This week, the Sunshine State will play host to more than 1,200 Hispanic elected and appointed officials from every level of government in communities across the country.
The nation’s Hispanic leadership will join us in Orlando for the 29th annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). The three-day event, which takes place from June 21-23, has long served as the nation’s premier Hispanic political convention. At the event, Hispanic officials will prepare to turn numbers into clout in the upcoming 2012 election and address a variety of policy issues affecting the Hispanic community today.
The convening will be historic for our organization, marking the first time in our group’s history that a sitting U.S. president and challenger will both address the NALEO membership during the annual event. The conference will also mark the first time that President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney address a Hispanic audience in back-to-back events this election season. In recent years, the NALEO conference has emerged as the preeminent forum for presidential candidates to reach Hispanic officials and the millions of constituents we represent nationwide.
In 2008, U.S. Sen. John McCain and then-Sen. Barack Obama both addressed our membership, with Obama stating that he would return to the conference with comprehensive immigration reform signed if elected.
With so much at stake for the Hispanic community this year, the NALEO membership is eager to hear from Obama and Romney about their proposed plans for the direction of the country. We expect each of them to utilize this opportunity before Hispanic officials to directly address the issues that matter most to our members and constituents.
Of particular interest will be the president and governor’s respective strategies for tackling many of the unique challenges the Hispanic community is facing today, including fixing the economy, implementing comprehensive immigration reform, improving the education system and fostering healthy communities across the country.
The NALEO Annual Conference will take place less than four months before the Hispanic electorate is set to exhibit extraordinary influence at the polls this November. Hispanic voters are expected to turn out in record numbers for the 2012 election, with at least 12.2 million casting ballots, according to projections released by the NALEO Educational Fund. Hispanics — now one of out every six Americans — will likely supply the margin of victory in several states in contests across the country, making their support critical to the candidates and campaigns.
With Florida a swing state and one of the states likely to see the greatest increase in Hispanic political participation rates, the timing and location of our national conference is perfect this year.
More than 1.65 million Florida Hispanic voters are expected to make their voices heard at the ballot box in November, with Hispanics expected to make up18.3 percent of the state’s general electorate. These numbers equate to real political clout in Florida and beyond, making it vital that the president and governor do more than translate a few political ads into Spanish if they wish to garner the support of this increasingly diverse and growing electorate
Hispanic voters will be watching closely. Our votes are up for grabs, and it will be up to the president and governor to utilize this opportunity before the nation’s Hispanic leadership to make their case and seize the support of Hispanic swing voters across the country.
Sylvia R. Garcia is the President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.