Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011 | 2 a.m.
As a Nevada Latino, a state senator and a candidate for Congress in Southern Nevada, I am closely following our state’s redistricting effort. The stakes couldn’t be higher as the decisions made today will have an important impact on the political future of our state for decades to come.
One major point of contention is how to ensure Nevada’s growing Latino population receives adequate representation in the House of Representatives, state Senate and state Assembly. The Nevada Republican Party’s lawyers are calling for packing Latino voters into a few districts, including one congressional district, instead of having broader representation throughout the state.
Some have asserted that I secretly support such an approach, speculating it could potentially benefit my congressional run. Let me be clear: I absolutely do not support the approach of the Nevada Republican Party’s lawyers because it is nothing more than an attempt to silence the Latino vote in our state.
Contrary to Republican arguments, packing Nevada Latinos into a few districts will reduce and weaken our voice, not strengthen it. Nevada’s Latino population is found all across Nevada and Clark County. A truly fair redistricting plan would reflect this by ensuring our influence is felt in a large number of districts — not just a handful.
Despite their rhetoric, Nevada Republican Party lawyers have no interest in protecting the Latino vote. In reality, their plan undermines it by reducing the impact that Latinos have in districts where we are not overrepresented.
But if their motives aren’t bad enough, their arguments are even worse.
They falsely argue that it makes sense to put as many Latinos into as few districts as possible because all Latinos in Nevada belong to a single-minded bloc. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While everyone has the same fundamental concerns about creating jobs and protecting Medicare, the Latino community in East Las Vegas has many unique concerns from the Latino community in Henderson. Packing these distinct communities into one district just because they are Latino could harm both populations.
Additionally, Nevada Republican Party lawyers are cynically arguing that a few majority Latino districts are necessary because white Nevada voters won’t support Latino candidates.
My response to them is this: ask Republican Governor Brian Sandoval and Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto what they think about that. Both candidates were elected in a majority white state — twice. After that, go ask the three Hispanic Assembly candidates who won election in majority white districts last year.
They’ll find that while it may not suit their political goal, voters in Nevada have demonstrated that they judge candidates for public office based on their merits and qualifications, not on their race. However, on the flip side, I believe the Republican plan separating Nevadans based solely on race would have the opposite effect — creating racial polarization in places where it does not currently exist.
The bottom line is this: Elections matter, especially with so many Nevada families struggling to find work. That’s why it’s more important than ever to ensure that all Nevada’s communities receive fair, effective representation in their government. That requires more elected officials and districts to be accountable to our growing Latino population — not fewer.
Unfortunately, the proposal by Nevada Republican Party lawyers to pack Latino voters into as few districts as possible won’t benefit Nevada’s Hispanic communities as they advertise. It will result in nothing less than disenfranchisement.
Ruben Kihuen is a state senator who represents the 10th district in Clark County. He also is running for Congress.