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Political Mercury

Latino organizers look to go Irish on Iowa politics


A conversation I’ve had with a number of Latino politicos and community activists in Iowa through the years starts like this on my end:

Rob Barron, Des Moines school board member

Rob Barron, Des Moines school board member

“The Latino community needs to learn from the Irish immigrants of a century and a half ago. When met with the infamous ‘Irish Need Not Apply’ signs, this immigrant group seized political power so they were the ones doling out jobs. They used their growing numbers, strong community ties and turned anger and pain associated with discrimination into action. So go Irish on Iowa, my Hispanic friends.”

The numbers are there.

According to U.S. Census estimates for 2013, Iowa’s Hispanic population is now 5.5 percent of our state’s total and has surged well ahead of the African-American population, 3.3 percent in Iowa. Eight percent of Polk Countians are Latino, compared to 6.5 percent African American.

I live close to Denison and spend time there regularly. Regardless of what the Census tells us, Denison is a majority-minority city. There are Hispanic growth pockets elsewhere.

But to this point, Latinos have accumulated limited political influence.

Fewer than 20 of close to 2,000 elected officeholders are Latino. There is only one Latina currently elected to county office — Scott County Recorder Rita Vargas — and there have been no Latinos elected to the State Legislature in Iowa history, according to the Iowa Latino Political Network.

Enter two of the more serious Latino political players in the state. Rob Barron, a Des Moines School Board member, and Omar Padilla, a vice chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, have launched the Iowa Latino Political Network, a non-partisan organization with an eye on getting more of its demographic elected to local and state and federal offices in Iowa.

“This is about creating a deeper bench,” Barron said in an interview. “We’re focused on all levels.”

One immediate opportunity: county supervisors races in Latino-rich counties like Dallas and Crawford.

In the Latino Political Network’s rollout, Barron and Padilla, who both worked in key roles for former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, are stressing its non-partisan nature.

Many local races are not partisan — and that’s where political newcomers can break into the system, Barron said.

“I’m mostly wearing my school board hat,” Barron said.

According to a news release from the organization, the Latino Political Network’s first event will be a class for Latinos interested in running for public office.

The class will be held on Saturday, June 20, from 1 to 7 p.m. at the Simpson College campus at 1450 S.W. Vintage Parkway, Suite 220 in Ankeny.

The class will include in-depth information on building and running a campaign, an overview of elected offices in Iowa, and a panel discussion with current Latino elected officeholders. The panel discussion will feature the largest gathering of current Latino officeholders. Scheduled to attend are: Vargas (Scott County Recorder), Jose Zacarias (West Liberty City Council), Pedro Rodriguez (Denison City Council) and more.

Dinner will be provided for participants and panelists. Media and visitors are invited to a meet-and-greet with panelists and participants as well as introductory comments from the founders from 1 to 2 p.m.

“It’s 2015,” Barron said. “My family has been here for four generations. There have been Latinos here in Iowa for a long time.” CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.




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