Every Latino can be a legislator
By George Diaz
My introduction to our state legislature was uncomfortable. While an undergraduate student at Arizona State, I served as a majority intern in the House of Representatives. The discomfort came from being a Democrat working for Republicans, and only one of two Latinos doing so.
I took the internship hoping to improve my chances of getting into a top-tier graduate school. I was equally immersed in the community and my studies and, while most of my fellow interns wanted to become lawyers, my dream was to become a social science researcher. I was certain there was a strong relationship between policy-makers and those who research social problems.
My motivations were my surroundings. The neighborhood I grew up in was the scene of demographic change and, along with it, the sights, sounds and smells of Maryvale were changing. Ice cream trucks still patrolled the block but now tamale vendors did too. The tunes of Van Halen and Michael Jackson were now occasionally drowned out by Ramon Ayala. Don’t get me wrong, growing up on the Westside there were always Latino elements, but now they were increasingly prevalent and Mexican. It made some folks uncomfortable, even those who recognized that we shared a heritage with our new neighbors.
Despite the changes, I was still comfortable in my ubiquitous John F. Long home. Still, I knew things could, and should, get better, much better. Our schools, neighborhood safety and economic position all needed to improve drastically to avoid slipping into irrelevance. At that point in 1995, I swore I’d never leave the ‘Vale; I wanted to be a servant to my community.
My internship showed me immediately that I had it all wrong. I learned quickly that there was little connection between policy and research and, for me, that was very disappointing. But, I also learned that trust, diplomacy and efficiency are valuable qualities because most issues are too complicated to convey completely. You never know who your allies will be and, with regard to programs, cost always outweighs effectiveness.
Obviously, I got over being uncomfortable. My internship was over 17 years ago and I have worked in government relations full-time ever since.
If you’re wondering why it is important for you to know about the legislative process, I have two good reasons. In the first place, laws are more than policies; they are moral documents that convey a society’s priorities.
Second, in order for the Latino community to make itself a priority, it must be engaged in improving our educational system, public safety and economic development. When you are not engaged, you forfeit your political power by making those who do engage in the process more powerful.
Legislative advocacy for Latinos is critically important because of the huge gap between our lack of civic engagement and our growing population. Arizona’s Latino population in 1980 was only 16 percent. Currently, Latinos make up 30 percent of Arizona’s population and, by 2030, Arizona’s population could reach “majority-minority” status. However, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, while Latinos are 17 percent of the population of the United States, they only comprise 10 percent of voters. Latinos could, however, account for 40 percent of the electorate by 2030. If Latinos increase voter participation to the level of other groups, the number of votes cast by Latinos could double in the next two decades.
To become engaged it helps to know the legislative process. As for how a bill becomes law, I could try and explain every nuance, but what readers need is an understanding of the legislative process that can be applied independently. There are two basic components to passing a bill: the introduction and the process.
The motivation behind bills, much like my own motivation for applying for the legislative internship, isn’t always obvious or transparent. But there is always a problem, incident or disagreement behind the genesis of every bill.
Bills can come from both malicious and positive intentions but, with 1,395 total bills introduced last year, the malicious can go unnoticed. Keep in mind that one person’s special interest group is another person’s advocate.
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