Of course we will be watching all Latino politicians as they welcome the new year with a lot on their legislative plates, be it the fiscal cliff or immigration reform. But here is a sample of the diversity of the Latinos who are either newly entering Congress or are coming back – hopefully ready to roll up their sleeves for a lot of work ahead.
Joaquín Castro (D-TX) - The national spotlight in 2012 was more focused on his twin brother Julián, the Mayor of San Antonio TX and the first Latino keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. But Joaquín’s recent election to Congress gives him a chance to expand his state legislative agenda (he voted to restore education funds to Texas) and he is already on record saying Congress needs to tackle gun control.
Ted Cruz (R- TX) - The newly-elected Cuban-American Senator from Texas does not shy away from his very conservative social as well as fiscal views, including privatizing Social Security. While November’s election loss has spurred some Republicans to weigh moving more to the mainstream on some issues, Cruz is not one of them. Reducing the size of government is among his main legislative aims.
Mary Gonzalez (D- El Paso, TX) - The newly-elected state legislator has defied convention by running for office while declaring herself openly gay and a ‘pansexual’ who does not subscribe to gender stereotypes. Gonzalez, who is pursuing a PhD in education, hopes to utilize her background in education and community activism to increase programs and opportunities at the state level.
Michelle Lujan Grisham (D- NM) - As New Mexico’s former Dept of Health Secretary, Lujan Grisham increased access to school-based health centers, increased women’s reproductive health funding and reduced teen pregnancies, and increased childhood immunization rates. Other areas of expertise were senior citizens’care and exposing elderly abuse, all topics Lujan Grisham plans to continue in the U.S. Congress.
Raul Ruiz (D -CA) – The son of migrant workers who went on to Harvard Medical School and became an emergency room doctor – only to beat a wealthy Republican incumbent for Congress – the Latino doctor will now have a chance to work on issues which he has said affect patients’ health, such as education, job opportunities and how healthcare dollars are spent.
Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) - The majority of Latino voters favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and the Illinois congressman, a longtime advocate of the Dream Act and immigration reform, has said this is the time to get it done. Gutierrez has been meeting with other legislators “across the aisle” in the hopes of getting a bi-partisan proposal on the table.
Raul Labrador (R-ID) - The new Idaho congressman was born in Puerto Rico, and is a Mormon and a conservative Republican. As an attorney who handled immigration cases, he is now assigned to the Judiciary Committee and will have a chance to help shape immigration reform. Though he does not favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Congressman Luis Gutierrez recently said to Politico Labrador has the background on immigration “and wants to get this done.”
Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM) - In 2012, Martinez carved her own path in the GOP, delivering a passionate, well-received speech at the Republican convention, yet condemning Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” and “47 percent” comments. Martinez opposes giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in New Mexico for security reasons, yet said Arizona’s immigration laws were not for her state, showing the different positions Latino legislators have on the issue.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) - Now that Senator John Kerry has been nominated for Secretary of State, Senator Bob Menendez might head the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee (he currently heads a subcommittee). The Democratic Senator is also one of the leading proponents of immigration reform and will play a key role in the upcoming year.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) - 2012 was quite a year for Senator Rubio, as the young legislator introduced presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Republican National convention and was even in the running as a vice presidential pick. The Senator penned his autobiography and was the subject of a biography. But after Latino voters gave Republicans the cold shoulder in November’s elections, many are looking to see if Rubio can “soften” his party’s image as the issues of immigration reform and fiscal challenges require bipartisan solutions in a pretty divided atmosphere.