- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — The Hispanic population in Maryland has almost doubled in the past 10 years, but leaders acknowledge their clout in the State House has yet to match the growth.

Hispanics hold two of the 141 House seats, just one of the 47 in the Senate and no Cabinet-level posts in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s Republican administration.

Still, Luis Borunda, 45, chairman of the Hispanic Republicans of Maryland, predicts that significant change will begin soon and continue over the next two decades.

“It would not surprise me to see a Hispanic appointment at a Cabinet-level position later on this term,” said Mr. Borunda, whose group is the official outreach arm of the state’s Republican Party. “And we will have [more] Hispanics running for the General Assembly in 2006.”

However, he thinks it will take 15 to 20 years before Maryland elects a Hispanic governor.

Right now, Sen. Alexander X. Mooney, Frederick Republican, is considered the leading voice for Hispanics in the state.

The outspoken, 32-year-old lawmaker trounced 16-year incumbent Republican Jack Derr in 1998 in a voting district that is 85 percent white. The victory made him the state’s first Hispanic legislator.

“I worked hard,” Mr. Mooney said. “I just happen to Cuban, and I just happened to get elected.”

Mr. Mooney credits his mother, Eulalia “Lala” Mooney, who he says came to the United States from Cuba after President Fidel Castro’s regime took her home and put her in jail because she was not a communist.

“She is a major part of the reason I am in politics,” said Mr. Mooney, whose father is Irish. “My mom raised us to fight for our freedom.”

Although Mr. Mooney acknowledges that Hispanics have more freedom and opportunity in the United States than they do in Latin America, he said they still have a “serious fight ahead of them” in the realms of politics and business, primarily because of the language barrier.

“Even Hispanics that speak English well have such heavy accents that it is still hard to understand them,” Mr. Mooney said. “Although their quality of work is excellent, many clients do not give them a chance. And I think it’s a shame because both the Hispanic businessman and the potential clients suffer.”

Eloisa Guzman, 45, is among those who has done well after coming to the United States in 1984. She now has restaurants in Baltimore, Hyattsville and Glen Burnie, but agrees that government could do more to improve minority business opportunities.

She suggests such basic changes as printing Spanish-language documents on how to get a job or how to start a business.

“People think they cannot do things because they don’t speak English or because they do not have the right papers, but they can,” she said Monday. “We are hard workers.”

With 35.3 million people, Hispanics make up 12.5 percent the country’s population and are now the largest minority group, which also makes them an important voting bloc.

Miss Guzman says Republicans have done more than just try to win Hispanic votes, especially President Bush, who recently has tried to help illegal aliens become citizens and full members of the U.S. labor force.

“But we also have to help ourselves,” she said.

Miss Guzman agrees with Mr. Mooney that electing Hispanics is essential, but she also expects a long, slow process. She also says Hispanics must help themselves — particularly by going to college to prepare themselves for leadership roles.

In 2000, there were 227,916 Hispanics living in Maryland or 4.3 percent of the state’s population, according the 2000 census. They live mostly in suburban Washington, with 100,604 Hispanics in Montgomery County and 57,057 in Prince George’s County.

Mr. Borunda, who is also part of the Governor’s Commission on Minority Business Enterprise Reform, will be named today as community coordinator for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Maryland. He agrees that Republicans are trying to reach out to Hispanics.

As proof, he points to Mr. Ehrlich’s recently making Adela Acosta, principal at Cesar Chavez Elementary in Hyattsville the first Hispanic member of the state’s Board of Regents.

Yet, not all Republicans have been sensitive on immigration issues.

Republican Delegates Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County, and Richard K. Impallaria, Harford County, sponsored bills cracking down on illegal immigrants. The bills were voted down last month in a House Judiciary Committee meeting.

One bill called for incarcerating illegal aliens as soon as they are discovered. Another would have punished U.S. residents who allowed illegal aliens to use their cars during the commission of a crime. A third bill requested a crackdown on embassies’ issuing identification cards to illegal aliens.

The lawmakers still have legislation pending on the effect that illegal aliens have on the state economy.

Although the Hispanic population continues to increase, its median age is 26, compared with the median age of 35 years old for the entire U.S. population.

Mr. Borunda thinks that more Hispanics will get elected to public office as the Hispanic population matures and becomes more politically active.

“We are a very young minority, especially here in Maryland,” he said. “But our aggressive approach is beginning to make an impact.”

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