Latinos vie for Virginia House seats, hope to make history in mayoral elections

While the election is greatly overshadowed by the 2020 election, there are some pitched battles featuring Latinos on this year’s election ballots.

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By Suzanne Gamboa

Two Virginia Latinos endorsed by former President Barack Obama could help Democrats take control of the commonwealth’s House of Delegates, while Tucson could see its first first Latina mayor elected on Tuesday.

Across the country, voters had decisions to make on candidates for local and state offices and on local ballot measures.

While the election is greatly overshadowed by the 2020 election, there are some pitched battles featuring Latinos on this year’s election ballots.

In Virginia, Democrats need two seats to gain the majority in the House. In Tucson, Ariz., and Salt Lake City, two Latinas are running for mayor. Both would be firsts in their respective cities.

Phil Hernandez, who served on the Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama, is challenging four-term incumbent Del. Rob Bloxom Jr., a Republican in House District 100. If elected, Hernandez would be the first Latino to represent the district.

Obama endorsed Hernandez over the weekend. Hernandez’s endorsements also include backing from former presidential candidate Joe Biden, former Tallahassee, Florida mayor Andrew Gillum and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.

Although Hernandez is running in a rural district, Latino Victory Fund, a political action committee that backs Latino candidates and works to raise the number of Latinos in public office, has backed him with financial and other support.

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Mayra Macias, Latino Victory Fund executive director, said Hernandez has raised more money than his Republican opponent.

"This is a historic election that will be a proud moment for our community as Phil — a Latino candidate — could be the reason Democrats take back the Virginia House of Delegates," Macias said. "Phil Hernandez has dedicated his career to fighting for his community. He knows the needs and values of the Eastern Shore and will deliver the results they deserve in Richmond.”

About 25 percent of the district’s electorate is people of color and takes in a rural area of Virginia’s eastern shore that generally votes Republican, it also includes the Democratic-voting city of Norfolk, according to Latino Victory Fund.

Democrats would have an easier time gaining House control if Del. Hala Ayala, who represents Virginia’s House District 51, and Del. Elizabeth Guzman, in District 31 are re-elected.

Ayala and Guzman made history in 2017 when they became the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House.

Ayala won her seat by 5.7 percentage points over the then four-term incumbent Republican Rich Anderson in the swing district. Anderson is challenging her again. Ayala also was endorsed by Obama and has been backed from other Democrats, such as presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Guzman’s has a better chance against her challenger DJ Jordan, a prominent Republican who worked in Congress and is African American. But in a news release Latino Victory Fund warned that in a low-turnout election, “nothing can be taken for granted.”

In Tucson, Regina Romero won the Democratic primary, putting her in a strong position to become the city’s first woman and first Latina mayor. She faces Ed Ackerley, who is running as an independent and Mike Cease, a Green party candidate.

Republicans have historically dominated Arizona, but Tucson is considered a Democratic stronghold. The city’s voters also will decide whether on Proposition 205, which would make Tucson a sanctuary city and restrict local law enforcement and city employees from probes of a person’s immigration status.

Although she is a daughter of immigrants, Romero has said she opposes the ballot proposition because the city could lose millions in revenue if it is implemented. State lawmakers have threatened to punish the city if voters approve the proposition.

Latino Victory Fund said in a tweet that none of the 50 largest cities in the United States have a Latina mayor.

In Utah, state Sen. Luz Escamilla has been in a tight race to become Salt Lake City’s first Latina mayor. She faces Erin Mendenhall, a city council member, who appeared to be taking the lead in early voting, the Deseret News reported.

Escamilla is an immigrant from Mexico who won the outgoing mayor’s endorsement. She and Mendenhall are Democrats in the city that is about 21 percent Latino.

Escamilla told the Deseret News that if elected, she would the first woman of color in City Hall, the first Latina, which is the largest ethnic minority in the state, and the first immigrant. She said her victory would resonate with many Americans “trying to bring back the hope of the American Dream.”

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