Wednesday, March 7, 2012 | 5:43 p.m.
When state Sen. Ruben Kihuen decided to run for Congress, the decision was met with enthusiasm by the Hispanic community in Las Vegas, especially among young people, who turned out with energy and passion to volunteer and canvas for the campaign.
Rosalyn Jimenez and Loamy Diaz, were two of those people. They are in their early 20's and have become increasingly engaged in politics since the 2008 elections. They were drawn to Kihuen, a 31-year-old Mexican immigrant who is seen as a rising figure among Nevada Democrats. If elected, Kihuen would have been the state’s first Hispanic congressman.
So, it was a little bittersweet for Jimenez and Diaz as they sat down for breakfast Wednesday at a Hispanics in Politics meeting to hear a speech from Dina Titus, who challenged fellow Democrat Kihuen for the party nomination in Nevada’s 1st Congressional District.
Titus, a former UNLV political science professor who has served in both the state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, was outpacing Kihuen in funding and early polls. In January, Kihuen dropped out of the race to the chagrin of many who had backed him.
Jimenez and Diaz said they would be there for Kihuen again if he chooses to run for another office, but they acknowledged flaws they saw in the campaign.
“We were not just draw to Ruben, but the people working with him, as well. There was a lot of youth and energy on his team,” said Diaz, 21, who is a College of Southern Nevada student. “He brought out the Hispanic community and raised awareness about important issues. There was a lot of disappointment when he dropped out, but there was a lot of focus on the fact that he is Hispanic and on his immigration stance. Maybe there shouldn’t have been so much focus on those themes.”
The two students have moved on from the disappointment of seeing Kihuen bow out of the race. They came Wednesday to hear what Titus had to say. Both of the students put education at the top of their list of important issues, and they said they were encouraged by Titus’s background in higher education.
“I want to be informed myself, but I also know a lot of students through work,” said Jimenez, 23, who is a UNLV student and special project coordinator at the College of Southern Nevada. “I have access to a lot of the youth in the community, and I come to these events for those who can’t make it. I want to know what’s going on so I can pass information along.”
Titus, after walking around the room and introducing herself, started her speech and wasted little time in getting to some of her accomplishments involving issues important to the Hispanic community. A staffer passed out a Spanish-language flier detailing Titus’ accomplishments.
Titus touted her efforts to get appointed interpreters in Nevada’s courtrooms and improve access to health care and education. She reminded the audience that she opposed efforts in Nevada to prevent students without a Social Security number from receiving the Millennium Scholarship and to make English the official language. She did not fail to mention she voted for the Dream Act as a member of Congress.
“As I look to the next congressional session and to this campaign leading up to it, I think the emphasis has got to be on jobs. And that’s going to affect the Hispanic community just like everybody else, but even more so because if you look at the unemployment rate, it’s high in Nevada overall but even higher in minority communities.”
Titus said she wanted to focus on training programs, education and targeting businesses for which Nevada can develop a specialized niche, such as medical technology and alternative energy.
After the speech, Jimenez asked Titus if she would support putting more bilingual staff members in public schools to improve the connection between educators and Spanish-speaking families. Titus said she would support such an initiative, and both Jimenez and Diaz were pleased with Titus’ comments overall.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is how intimidated family members can be from talking to school staff,” Diaz said. “One of my family members has a daughter who was being bullied, but there was no Spanish-speaking staff at the school. The girl was coming back from school with bruises, and it was very scary for the family because they had no idea what was going on.”
In the 1st Congressional District, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1, and Titus is expected to have a relatively easy path to victory.
While the two students lean Democratic, they were not ready to turn their vote over to Titus and said they would attempt to learn more about the other candidates.
Republican candidate Chris Edwards, a Naval Reserve commander and national security consultant who lives in the 1st District, attended the Wednesday breakfast. He said he offered a fresh alternative to Titus and was trying to work out a time to address Hispanics in Politics before the June 12 primary.
“As someone who is under water on my own home and who has tried to refinance, I know how difficult it has been,” Edwards said. “Dina said the programs for help are complex. She’s right, but she made (the program). Until we address the issue in a sensible way, people won’t get effective help.”
On his website, Edwards offers some of his solutions for creating jobs and repairing the housing market, including lowering business taxes, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, opening up more areas for oil exploration and extraction, and allowing for no-cost refinancing for homes that are under water and principal reduction on a case-by-case basis.
Diaz and Jimenez already are looking far beyond the 2012 congressional elections. Both of them said they had discussed running for office themselves in the future and beamed as they talked about how President Barack Obama’s election has helped them envision a Hispanic female holding the top office in the nation someday. In a state where nearly 27 percent of the population is Hispanic, they still would like to see a Hispanic representative in Congress soon.
“This is a really exciting time for young Latinos,” Jimenez said. “I think we are seeing increased activism as the newer generation breaks away from some of the stereotypes our parents had about corrupt politics in the countries where they were born. I think we’ve learned that if you educate yourself on the issues and are passionate, there is no reason not to run. I look forward to seeing more diversity in politics locally and nationally.”