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Pay Attention To Issues Important To Hispanics


February 2, 2004
Copyright ©2004
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

True to tradition, the early presidential primary contests did not disappoint in terms of suspense, surprise and spectacle. While the respected electorates of Iowa and New Hampshire are informed, engaged and highly influential, they are not especially diverse and unfortunately do not reflect the face of America and our vast collection of voices.

In fact, it will not be until tomorrow (which some are referring to as Hispanic Tuesday) or even into March, when we will have a clearer sense of how a broader cross-section of the American electorate actually thinks about the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates.

The voices of African Americans will emerge more clearly in South Carolina, and those of Latinos, the second largest population in the nation, in the Arizona, New Mexico, New York, California and Florida contests. By this time, though, candidates are racing through states, compared to the time, energy and personal attention given to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Most troubling is that the media's disproportionate coverage of the first two individual contests provides little or no attention to the key issues facing the Latino community, how the issues of the day affect the Hispanic population, despite the fact that many of the candidates themselves have addressed these issues in debates. As a result, civil rights, economic mobility, access to healthcare and immigration have been given short shrift.

In anticipation of Super Tuesday or Hispanic Tuesday, it is critically important to provide substantive media coverage of the Hispanic community and the matters they care about.

Hispanics compose 14 percent of the U.S. population. According to the Census, one in eight people is of Hispanic origin. Not only is the Hispanic community increasing in numbers but also in political influence. Latinos are expected to add at least two million new voters to the rolls in the 2004 election, an increase of more than 13 percent since 2000.

Latinos also represent between 12 percent and 30 percent of the population in the five largest electoral-vote states. In a close election, Latino vot ers -- who are up for grabs given that they vote on a candidate's stand on issues rather than on party affiliation -- are expected to play a pivotal role in key battleground states.

More and more Hispanics are registering and turning out to vote. In addition to sheer population growth, renewed efforts by the organizations that we represent (combined with those of other national and local groups) are seeking to energize Latinos nationwide to achieve the expansion of the American electorate. It is only when all voices are represented at the table that we renew our vows with the principle of government for the people and by the people.

But the most important reason why all voices in the U.S. electorate need to be heard -- and why all groups deserve a seat at the table in determining our nation's leaders, especially in a presidential election year -- is that these diverse communities will play a critical role in shaping our nation's future.

It is estimated that 40 percent of net new entrants in the workforce in the next several years will be Hispanic and that 35 percent of today's Hispanic children will be workers and taxpayers in 10 years. According to the Rand Corporation, a mere 3 percent increase in the college-graduation rate of 18-year-old Latinos would result in an additional $600 million in Social Security and other payments every year.

Clearly, addressing the educational and economic challenges facing this group of young people benefits all of us, particularly those of us who will surely depend on their contributions in our later years.

Mari Carmen Aponte is executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

Arturo Vargas is executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Raúl Yzaguirre is president of the National Council of La Raza.

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