing of Coloradans,” according to the event invite.
“I want to acknowledge all of the victories that so many of you in this room were able to accomplish and achieve this election cycle,” said State Senator Gonzales during her speech. “Thanks to that work, we are seeing a strong democratic majority represented in the House, in the Senate, and in all of our five statewide elected offices.”
Gonzales ran unopposed in her reelection race this past year; however, she commended the work of first-time political candidates and other grassroots politicians for their role in amplifying the voice of their communities at the state political level. Gonzales also took a moment to celebrate the election of, “our very first Latina congress member,” Yadira Caraveo to represent Colorado’s new 8th congressional district.
Velasco then spoke about her decision to run for office as a first time politician, saying made the decision because, “Latinos were being left behind.” She described how, “during covid, we were 70% of the cases. We were the ones dying, the ones getting sick, the ones not getting paid time off from work.”
When a wildfire struck her community, she noted how her local officials did not provide information in Spanish despite Spanish speakers being 30% of her community. “People who were elected to office were not serving our community and were disconnected from things happening on the ground,” she said. “And that’s when I said, ‘I can do better. We deserve better.’
Castro reflected on the state’s progressive representation. “When I think about Colorado, I think about a state that is diverse, that is young, that is growing, that in so many ways represents a look at America’s future,” said Castro during his keynote speech. Castro served as mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014—when he accepted then President Obama’s offer to become the secretary of housing and urban development. The Texan politician is best known for his 2020 presidential campaign.
Unity was the theme of Castro’s speech. “In our world today, a lot of times we have vastly different experiences,” he said. Due to the extremely wide spectrum of available information to so many different Americans, Castro believes we all have individually unique perceptions and experiences of the country. Addressing this gap in perception is crucial for mending the widening political divide. “During my time as secretary of housing and urban development I had the opportunity to travel to a hundred different communities, big and small,” he said. “And what I saw there were people from every walk of life, from every background, who wanted the same basic common things.”
Reminding people of their common needs and interests, and creating policy which fulfills these needs and interests, should be, according to Castro, the focus of lawmakers in Colorado and across the country.
Benjamin Neufeld is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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