For the past 80 years, minorities have been holding political positions in Illinois. Now, with its own senator being elected to the highest position in the country, political experts predict more Latino and African-Americans holding office in all states.
Manuel Galvan, owner of marketing firm Presidents-Vantage Point, speculates Obama’s election has broken a barrier for minority politicians nationwide.
“Chicago and Illinois has long been a frontrunner in terms of advancing minorities in an elected office,” Galvan said. “But you’re now going to see more of that because of this election and the changing demographics in this country.”
Minorities are growing as a percentage of the United States, U.S. Census data shows. Latinos today represent about 15 percent of the population, and by 2050 are projected to be almost 25 percent. African-Americans will grow from 14 percent currently to about 15 percent. Asian-Americans will see their population jump from about 5 percent to roughly 9 percent by mid-century.
In 1929, Oscar Stanton De Priest became the first black American to serve in Congress in the 20th century, elected as a U.S. representative from Illinois, according to the government institutional Web site “Black Americans in Congress.” Illinois also had the first black woman senator, Carol Moseley-Braun, elected in 1992. Two of the only three black senators in history have been from Illinois: Braun and Obama, who was elected in 2004.
His win in last Tuesday’s presidential election in normally Republican states also show the growing support for electing minorities across the country, Galvan noted.
“It is, of course, the first time in history an African-American is elected president,” he said. “But the significance is that he won with a landslide victory in electoral votes, even carrying Indiana, the birth place of the KKK.”
Author and political analyst, Keli Goff, added Obama’s large margin of votes says a lot about the perception of race in the country this year compared to the past.
“The way he won; he had to win white voters that Al Gore and [John] Kerry did not win, which is pretty significant,” she said, acknowledging minority candidates’ potential for running in Republican states. “The fact of the matter is that perception becomes reality. Ninety percent of the battle is convincing someone that with a minority in charge, everything will not fall apart. Everything is still standing and everything is going to be OK. African-Americans, even in Kentucky, got that clear message [last] Tuesday. “
African-Americans aren’t the only minority group who got the message, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Latino candidates, the association shows, are competing in 37 states for the nation’s top federal and state offices.
“Latinos are demonstrating that they can successfully pursue seats in Congress and state houses across the country-the places where important decisions are made about the policies that affect the lives of all Americans,” said Arturo Vargas, the association’s educational fund executive director. “Latinos are poised to transform the political landscape in every region of the nation, from the Plains States, to New England, to the Midwest and America’s ‘heartland.'”
Illinois has been a strong leader in supporting Latino officials in office, according to recent elections. Congressman Luis Gutierrez has represented Illinois in the U.S. House for eight terms, the first Latino ever elected to Congress from the state. In 1987, Miguel del Valle was elected the first Hispanic in the Illinois Senate. William Rodriguez became Chicago’s first Hispanic alderman, serving from 1915 to 1918.
With Latino communities spreading outside cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, Latino candidates are starting to run in nontraditional places.
“[They] are proving that they can attract votes from and govern diverse constituencies beyond the Latino community,” Vargas said. “They are eager to demonstrate their commitment to our democratic process by showing they can lead and serve all Americans.”