- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

Maryland Democratic Party officials yesterday announced a new outreach organization to compete for the state’s growing Hispanic vote in the November and 2006 elections.

“The major goal is trying to do it right the first time,” said Delegate Victor R. Ramirez, Prince George’s Democrat. “And I think that is going to take a little time.”

Mr. Ramirez said the new Maryland Democratic Hispanic Caucus has about 20 members and should be at full strength by late summer, just in time for the Nov. 2 presidential election and the 2006 gubernatorial race.

He also said that the group will focus on registering voters and getting them to the polls, dissecting important community issues and cultivating stronger relationships with other minority groups.

“I think there are some folks out there who would like to divide and conquer,” Mr. Ramirez said. “We want to make it more of a big tent.”

The group will advocate for higher living wages and improvements in health care and public education.

“Those are issues that I think will go a long way in terms of assimilating people in the American culture,” Mr. Ramirez said.

Natali Fani, executive secretary for the Maryland Latino Coalition for Justice, agreed.

“I think it is a wonderful effort that should have been initiated a long time ago,” said Miss Fani, who has an ethics complaint pending against two Republican lawmakers.“I think it demonstrates that Latinos are here and we are voting.”

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggettrecently acknowledged that the party needs to attract more Hispanic voters and that he is concerned about increased Republican efforts to reach that voting bloc since the election of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — the first Republican to hold that office in more than three decades.

The Hispanic population in Maryland has almost doubled in the past 10 years, though the state’s Board of Elections has no statistics on how many Hispanics voted for Mr. Ehrlich.

Democrats still control both chambers of the General Assembly by a wide margin and have three Hispanic lawmakers in the House — Mr. Ramirez and Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Luiz Simmons, both of Montgomery County.

Republicans have one elected Hispanic lawmaker, Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick County.

In 2000, there were 227,916 Hispanics in Maryland, making up 4.3 percent of the state’s population, according to census figures.

They live mostly in suburban Washington, with 100,604 Hispanics in Montgomery County and 57,057 in Prince George’s County.

The estimated 35.3 million Hispanics in the country make them the largest minority and an important voting bloc.

President Bush’s efforts to appeal to Hispanic voters has included an initiative to loosen immigration restrictions.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has launched an $18 million, monthlong advertising campaign designed to woo Hispanics.

Mr. Kerry reportedly also is considering for his vice-presidential running mate Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico who has Hispanic ancestry.

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