- Associated Press - Sunday, January 19, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - African-American leaders in Arizona fear their political presence is fading.

The impending retirement of State Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor could leave Arizona as one of a handful of states with no African-Americans in the Legislature.

The Arizona Republic reports (http://bit.ly/1jfCWbK) Landrum Taylor marked the beginning of her final legislative session on Tuesday.

Since 1950, there has been at least one African-American in either the state House or the Senate. But while communities plan to celebrate the political legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, political observers are hoping to come up with ways to boost African-American representation in Arizona.

African-Americans trying to build political clout face several challenges, such as a lack of candidates and a small voting population across the state.

Blacks make up less than 5 percent of Arizona’s population of 6.6 million. In contrast, the state’s Latino population is rising at a rapid pace. According to some experts, the increase in Latino voters can make it difficult for black candidates to get votes in some districts.

George Dean, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Urban League, said it puts blacks “in a position of not being a part of the policy-making process, at least of having our voice not being heard.”

While Landrum Taylor, who has to vacate her office because of term limits, says she will run for secretary of state. So far, no other black candidates have emerged for any statewide or legislative office.

Landrum Taylor, 47, said she is afraid having few or no African-Americans could revive a stigma that shadowed the state in 1987 when the then-governor rescinded the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. She says people in other states haven’t forgotten that it took voters in 1992 to restore the state holiday.

Four states currently have no black lawmakers, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank in Washington that focuses primarily on issues affecting African-Americans. Like Arizona, those states - Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and Utah - have very small African-American populations.

Landrum Taylor is working on appealing to a broad spectrum of voters for the secretary of state race. She says support from a wide range of voters will be key to getting more African-Americans elected to office in Arizona in the future.

“You have to have the broad support,” she said.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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