A Changing Country Will Change Congress

November 12, 2011

As minority populations continue to grow across the United States, but particularly in states in the South and West, Americans can expect to see significant changes to Congress in the coming decades, a panel of experts said Friday morning at the Equal Opportunity Cultural Diversity Forum during the 2011 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Anaheim, Calif.

According to the speakers, U.S. minority groups—particularly Hispanic- and Asian-Americans—have made population gains that allowed them to flex political muscle in recent elections. As Utah State Senator and State Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero noted, Latinos made great strides in 2008, including:

· A record turnout for the national election (and a 28 percent increase over 2004).

· Marco Rubio’s election as a U.S. Senator for the state of Florida.

· The election of Brian Sandoval, first Latino governor of Nevada.

· The election of Gov. Susana Martinez in New Mexico, the first Latina governor of any state.

Those achievements notwithstanding, Romero said the Hispanic-American population isn’t where it needs to be in terms of political participation. He explained that more than 12 million Latinos are projected to vote in the 2012 national elections, but added that’s only about half of the eligible voters in that group nationwide.

In a poll of Hispanic-American citizens, the most common reason given for that low level of engagement is that they just don't see how politics is relevant to their lives. So even though Latinos accounted for more than half of all U.S. population growth in the past decade and continue to swell their numbers, corresponding increases in political power may not be immediately forthcoming, Romero acknowledged.

"We are not there politically,” he said. “The potential is there. The numbers are there.”

In the long run, though, Hispanic- and Asian-Americans will increase their representation in Congress, state legislatures, and executive political offices at all levels. Furthermore, they’ll reach many of their political and policy objectives by forming coalitions with other minority political groups.

"It's not about fighting for political power, it's about sharing political power," explained Gloria Chan, president and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

"Coalitions are extremely important, because [different minority groups] have similar issues like development and housing,” added Leon Russell, NAACP vice chair and director of the Office of Human Rights for Pinellas (Fla.) County Government. “Those bridges have to be built now."

Russell also encouraged REALTORS® of all backgrounds and in all markets to be aware of demographic changes in their areas and reach out to people in other groups. If they don’t, he said they’ll miss out on major opportunities.

“As REALTORS®, you have a major role in determining the future of your communities,” he said. “In many instances, you drive development in your communities. You have an impact on where people will live and, ultimately, how people will live."

Source: Brian Summerfield, REALTOR® Magazine

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