Nov 16, 2022 - Politics

Georgia's record number of new Latino state lawmakers

Rep. Rey Martinez at a podium

Newly-elected GOP state Rep. Rey Martinez becomes the second Latino member of the Republican state House caucus. Photo: Ben Gray/AP

A record number of Latino candidates have been elected in state legislatures across the U.S. — including Georgia.

Why it matters: Latinos and Hispanics have been the fastest-growing eligible voter group since at least 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. About 10% of Georgia's population is Latino or Hispanic.

The big picture: So far, 64 new Latino Democrats and 15 new Latino Republicans have won state legislative seats across the country, National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators executive director Kenneth Romero-Cruz told Axios' Russell Contreras.

  • There are still some outstanding races, but this could bring the number of Hispanic state legislators to more than 500, which would be a record.

Zoom in: Georgia's legislature will add four Latino and Hispanic lawmakers next year: incoming State Rep. Rey Martinez (R-Loganville), State Rep. Phil Olaleye (D-Atlanta) and state Sen. Jason Esteves (D-Atlanta). Newly-elected State Rep. Saira Draper (D-Atlanta) is half Spanish and identifies as Hispanic.

  • Olaleye and Esteves will be the first-ever Afro-Latino Georgians to serve in their respective chambers.
  • With state Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas) who says he is now the first-ever Latino to be elected to a leadership role in either chamber — state Rep. Steven Sainz (R-Woodbine) and state Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), there will be two Latinos in the Georgia Senate and five Latinos/Hispanics in the House.

The intrigue: Anavitarte and Martinez announced Thursday the creation of the state's first-ever Georgia Hispanic Caucus, open to members of both chambers and parties.

Of note: Romero-Cruz said the newly elected Latino state lawmakers in Georgia could be crucial in getting Latino voters out for the U.S. Senate runoff.

What they're saying: "We need to start speaking to Hispanic voters — not a few months before the election — now," state Rep. Rey Martinez told Axios.

  • Martinez will become the second Latino member of the Georgia state House Republican caucus but hopes to help recruit more Latino and Hispanic candidates.
  • He told Axios that Democrats have failed to message to a Latino community that "wants to be left alone. We want to be able to accomplish the American dream on our own."
  • Rep. Steven Sainz — who was born in Costa Rica, is half Costa Rican and half Cuban-American — agreed Republicans need to do more to engage minority and women voters: “There’s a difference between saying ‘you’re always welcome' and driving folks to dinner. I think we need to start driving folks to dinner," he told Axios.
  • "The idea sounds good still, but the application isn’t all the way there yet.”

The other side: State Sen. Jason Esteves said it's a "false narrative" that the Latino community is abandoning Democrats given their support for Democratic candidates across the country.

  • But, he said, while Georgia has "made strides" in Latino representation, more needs to be done. "Neither party is really doing a great job of talking to the Latino community in the state," he told Axios.

Catch up quick: Esteves blamed the problem on a need for even more Latino voter education and engagement, as well as gerrymandering.

  • "Look no further than Hall County," he said.
  • The county has among the state's largest English as a second language population and no Latino representation in the Capitol. "That was intentional and continues to be intentional," he argues.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that State Rep. Steven Sainz (R-Woodbine) is Latino and State Rep. Rey Martinez will become the second Latino member of the Republican house caucus.


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