Latino leaders say redistricting limits political power of Hispanic community

Written by on May 10, 2022

Latino leaders say redistricting limits political power of Hispanic community

By Hayden Mitman
May 10, 2022

Enid Santiago speaks during a news conference March 18, 2022, to announce she’s intends to run in the 2022 Democratic primary election for the 134th House District seat. (WLVR photo | Hayden Mitman)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Members of the Latino community in the Lehigh Valley have said legislative House redistricting has hurt their chances to hold state political office. 

Changes in boundary lines were approved this year and some say that’s impacting Hispanic and Latino representation, specifically in Allentown.

Listen to the story.

In March, Jose Rosado, former mayor of Fountain Hill, attended an Allentown rally to unveil a slate of new Latino Democratic candidates running for Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.

But he’s concerned about their prospects. 

“The Latino community has been divided into three different House seats, it makes it that much more difficult for a Latino to win any one of those seats and, I think that’s of concern,” he said.

Rosado is the first Latino mayor in the history of Pennsylvania. He said he worries the Latino community was cut out of local politics when Pennsylvania’s legislative districts were overhauled this year. 

New maps were created to reflect population increases across the state and better reflect Pennsylvania’s growing diversity.

To that end, Lehigh Valley’s House districts were carved up.

Allentown’s 22nd House District was redrawn and the valley got a new district: the 134th. 

The city is part of the 132nd as well. 

Christopher Borick, a Muhlenberg College political scientist and director of the school’s Institute of Public Opinion,  noted that Lehigh Valley’s population growth has been fueled by the Latino community. 

“It’s a zero sum game. You have a certain number of districts, 230 districts in the state. And, where the population grows, you get more districts. Where you lose it, you lose districts. And, the Lehigh Valley is among the growing areas in the state, so we are adding districts,” said Borick.

In fact, the most recent census shows that more than half of Allentown residents identify as Hispanic or Latino. 

But, the remapping has divided the city, at least, according to Rosado. 

“Are they purposely trying to keep viable Latino candidates from running? Is this being done intentionally?” asked Rosado.

The former mayor of Fountain Hill initially announced a plan to run for the 22nd, but the final map changed that, when his home was moved outside the district boundaries.

And he’s not the only one who’s frustrated.

Democrat Enid Santiago announced her campaign at that March rally in Allentown.

She is running to represent Pennsylvania’s 134th House District but she had planned to run for the 22nd, until the new maps came out. 

“I was kicked out, pretty much, of my district and put into a brand new one,” said Santiago. 

In an interview, she said, throughout the process members of the Latino community were concerned this could happen. 

“I spoke at the hearings. Quite a few Latinos spoke at the hearings about how unfair these districts were drawn. It was very frustrating that the Latino districts all around the state were very unfairly cut,” she said.

Democrats aren’t the only ones with concerns about the new map. The frustration reaches across party lines. 

Steven Ramos, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully to represent the 22nd District in the past, said the political power of the Latino community has been diluted. 

“When you think about the populations that they are supposedly trying to serve, you’re not getting there if you say ‘we are going to obliterate the districts as they are.’ Even the voters are going to be confused going, ‘I don’t even know what district I’m in,’” said Ramos.

That was an issue this year for Democrat Norberto Dominguez. He was the only Latino in this year’s race for the 22nd – and then he dropped out. 

He said the new district boundaries caused confusion and candidates had only a few days to collect their petition signatures because the new maps were delayed. 

“It’s so oddly cut that you can cross the street and be in another district,” he said. 

The chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission, Mark Nordenberg, declined to comment for this story. 

But during the redistricting process, he called the 22nd one of eight “opportunity” districts for minority candidates. 

These are areas where no incumbents live in the district due to remapping. 

Still, for political scientist Borick, the changes kept Latino populations in the new Lehigh Valley districts comparable. 

Latinos make up about 60% of the 22nd District in both the old and new maps.

“It’s a puzzle, right? When you create a new district first of all, you’re going to be moving old districts. But, of course, as you start moving those parts, it’s a ripple effect,” Borick said.

He believes redistricting was done in good faith, and noted that, in politics, the only constant is change.  

“That’s the reality. It’s a good thing for us in the Valley. We get more population, we get more representatives, which on the whole is a good thing for our representation in Harrisburg,” said Borick.

In Allentown, Santiago narrowly made it onto the Democratic ballot for the 134th in the May primary, but only after surviving a court challenge over her petition signatures.

“Overall, the redistricting was good overall. But, when it came down to the fastest-growing population in the state of Pennsylvania, I don’t believe we got that fair district,” she said. 

She’s now the only Latino in the Valley running for a seat on the state House of Representatives. 

And she has one week to convince Democratic voters, in a new area who don’t know her, that she’s the best candidate for the ticket.

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