More than 125 years ago, after the 1874 elections, Pablo Laveaga became the first Hispanic ever elected to the Nevada Legislature, representing Humboldt County.
The next Hispanic legislator in Nevada came 70 years later. The third was not elected until another 38 years had passed.
Recently, however, thanks to changes in the state's demographics and opportunities that have come from tweaks in the state electoral system, Hispanics have been getting elected at a much faster pace.
In 2010 six freshman Hispanic politicians were elected to the Nevada Assembly, making eight total in the Legislature. This year, Mo Denis, first elected to the Assembly in 2004, became the first Hispanic majority leader of the Nevada Senate. The governor and attorney general are both Hispanic.
Still, Hispanic politicians and community leaders say there is much more to be accomplished. There are no Hispanic members on the North Las Vegas City Council, Clark County Commission, the Clark County School District Board of Trustees or Henderson City Council. No Hispanic has ever been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate from Nevada.
Yet, thanks to a crop of dynamic and ambitious Hispanic community leaders, and an increasingly engaged Hispanic electorate, there is hope the momentum gained in the last decade will not fade.
The perspectives of a champion of civic engagement, a political analyst and an elected rising star show a consensus: Hispanics are influencing Nevada and national politics like never before, but they cannot let the current momentum slip away.
Promoting Political Participation
Fernando Romero has led Hispanics in Politics, the oldest Hispanic political organization in Las Vegas, for the better part of 15 years.
The nonpartisan group initially started as a wing of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce in 1982, but it became its own entity in 1995. In 2012 a parade of candidates came through the organization's regular breakfast meetings, looking for support. That wasn't always the case.
In 1980 Nevada's Hispanic population was roughly 55,000; by 1990 it was just under 125,000; and in 2000 it hit 394,000. By 2010 there were more than 700,000 Hispanics in the state, and the Hispanic proportion of the state's population was 26.5 percent. To exert political influence, though, these new Nevadans had to vote.
"Roads have to paved," Romero said. "Some of us who have been here for quite some time had been chopping away at the trees for many, many years ... Most of us who have been here awhile were insisting that we have this tool called the vote, and the community needed to use it."
From 2004 to 2012, Hispanics grew their share of the Nevada electorate from 10 percent to 18 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. During that same period the Hispanic portion of the national electorate went from 8 percent to 10 percent.
"Latinos in Nevada have short roots," Romero said. "We haven't been around in Nevada for a while, like in the states where many of us came from, like Texas, New York, Florida and California. The roots were small and participation was not as profound as in other states where people are second-, third- and fourth-generation. It took awhile for individuals moving into the state to grasp the sense of community."
The relative youth of the community was just one factor that set the Nevada political scene apart for Hispanics.
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