The Latino Vote Could Soon Be Key To Political Fortunes In Garfield County

September 25, 2020
Beatriz Soto is a Democrat running for Garfield County Commissioner. She's trying to get out the vote among Latinos in the county.Beatriz Soto is a Democrat running for Garfield County Commissioner. She's trying to get out the vote among Latinos in the county.Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
Beatriz Soto is a Democrat running for Garfield County Commissioner. She's trying to get out the vote among Latinos in the county.

Garfield County on the Western Slope has a large Latino population, large enough to help direct its political future. That is if the parties start working to get their votes. 

Beatriz Soto, the Democratic county commissioner candidate for District 2, is trying. 

“It's pretty obvious with COVID that our local leadership — they absolutely have blind spots,” she said.

In her opinion, one of those blind spots has been ignoring the help the Latino community has needed during the pandemic. It starts with something as basic as quickly providing bilingual coronavirus information.

Census numbers show that, overall, Latinos and Hispanics make up almost 30 percent of Garfield County’s population. But, Soto points out, the community has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. That’s part of the reason she’s running.

Her path onto the ballot was unusual. The original candidate, Katrina Byars, dropped out of the race and asked Soto to take her place. Byars wrote: “In the history of Garfield County there has never been a Latina on the Board of County Commissioners, despite the fact that Latinos have lived here since before Colorado was a state.”

The party then nominated Soto to be the candidate.

Part of her outreach has been to explain to Latino voters what a county commissioner does, and how he or she can impact their daily lives. An environmental policy and social equity activist who has lived on the Western Slope for years, she has first-hand experience of the challenges Latinos face. Though she was undocumented for a time, she’s an American citizen now.

Overall, she’s enthused by the excitement her campaign is generating.

“I think the Latino community is ready to be seen for what we bring and to be part of the decision making of our futures,” Soto said.

This is an argument that's crossing party lines. 

At a Garfield County Republican Lunch in August, Tanya Doose asked 3rd Congressional District candidate Lauren Boebert what she was doing to appeal to Latinos. Boebert pointed to grassroots Latino support for her campaign in places like Pueblo.

But Doose, a Republican Latina who’s lived in Garfield County her entire life, argued the GOP should be doing more outreach, especially if it's concerned about the future. She pointed out that Latinos make up over 50 percent of the students at Rifle High School.

“I think that’s going to be huge, huge play here within our community is to do that outreach — bilingual — and let them know their conservative values and family is what this party represents,” Doose said.

But traditional conservative issues like taxes and school choice aren't exactly motivating young voters. Doose’s 18-year-old daughter Ashley said her generation is more focused on racial and social justice.

“I do think that’s the issues that drive my generation and I hope the Republican Party can, kind of, get it together and kind of clean up their act with who we’re electing,” she said, adding that Boebert could be key to that. 

Back in Glenwood Springs, Democratic commissioner candidate Soto said, win or lose, she wants her run to open doors for others.

“If I see myself as anything, it would be to mentor other Latinos, to take these positions, right? And me not be the end of all of it,” Soto explained.