News Column

Two-part Harmony

November 2005, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Janet Perez


Across the country, when Hispanic government officials at one level of government have discussed policies affecting the Hispanic Community's development agenda, they've typically failed to consult other Hispanic politicians at the levels of government where the policies would have to be implemented. It's a counterproductive disconnect, and beginning in June 2005, two influential groups of Hispanic policymakers shook hands on a plan to change it.

The two partners in this nonpartisan strategic policy networking plan are: At the local level, Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO), a national network of local government officials established by the National League of Cities in 1976.

HELO focuses on information exchange among members, legislative action, and guiding the league on major public policy issues affecting Hispanics. Arizona city council member Liberator "Libby" Silva serves as president.

At the state/national level, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) founded in 1989. This nonpartisan national association of nearly 300 Hispanic state legislators works to create and implement policies and procedures to improve the quality of life for Hispanics. The president is New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz.

They solidified their mutual intentions to collaborate in a meeting after the annual conference of the National Alliance of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Puerto Rico.

Dovetailing Interests and Influence

It was NHCSL's Mr. Ortiz who threw out the first ball. As he watched the Hispanic populations in many areas close in on becoming majorities, he thought the time was ripe for a partnership of state and local elected officials. And after a review of HELO's goals, he concluded the organization would be the strong partner NHCSL had been looking for.

"I called on [them] and said 'Why don't we sit down together and try to have common ground among ourselves as well as finding common ground with the congressional delegation [the 21-member Hispanic Congressional Caucus]. That will give us more strength to really tackle the issues affecting our community.' "

Issues on the Table

Access to capital. One of the goals that interests both HELO and NHCSL is helping Hispanic entrepreneurs get access to capital, with a focus on the current movement to invest state public pension funds in minority companies.

The aim is to keep state funds in the state and benefit the local communities that pay into the fund, Mr. Ortiz explains. "We are going to be looking at this very, very closely and I think it's one of the challenges ahead of us," he says. "We are very committed to it."

To that end NHCSL members met this fall in New York with the New America Alliance an organization of Hispanic enterprise leaders dedicated to building "economic and political capital" and comptrollers of state pension funds.

The exchange focused on promoting the participation and influence of Hispanics on the nation's corporate and pension fund boards, increasing Hispanic firms' access to markets and capital, expanding the participation and influence of Hispanics in federal and state financial institutions, and investing in higher business and finance education for Hispanics.

Contracting opportunities. Both HELO and NHCSL want to increase the number of Hispanic-owned companies that benefit from corporate and municipal contracts.

"I think corporate America has to respond to questions we have about Hispanics' position in corporate America," says Mr. Ortiz. "That will begin to help us put in place the mechanisms and processes we need to ensure that our Hispanic community, our businesspeople, will get the contracts and the opportunities that they deserve."
And because HELO is made up of elected officials at the local level, Mr. Ortiz observes, they could have an influence on how municipal contracts are awarded.

Access to information. Another goal of the alliance is making sure that Hispanic entrepreneurs, particularly immigrants, have access to the information they need to help their businesses succeed.

HELO's Mr. Silva says a major concern for his group, which he hopes the new partnership will address, "is education, in terms of how business works in our communities and in our states and our nation."

For example, in Flagstaff, Arizona, where Mr. Silva serves, he notes particularly that many of the area's Mexican immigrants who are beginning to buy property and start businesses "need a lot of education on legal, procedural,
[and] regulatory requirements."

Springboard/Grassroots Support

HELO and NHCSL also are considering how the partnership can advance each group's mission.

For HELO, says Mr. Silva, a strong relationship with NHCSL could be a springboard for local officials to get the ears of state legislators in order to craft legislation that can benefit the Hispanic community.

Conversely, he says, "I think [HELO] can be instrumental in identifying the nitty-gritty [at the
local level] and providing that information to state legislators. We can provide information to legislators so they can know what they are talking about in terms of [local] needs."

For NHCSL, a partnership with HELO also can increase the volume of the organization's voice as both work to push through state legislation that addresses the concerns of Hispanics across the nation.

"We can send a strong message not only to corporate America but also to the federal government by introducing unified resolutions throughout the country," Mr. Silva says. "At the end of the day, all politics are local. So if we can develop that relationship, then we will be able to really bring our issues to light and put ourselves in a better position to fight for those issues."

To observers of the Hispanic political scene, the proposed partnership between HELO and the NHCSL may look like a duplication of some of NALEO's activities, notes that organization's Mr. Vargas. But in fact it's proof of NALEO's success, he says, since NALEO's mission is to bring people together. And in this case, it did.


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