Candidates in the running to become Arkansas’ first-ever Latinos elected as State House Representatives
Arkansas could be looking at a historic win in the upcoming November elections as two Hispanic candidates are in the running to become the first-ever Latinos elected as State House representatives.
Diana Gonzales Worthen for District 9 and Rey Hernandez for District 11, both from the Democratic party, are looking to represent the rising Hispanic population in the state government.
“To be able to take my seat in house district nine as a state representative and being the first Latina in the history of Arkansas to serve on the state legislature, it’s exciting,” said Gonzales Worthen.
Hernandez said, “It’s time. We’ve got a large enough population to deserve representation, and it’s time to have the opportunity to be part of the leadership of our county, state, and federal government.”
Based on the most recent U.S. Census, 8.3% of the population in the state is Hispanic. In Northwest Arkansas, where Gonzales and Hernandez’s districts fall, that percentage is closer to 17% and is expected to grow to 19% by 2026, according to a diversity report by the Northwest Arkansas Council.
Arkansas is among the 15 states where Hispanics accounted for more than half of the population growth—rivaled only by Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, according to a 2021 Pew Research study.
Despite these numbers, Arkansas remains among the states that have never elected a Latino or Latina as a state lawmaker, denoting a massive underrepresentation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
It’s time for Arkansas to elect its first Hispanic State Representatives, said Gonzales Worthen and Hernandez. Both candidates argue that Hispanics need to have a seat at the table to have their voices heard.
“When legislature comes up, we’re [the Hispanic community] not even the second or third thought they have about how this affects this group of people,” said Hernandez. “If we’re not involved in the lawmaking, then it can affect our everyday living.”
The Latino population has established itself in the workforce and has had a significant economic and fiscal impact, according to a 2013 study from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The study concluded that in 2010, immigrants—primarily Hispanic—contributed $3.9 billion to the economy.
Gonzales Worthen also reflected on how Latino lawmakers “understand the population firsthand because you’re working side by side and being bilingual you’re just more attuned to what the culture is all about.”
The lack of a Latino voice at every level of government has led to problems in education, health, voting rights, and even access to driving licenses, to name a few. Hernandez reflected on the importance of turning the tide now rather than later.
“People are more emboldened to pass ordinances or laws that are restrictive to particular population groups. So, if we don’t turn the corner here and get control of that situation, it’s going to be a long time before we can recover,” said Hernandez.
For example, a 2009 state law that targeted Spanish speakers by limiting how many times Spanish-speaking constituents could be assisted was overturned last month. However, even if this victory sets an important precedent, election clerks’ and staff efforts to provide equal opportunities for all voters were hindered for at least a decade.
In 2021, after the 2020 U.S. Census, the Arkansas Board of Apportionment adopted an updated House District map that reflects how the population has changed in the past decade. As a result, District 9 is now Arkansas’ first majority voting-age Hispanic population district.
However, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas claimed that dividing Springdale resulted in a lower percentage of adult Hispanics eligible to vote. In a letter to the Board of Apportionment, when the draft of the redrawn legislative map became public, ACLU Arkansas explained that the “proposed district is not an effective majority-Hispanic district in any sense.”
Both candidates saw an opportunity to run and represent their communities.
“I’d like to step into a position of starting to open some doors in the legislature because one day, some of this new generation is going to want to be legislators, maybe run for governor, and if somebody hasn’t opened that door and made it possible, it’s going to be a struggle,” said Hernandez.
“At the same time, the part that excites me the most is that I don’t want to be the only one ever. I want to start the ball rolling and open the door for other Latinos to run,” said Gonzales Worthen.
If elected, Gonzales Worthen and Hernandez will join the rising percentage of Latino state lawmakers making headways in the federal government, specifically Latinas. A recent report by the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators stated that Hispanic state legislators make up 6% of state lawmakers across the country, and 25% of Hispanic legislators hold leadership positions. Furthermore, the percentage of Latina state lawmakers jumped to 40% of all Hispanic state legislators.
Election day is November 8, 2022. Early voting is available from Monday, October 24, to Monday, November 7. All voters must register to vote by October 10th, 2022. To learn more about the District 9 Candidate, Diana Gonzales Worthen, visit https://www.dianaforarkansas.com/.