- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Maryland Democratic Party officials have neglected to include the state’s first elected Hispanic lawmaker in their most recent effort to reach Hispanic voters.

Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons, Montgomery County, said he first learned about the newly formed Maryland Democratic Hispanic Caucus when contacted Monday by The Washington Times and that he was not invited to the group’s two organizational meetings.

Mr. Simmons, 55, also said he knew of no “significant issue” that would exclude him from the outreach effort, but acknowledged never being an outspoken champion of Hispanic issues.

“I am an American, and have not been inextricably identified with any particular Hispanic agenda, and that may be the reason,” he said. “My politics has not been weighted with any single agenda. And it may well be that others feel more intensely involved in a parochial ethnic agenda.”

Mr. Simmons was a Republican in 1979 when he became the first Hispanic elected to the General Assembly, then switched to the Democratic Party after leaving office in 1982. He was re-elected in 2002.

Delegate Victor R. Ramirez, Prince George’s Democrat, said yesterday that Mr. Simmons not being invited was simply an “oversight.”

“Part of my job is to get the folks in Prince George’s County rounded up,” he said. “I am sure we would love to have Luiz. He brings a wealth of knowledge, and the welcome will be extend to him immediately. … It is something that can be resolved.”

Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, also part of the Montgomery County delegation and who sits beside Mr. Simmons in the House, did not return a call for comment.

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett, who told The Times in April that party leaders would form a caucus to compete with a similar Republican effort, also did not return calls.

Caucus leaders will advocate for higher “living wages” and improvements in health care and public education.

Mr. Simmons said yesterday he had already planned a door-to-door campaign to reach Hispanic voters, but still wants to play a role in the caucus.

The caucus now 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.

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

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.

Efforts by President Bush, a Republican, to win Hispanic votes in the November election have included an initiative to loosen immigration restrictions. Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts has started an $18 million, monthlong advertising campaign designed to reach Hispanic voters.

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