Instead of moving his family to Washington, Ramirez decided they were better off staying in Nevada, and Las Vegas could be just as good of a spot to build his business as the nation's capital. Nevada, a swing state going into the 2012 presidential election, was being closely watched nationally and had become a launching pad for campaigns focused on Hispanic-community issues. So he started the small firm with his wife, Jacki Ramirez, who was Reid's first Hispanic outreach coordinator in 1994.
As recently as 2005, there would not have been nearly as much political work for Ramirez to do if he were based in Nevada.
"In 2005 most people were still indecisive about how influential a role Latinos would play in electoral politics," he said. "So they didn't place a premium on services that we provide. Now there is no question. Now it's like: 'Of course we have to do Hispanics. How do we advertise in Spanish? How do we talk to Spanish voters? Now, it's a given whereas back then they were saying (Hispanics) need to register and they need to vote. All that stigma is gone now."
Ramirez agreed that Kihuen taking on an incumbent in a primary and winning was one turning point.
"I also think us being a battleground state is critically important to that, because when politicians aren't paying attention or investing money, it's hard to document that you are making an impact -- that's important," Ramirez said. "I think that Latinos themselves, who are registering in record numbers each cycle and voting in record numbers each cycle, created a turning point."
Business started slow in 2011, an election off-year, but three months in the Ramirez Group began picking up contracts to work on various projects and research on the Hispanic electorate. At the start of 2012 it was expanding its staff and moving into bigger offices in downtown Las Vegas.
Building on Success
Irene Bustamante Adams, a California native who grew up picking grapes alongside her parents, spent 18 years working as an executive with MGM Resorts International before entering the race for Assembly District 42 in 2010.
She was just one of six new Hispanics, along with Lucy Flores, Olivia Diaz, Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Richard Carillo and Steven Brooks, elected to the Nevada Assembly that year. Together with Denis and Kihuen, state senators, they formed the first Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus, of which Bustamante Adams is now the chair.
"I have to compliment the Assembly Democratic caucus for its training and recruitment," Bustamante Adams said, noting the success of the six first-time candidates. "They cast a wide net to go and look for candidates interested in running. Sen. Denis and Sen. Kihuen were working on a pipeline of individuals: people serving on nonprofits, getting appointed to other boards and commissions, and some of us were previous lobbyists."
The successes of 2010 also were due in part to a change in state law more than a decade earlier. Nevada voters in 1996 approved term limits for the Legislature, restricting state senators and assemblymen to three terms and six terms, respectively.
"Term limits opened up the door for a lot of us," Bustamante Adams said. "I'm one example."
And now the concerns and issues of the Hispanic community are getting greater attention.
The Hispanic legislative caucus is picking up two new, non-Hispanic members this session, Tick Segerblom and Dina Neal, who have a significant number of Hispanics in their districts.
The Hispanic community voice on issues of education, specifically for English-language learners, and job creation has been augmented. Additionally, issues of greater concern for Hispanics, such as driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and greater regulations on notaries, have gained traction.
"If you go back to redistricting in 2001, there was a coalition of Latino groups going up to Carson City and lobbying for representation in the boundary lines, and they largely got shut out. Both sides played them off," said Damore, the UNLV political scientist. "Fast-forward 10 years later, and the only story in redistricting is how to deal with the Hispanic population."
Room for Growth
In 2012, Oscar Delgado became the first Hispanic elected to the Reno City Council.
In Southern Nevada, where the vast majority of the Silver State's Hispanics live, the numbers of Hispanics elected to municipal posts are just as paltry.
Bob Coffin is the only Hispanic on the Las Vegas City Council. Isaac Barron, a teacher at Rancho High School, is running this year for North Las Vegas City Council and could become the first Hispanic to sit on that body.
"I hope to see a Latino on the North Las Vegas City Council," said Ramirez, who in 2005 ran unsuccessfully for North Las Vegas mayor. "I hope that we are able to recruit more Hispanics to run for offices at all levels, because there are still many levels of government we are not represented in. Outside of recruiting people to run for office, we need to start to identify and prepare people to serve in appointed positions."
Ramirez also is working on the return of Hispanic leadership academies, like those previously run by Manny Cortez, a former Clark County commissioner and Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority president and Harry Reid's former chief of staff, Reynaldo Martinez, that helped prepare Hispanics to run for office.
Meanwhile, members of the class of 2010 are no longer freshmen and are expected to become more influential.
"The 2010 election was so big for the Latino community, but getting that class elected was half the battle," Damore said. "They now have to fight policy battles."
That was a sentiment Bustamante Adams echoed.
"In our first session as freshmen we played a lot of defense instead of offense," she said. "We are moving to more of an offensive strategy, and it's important for us to educate other caucus members and legislators about Hispanics in their districts. ... What's important to the Hispanic community is what's important to all Nevadans when it comes to our number one priorities, education and jobs."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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