Less than four weeks ago, Latinos reshaped the nation's political map and exercised the strength of their political power, both as voters and candidates.
Election 2012 demonstrated the ability of Latino candidates to successfully pursue office in states and communities nationwide. Significant gains were made at the state level for Latino candidates, including several political milestones. Based on analysis by the NALEO Educational Fund, at least 36 states will have approximately 276 Latino state legislators serving in their legislatures starting in 2013, the largest class of Latino state legislators to date.
State Representative Andres Ayala (D) and business owner Art Linares (R) were both elected to the Connecticut State Senate, marking the first time in history that the state will have two Latino State Senators. The state houses of representatives in Maine and Oregon also had notable elections this year, electing Lisa Villa (D) and Jessica Vega Pederson (D), respectively, as their first Latina legislators.
Latino candidates experienced success at the congressional level as well on Election night. The 113th Congress will feature 28 Latinos in the U.S. House of Representatives, making it the largest class in our nation's history. Nine Latinos will serve in the U.S. House for the first time, including former Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who will be the first Latina from the state of New Mexico to serve as a U.S. Representative.
The U.S. Senate in the 113th Congress will include three Latinos. Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz (R) will join reelected Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), making history on Election night by becoming the first Latino to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.
Latino political leaders are also making strides at the highest levels of leadership within the parties. Sen.-elect Cruz, the Tea Party backed Cuban-American and accomplished attorney, was recently tapped to serve as vice chairman of Grass Roots and Outreach for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Today, seasoned U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra was elected Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Becerra is a former Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair and the first Latino to serve on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. U.S. Rep. Becerra will be the second Latino to serve in this position, following now U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
Increased representation in the leadership ranks goes beyond party politics, and is an important component of political participation. The inclusion of both Sen.-elect Cruz and U.S. Rep. Becerra within their respective parties in leadership roles would mean that Latinos would have a voice at the highest levels of policymaking.
Election 2012 proved that the political influence of Latinos is growing. Yet, despite the strides made during election 2012 to ensure that Latino representation at the state and congressional levels is beginning to mirror the demographics of our country, there is still much work to be done.
Looking forward, the role of the Latino electorate will continue to be pivotal, 2012 was an historic year for Latino legislators and the Latino community, and we know there is much more to come from the nation's second largest and fastest growing population group.
Arturo Vargas is the Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the leadership organization of the nation's more than 6,000 Latino elected and appointed officials.