Sep 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Latina candidates scaling Aspen

Colorado Democratic State Senate candidate Elizabeth Velasco and Roaring Fork school board member Jasmin Ramirez pose for a picture in Aspen.

Colorado Democratic State Senate candidate Elizabeth Velasco and Roaring Fork school board member Jasmin Ramirez. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

Latinas in and around Aspen, Colorado, are increasingly running for — and winning — elected office, a notable trend in the affluent and traditionally white-dominated mountain communities of this battleground state.

Why it matters: Latinos help build and run this area's famous ski resorts. But they've traditionally held little political power.

What's happening: In June, Elizabeth Velasco became the first Latina to win a Democratic primary for a state House seat in the Western Slope.

  • The Mexican immigrant and firefighter is challenging Republican incumbent Perry Will to represent Aspen in a redrawn district that leans Democrat.
  • Jasmin Ramirez won a seat on the Roaring Fork School Board in 2019, becoming one of the area's first Latina school board members.
  • That made her a mini-celebrity around Aspen and inspired other Latinas to run for office, Alex Sánchez, founder of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, a nonprofit that helps elect Latinos, tells Axios.
  • Environmental activist Beatriz Soto came within a few hundred votes in 2020 of being elected to the Garfield County Board of Commissioners, traditionally a conservative body.

What to watch: Voces Unidas de las Montañas is preparing at least three other Latinas in the Aspen area to run for any office in the near future by providing fundraising training and public speaking workshops, Sánchez said.

  • The Latinx House last week held its inaugural Raizado Festival in Aspen and said it is committed to holding the event there for at least 10 years to bring attention to Latinos in the area.

Zoom in: The progressive hamlet of Aspen is also home to the Aspen Ideas Festival, which brings together thinkers, writers, artists, business people and others. But it's part of a broader area represented in Congress by conservative firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert (R), who often rails against undocumented immigrants.

Zoom out: Other U.S. ski enclaves including Jackson, Wyo., and Vermont's Mount Snow Resort also have long looked to Latino workers to keep the resorts running while Latinos in those areas have been underrepresented in office.

  • Workers typically live in nearby but less expensive areas and sometimes face long commutes in winter conditions.
  • Few school districts provide bilingual services for students, according to advocates.

Between the lines: In Colorado, Mexican Americans' political power mainly rests in Denver, a city that helped give birth to the 1960s Chicano movement.

  • Moderate Hispanic Democrats and Republicans also have made gains in Southern Colorado.
  • But immigrant Latinos on the western side of the Rockies for decades have struggled to win offices.

What they're saying: "We just really want someone (who is) going to fight for us," Velasco told Axios.

  • Ramirez told Axios "there were a lot of people within our community that didn't think a win in our community was possible."
  • Ramirez said around 60% of students in the school district she represents are Latino students. She recently helped hire Jesús Rodríguez, the area's first Latino superintendent.
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