Senators announce Hispanic caucus

SANTA FE – Citing lingering education and poverty issues in one of the nation’s most diverse states, a bipartisan coalition of senators announced Thursday they will form a Legislative Hispanic Caucus.

The announcement came just days after a leadership vote left white lawmakers holding the three top posts for Senate Democrats.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who announced the new group’s formation on the Senate floor, said the caucus was not created specifically in response to the recent leadership vote. But at least one other senator suggested it sends a “message.”

New Mexico has the largest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation – about 47 percent as of the last census – but until now has not had a formal Hispanic caucus.

Given those figures and the state’s Hispanic roots, Candelaria said it makes “no sense” that New Mexico has not had such a body in recent years. At least 15 other states already have such a caucus, he added.

The caucus would be open to any legislator, regardless of their ethnicity, and he said the group’s creation was prompted by concern over both national issues and lingering trouble spots like poverty and educational achievement that impact the state’s Hispanic communities.

“It’s time that we have a forum and a mechanism to institutionalize those issues so they’re not overlooked,” Candelaria told reporters.

While the caucus’ ranks could grow, a total of 14 senators – plus Lt. Gov. John Sanchez – signed the Thursday letter that announced the creation of the Legislative Hispanic Caucus.

Sanchez, the state’s two-term Republican lieutenant governor, said the creation of the new caucus should send a message to Washington, D.C.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus came under scrutiny last year for not allowing U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, to crash their all-Democrat group.

Meanwhile, of the 15 elected officials who signed onto the letter about the New Mexico Legislative Hispanic Caucus, 12 are Democrats and three are Republicans.

The group will likely meet for the first time sometime next week, Candelaria said.

While Hispanic lawmakers have historically held powerful positions in the Legislature, they’re currently excluded from leadership in the Senate Democratic caucus.

Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque was elected majority whip earlier this week, replacing Sen. Michael Padilla, also of Albuquerque, who was stripped of his post due to renewed scrutiny over decade-old sexual harassment allegations.

The other two posts are held by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces.

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