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Few Hispanics win in primaries

Vigil blames racism for his loss; others say ethnicity isn't a factor

Published August 19, 2006 at midnight

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Hispanic candidates didn't fare well in the primary election, foreshadowing a legislature that's mostly Anglo despite increases in Colorado's minority population.

At least four Hispanics lost bids for either the state House or Senate. In addition, the sole Hispanic in the six-candidate field for the GOP nomination in the 5th Congressional District also lost.

Rep. Val Vigil, D-Thornton, blamed his loss in his Senate bid on racism and fears about illegal immigration.

"If you've got a Hispanic name on the ballot, you're already five to 10 points behind," he said.

"Racism is alive and well in Colorado."

But some Hispanics who lost on Aug. 8 either downplayed the issue of ethnicity or said they're not sure if it was a factor in the outcome.

Yet they agree the lack of Hispanic lawmakers is a concern.

Next year there could be as few as three Hispanics in the House and two in the Senate, depending on what happens in November, said Vigil, who is term-limited.

"So were talking, what? Five total maybe, in a state where the population is what? Twenty-two percent Hispanic?" he said.

Close.

Colorado is nearly 20 percent Hispanic, according to the latest Census Bureau figures.

Community activist Nita Gonzales said she didn't realize the extent of Hispanic losses until questioned by the Rocky Mountain News.

"It's very disturbing because then we will not have a voice at the table as laws are being written," she said.

She is certain the issue will become a major topic of discussion for Latino groups now that it is out in the open.

The most high-profile Hispanic candidate to lose was Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera in the 5th Congressional District.

Rivera, who placed fourth, said he doesn't believe ethnicity had much to do with the outcome, pointing out that he won the nonpartisan mayor's contest.

Rep. Fran Coleman, D-Denver, who is Hispanic, lost her Senate bid to financier Chris Romer. She said she's not sure if ethnicity played a factor because of her Anglo surname.

But she said she was shocked at the number of voters who called to ask her position on immigration.

"These are Democrats," she said.

Coleman is worried about the lack of Hispanics in the legislature. Still, in the primary battle to succeed her in the House, she supported attorney Jeanne Labuda over prosecutor Alfredo Hernandez. Labuda won.

Coleman, who is term limited, said she based her vote on other considerations, including the fact that Labuda is a woman and had a "record of contributing to this community."

As for Vigil, had he won his Senate race, he would have squared off against an Hispanic opponent, Republican Luis Alvarez.

Immigration was a huge issue in Vigil's race against Sen. Lois Tochtrop in one of the nastiest primary battles this year.

Vigil accused Tochtrop of running a "flat out dirty, racist and ugly campaign." He noted she blasted him for sponsoring legislation to give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, but didn't tell voters she supported it.

"I'm sorry he's calling me a racist," Tochtrop said. "I ran a clean race, and I'm going to do the same in November."

The seat traditionally goes Democratic, but Republicans are trying to take it away.

Alvarez said he's running on his values, not on his ethnicity.

"I'm a Republican candidate who happens to be Hispanic, as opposed to the Hispanic candidate," Alvarez said.

If Alvarez beats Tochtrop, it is likely there then will be three Hispanics in the 35-member Senate.

Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver, are up for election this year, but are considered safe by most pundits because their districts heavily favor Democrats.

Hispanics expected to be re-elected to the House next year are Mike Garcia of Aurora, Rafael Gallegos of Antonito and Dorothy Butcher of Pueblo, all Democrats.

Hispanic candidates fall in primary

Some who lost in recent elections:

Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera lost to Sen. DougLamborn, R-Colorado Springs, in the 5th Congressional District.

Rep. Val Vigil, D-Thornton, lost to Sen. Lois Tochtrop in Senate District 24 in Adams County.

Rep. Fran Coleman, D-Denver, lost to financier Chris Romer in Senate District 32

Jeff Vigil lost to Cherylin Peniston in the Democratic primary in House District 35 in Westminster

Democrat Alfredo Hernandez lost to Jeanne Labuda ina Democratic primary in House District 1 in Denver.

Hispanics expected to be re-elected to the House

Michael Garcia, of Aurora

Dorothy Butcher, of Pueblo

Rafael Gallegos, of Antonito

Safe bets

Up for election but considered safe by most pundits because their districts heavily favor Democrats: Sens. Abel Tapia, Pueblo, and Paula Sandoval, Denver.

or 303-954-5327

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