Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

As Hispanic Population Grows, So Does Influence; and Leaders Are Trying to Groom Future Politicians, Regardless of Party

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

As Hispanic Population Grows, So Does Influence; and Leaders Are Trying to Groom Future Politicians, Regardless of Party

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel

People ask Juan Diaz all the time if he's going to run for political office in Duval County again. He's not ready to commit, he says - a 7-month-old baby at home complicates things.

But he did say that it's inevitable that Jacksonville's growing Hispanic population will soon produce some elected political leaders at the county or state level.

"Most of us are newcomers and still establishing roots," said Diaz, a native of Orlando. "It takes that time to build that influence in the community. But do I feel the influence is growing? Absolutely."

It has to start on the ground floor, say some Hispanic leaders.

Medardo Monzon, outgoing president of the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the group has an initiative that trains its members to get on the boards of nonprofit organizations. That leads to more influence in city affairs, he noted.

And Tomas Jimenez of the nonprofit North Florida Hispanic Alliance said his group is trying to groom future politicians. "What we're going to do is identify young Hispanic candidates in Duval County, regardless of what party they are," he said. "I see it coming."

Jimenez, a developer who was a founder of the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Board in 1998, said local races such as School Board and City Council could be targeted.

His son, Alessandro Jimenez, a Republican, ran for the county's Soil and Water Conservation Board in 2006. At 29, he's considering seeking another political office. He said that while he wouldn't run simply as a Hispanic candidate, his heritage could give him a boost from the Hispanic community.

"If there were a Hispanic candidate, I think they would maybe feel closer to some of the issues, maybe more involved. That's the first step in any interaction," he said.

Duval County's Hispanic population has boomed and could more than double by 2040. That would take the number from more than 60,000 in 2010 to almost 140,000, according to projections by a University of Florida research center.

That's a sizeable group that could sway local elections, said Jacksonville University political science professor Stephen Baker. "All the candidates are pretty receptive to the idea that the Hispanic community is going to become a major factor," he said.

So far though, Hispanics in Duval County have not been voting in numbers equal to their population: They made up 7.7 percent of the population in the last census, but just 3.2 percent of the voters in the 2012 general election, according to the elections office. …

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