Hispanic Pols Still Seek Big Wins in Arkansas
También puedes leer este artículo en español, Políticos hispanos aún buscan grandes victorias en Arkansas.
Arkansas remains one of the states that has never elected a Latino or Latina lawmaker to a statewide office, which the National Conference of State Legislatures noted was a major underrepresentation.
The state’s population is 8.3% Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census, and in Northwest Arkansas, it’s 17% and expected to grow to 19% by 2026, according to a Northwest Arkansas Council diversity report.
Yet the state’s political representation doesn’t reflect those trends.
In 2022, Diana Gonzales Worthen and Ray Hernandez made bids to be the first Latinos elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives. Both ran as Democrats in Northwest Arkansas, where Hispanic representation is strongest.
Worthen bid to represent District 9, the state’s first majority Latino population of voting age but lost to Republican DeAnna Hodges by 109 votes. Hernandez lost to Republican Rebecca Burkes by 1,262 votes in District 11.
“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,” Worthen said during her campaign.
Election victories are not impossible. Kevin Flores won a seat on the Springdale City Council in 2020 but resigned in 2022 to join the White House Fellows program.
Upon Flores’ departure, the council voted 6-1 to replace him with former councilman Rex Bailey.
In announcing his resignation, Flores indicated his political career may not be over.
“I wanted to understand the intricacies of our federal government better so that I can return to Springdale, the Northwest Arkansas region and the state and be able to better serve our residents in any capacity,” Flores said in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.
Also in 2022, Mayra Carrillo lost her race to represent Springdale’s Ward 1 Position 2 to Randall Harriman, and Derek Van Roast lost in a three-way race for Ward 4 Position 2.
Robert Tellez is running for a seat on Little Rock’s District Court, Division 2. It’s a non-partisan position, not beholden to a political party’s rhetoric, and Tellez said he is running because he thinks justice is better served when people see officials and public servants who look like they do.
“They have to see people like them on the bench to give it legitimacy,” Tellez said.
Tellez, born in El Paso in 1979, said Hispanics shouldn’t necessarily be lumped into one voting block, as there are numerous Spanish-speaking countries from where they or their families might originate. Still, Tellez said, issues of concern for Hispanic voters and politicians alike will always include immigration and language barriers.
“When you’re dealing with the Latino community in Arkansas, which is growing but still a young community compared to California or Texas or Arizona, the immigration piece is always on the forefront of people’s minds,” he said.
Closer to home, Tellez said he is pleased to see the hiring of more Hispanic police officers and, as an attorney, he is proud to see that courtrooms now have interpreters. Founder of Tellez Law Firm, he has spent his legal career advocating for the underserved, people of color and non-English-speaking clients.
“Working with the communities I work with as a lawyer has just made my sense of vision bigger,” Tellez said.
Informed by his legal work, Tellez advocates for fairness and believes his appeal goes beyond heritage or ethnicity.
“I don’t see it as a barrier or an obstacle. I look at it as an opportunity," Tellez said.