What do California, Nevada, Florida and Texas have in common? If you guessed that they are all states highly populated by Latinos you are correct. And if you guessed that all of these states also have dismal records of appointing Latinos to executive level positions, correct again.
The fact is, the states with some of the highest Latino population growth rates over the last decade have failed to ensure that state government is reflective of the population it represents.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, these four states saw percentage increases from 2000 to 2010 in the Latino population as follows: Nevada , 82 percent; Florida, 57 percent; Texas, 42 percent and California, 27.8 percent. These areas are also among the states with the highest Hispanic share of the state population. The 2011 American Community Survey reveals Latinos are 38 percent of the state population in Texas and California, 27 percent of the population in Nevada and 23 percent of Florida's population.
Yet when it comes to having Latinos in leading public policy positions at the state executive level, research commissioned by the Ford Foundation on behalf of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) delivers an unwelcome snapshot of Latino underrepresentation in these and other states. The research identifies people of Hispanic origin in elected or appointed positions -- from 2004 to 2012 -- in the cabinet and in the state's highest court. The numbers are underwhelming. For example, in Nevada over the last eight years only two Latinos served in appointed positions. In Florida, six have served in eight years. In Texas 23 have served, although we are talking about a state with nearly 10 million Latinos, and in California, with over 14 million Latinos, just ten people of Latino descent have served over the last eight years.
The research reflects that, for the most part, even in the most Latino populated states there has been no more than a token presence of Latinos in appointed political posts.
So, while the Latino "appointment gap" is striking, it presents an opportunity requiring immediate action. While Latinos clearly had a say politically in the Presidential election, additional political leverage lays in the importance of the Latino vote and in a deeper involvement in local and state-level political decision-making positions. The time has come for more in the Latino community to step forward into diverse leadership roles throughout the political pipeline. The time has also come for state and local advocates to elevate the historical underrepresentation of Latinos in government to new levels of advocacy and, in particular, to raise the appointment gap as an electoral issue in Gubernatorial and other statewide office elections being held in 2014.
Earlier this year, NHLA launched a new "Presidential Appointments Program" to ensure that our federal government and the nation benefit from the talent that the Latino community has to offer. Our coalition of 36 national Latino organizations has been active in advocating for increased Latino representation in the President's Administration, supporting junior to Cabinet-level candidates including Thomas Perez, who was officially sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden last week as Labor Secretary.
While we celebrate the addition of a Latino voice in the president's cabinet, it is unacceptable to have this level of underrepresentation at the highest level of government. One voice is not enough. The vacant posts of the Department of Homeland Security Secretary and Small Business Administrator provide opportunities for the president to include two more Latinos in a cabinet that better reflects the rich and diverse composition of our nation.
More can and must be done. That is why NHLA's Appointments Program is moving into its next phase of work -- leading the first-of-its kind, multi-state advocacy effort to identify and support candidates to serve as political appointees in state executive level positions. Our goal is to have the NHLA State Latino Appointments Project serve as the talent bank and counselor providing support to state-based advocacy efforts and to Latino professionals seeking appointed positions with current and future Administrations either in their state or in presidential administrations.
Nearly 200 people attended a reception and resume drop kicking off NHLA's four-state pilot program this past Friday at the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement's Labor Summit in Los Angeles. Moving forward into the Fall, NHLA and its member organizations will build on this momentum by partnering with in-state allies in California, Nevada, Texas and Florida to continue outreach efforts addressing the appointment gap and to develop advocacy strategies that can also be implemented in other states.
NHLA and its 36 affiliated organizations are eager to work with state leaders to help them finally close this serious Latino "appointment gap." There are no more excuses.
For more information on applying for -- and partnering with -- this exciting advocacy effort, visit NHLA's latinoappointments.org site and follow us via Twitter (@NHLAGENDA @HESANCHE), Facebook and our new LinkedIn group.