News Column

Hinojosa Becomes 1st Hispanic Chair of Texas Democratic Party

June 11, 2012

Allen Essex

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Former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa on Saturday became the first Hispanic elected Texas Democratic Party chairman.

Delegates overwhelmingly chose Hinojosa to lead the party for the next two years on the final day of the state convention in Houston.

"I feel honored but overwhelmed," Hinojosa said. "We have a lot of work ahead."

Top on his list of priorities is to increase Hispanic turnout on Election Day, he said. Voter apathy must be dealt with, he said.

Even though Hispanics and Democrats are a majority in Texas, Republicans have been better organized and consistently have a higher turnout, he said.

Becoming state Democratic Party chairman is a big step, he said.

"We're going to have the ability we need to be able to put together strategies that will deal with the biggest problem that the Democratic Party has had up until now, which is getting our Hispanic vote out (to the polls)," he said. "It affects not only South Texas, but the rest of the state. Lots of areas in the state have large Hispanic populations that are underperforming -- we're losing elections because of that."

The majority of Hispanics who do vote, vote for Democrats, he said.

Strategies have to be developed to get Hispanics to the polls, he said.

"It requires a lot of boots on the ground," Hinojosa said. The party needs to develop voter engagement programs and messages that will motivate residents to go out and participate in the electoral process, he said.

"If only the (Hispanic) citizens who are out there voted by 8 percent to 10 percent more, we would win elections," he said.

"It's much more fundamental a problem than just the number of citizens," he said.

"We have 70 percent of the people of Texas being beaten by 30 percent of the (Republican) people of Texas," Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa has also served as a Brownsville school trustee, state district judge, justice on the state's 13th Court of Appeals, Cameron County party chairman and member of the Democratic National Committee.

Longtime Cameron County Clerk Joe G. Rivera said Hinojosa called him about 2 p.m. Saturday to tell him he had been chosen state party chairman.

The two worked together when Hinojosa was on the Brownsville school board and when he was County Court-At-Law No. 2 judge, judge of the 103rd state District Court, a justice on the state 13th Court of Appeals, for 12 years when Hinojosa was county judge and on many committees, Rivera said.

Rivera said Hinojosa will be highly effective in his new role and he believes Hinojosa will be able to build bridges with Texans across the state.

"He has all the credibility," he said. "Even back when (former Gov.) Ann Richards was in office, he has served on many state committees."

For Hinojosa to be chosen state Democratic Party chairman is an historic moment for Texas, "but I think it's a big challenge," Rivera said.

Hinojosa is replacing Boyd Richie, who has led the party since 2006.

He takes over a party that has not won a statewide election since 1994, and in a state where Republicans control both chambers of the Texas Legislature. But the state's evolving demographics favor Democrats, with non-Hispanic whites now making up less than 50 percent of the population.

Fort Worth state Rep. Marc Veasey, who is in a runoff for a Democratic nomination to Congress, welcomed Hinojosa as someone who had experience working at the national level and at organizing the grassroots of the party.

"His election is historic and besides that, Gilberto is a good guy," Veasey said. "He is a coalition builder; he gets along with a broad group of people."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: (c) 2012 Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas)

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