During a community event held at Atlanta’s Rohan Law, former state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero encouraged more Latinas to get involved in politics and law. She is a senior assistant district attorney in Gwinnett County and served in the Legislature from 2017-2020.

During a community event held at Atlanta’s Rohan Law, former state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero encouraged more Latinas to get involved in politics and law. She is a senior assistant district attorney in Gwinnett County and served in the Legislature from 2017-2020.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Brenda Lopez Romero

In the 2020 presidential election Hispanics demonstrated their power in Georgia despite accounting for just 4% of the votes cast statewide, when the growing ethnic group overwhelmingly supported Democrat Joe Biden over incumbent Donald Trump in a race decided by fewer than 12,000 votes.

Still, heading into this November’s midterm election, Latino voters in Georgia say political parties and candidates are guilty of ignoring their concerns despite their numbers reaching 1.1 million residents in the 2020 U.S. Census, a 32% bump from the 2010 survey.

A recent poll conducted by BSP Research on behalf of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, found 59% of Georgia’s Latino voters believe the country is going down the wrong track. Their top concerns are inflation, crime, jobs and health care. Abortion for the first time ranks in the top five.

Clarissa Martinez De Castro, UnidosUS vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative, said that the poll should serve as a wake up call to those running for office for the midterm election as a large majority of Hispanic voters reported seeing little to no outreach from either political party.

Those voters listed crime at No. 2, with concerns about gun safety and mass school shootings the most frequent reasons cited. Meanwhile, the six-week ban on abortion access in Georgia and the wave of anti-abortion laws around the nation is alarming for 74% of the Latinos who responded that they believe it should remain legal, regardless of their personal or religious beliefs.

“Chronic under engagement by parties and candidates continues, with a large majority of Hispanic voters reporting no outreach from either party, even though I think by anybody’s description, this is a highly competitive midterm election,” De Castro said.

On Nov. 8, Georgians are set to elect state legislators, a governor, an attorney general, a secretary of state and a U.S. senator along with several U.S. congressional members.

One of the pivotal races that could determine the balance of power in the federal government pits incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock against Republican Herschel Walker. On Friday, Warnock hit the campaign trail for a Latinos for Warnock Rally in Gwinnett County, home to the largest population of Hispanics in the state and where more than 40,000 of them voted in 2020.

Since the Republican Party has become more hostile in their stances on immigration in recent years, it is not surprising that Democrats have taken a larger share of the Latino electorate, said Jesus Rubio, Georgia state director for Mi Familia Vota, which is working with UnidosUS to engage Hispanic voters in Georgia and seven other states through a $15 million civic engagement effort.

When it comes to Medicaid expansion, gun control, and abortion rights, Latinos tend to side with Democrats, Rubio said.

Inflation is the top concern, as members of the Hispanic community feel they are not being properly compensated for longer hours while they’re still unable to keep up with rising prices for fuel, groceries, housing, and medical expenses, Rubio said.

“Unfortunately, it’s been many decades where most Hispanics have felt neglected by the political process in Georgia and across the nation,” Rubio said.

When Brenda Lopez Romero was sworn into the Georgia House of Representatives in 2017, she became the first Latina to hold a state elective office. She says Hispanic candidates face more obstacles than many of their peers.

It is too often the case that Hispanic elected officials are only asked to take a more prominent role on issues when it is more convenient for the political argument, only to be sidelined at other times. For much of Georgia’s history, the Latino and Asian community was so small it was invisible to many outsiders, she said.

The way diversity issues are framed in Georgia focuses mostly on Black and white people, Lopez Romero said.

After serving two terms, Lopez Romero left the Legislature to make a run for U.S. Congress House District 7 before falling in the Democratic primary to Carolyn Bourdeaux.

“Once I got elected there was a little bit more improvement particularly locally, with those that are party-engaged,” she said. “But we still have far to go even to this day. The few Latinos that are working in the political sphere are quite often utilized when necessary, but dismissed otherwise."

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said that both Republican and Democratic leaders, along with many candidates have been guilty of ignoring the Latino community.

But with many more Georgia statewide and local elections decided by ever-thinner margins, it gives even greater influence to a more diverse voting bloc of immigrants, Gonzalez said.

A new report released by the National Partnership for New Americans found that more than 96,000 people in Georgia became naturalized citizens between 2016 and 2020, with the majority coming from Asia at 39%, Latin Americas at 36% and Africa accounting for 16% of the new citizens.

Last year, GALEO issued a report on Georgia’s 2020 election that the Latino electorate reached 385,185 registered voters, which includes 140,995 new voters since 2016.

A majority of the Hispanic electorate is under the age of 40. Moreover, Latinas outnumbered their male counterparts in casting ballots, the report found.

“The Latino electorate is a powerful force to be reckoned with in these midterm elections,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the 2022 midterm elections have about 10 Hispanic candidates running for state offices and Congress. The GOP redistricting last year is expected to hinder the chances of more Hispanic candidates getting elected over the next decade, he said.

“They made it much more difficult for folks to actually run for office,” he said. “But as our community continues to grow and continues to evolve, I think that we’re going to see an increased number of Latino representation in some areas across the state.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.