If ever there was a year when an annual Latino political convention could be pivotal, it is 2012.
With so much focus on the projected Latino vote of 12 million plus in the presidential election, and conjecture on how they could supply the margin of victory in several key states – including Florida, Colorado and Nevada — the National Association of Latino Elected Officials’ (NALEO) 29th annual conference in Orlando later this month could be not just the group’s most important gathering this year. It may be the most important powwow in their history.
“It’s the largest conference we’ve ever had in terms of attendance,” NALEO Education Fund Chairman Juan Zapata told VOXXI, referring to the more than 1,000 elected Latinos – about a sixth of their national membership – who will participate with policy leaders on panels about health, education, economic empowerment and the increasing influence and impact of Latino voters, who are expected to turn out in record numbers this November.
“From a fundraising perspective, it is the most successful conference,” said Zapata, who is a former state representative in Florida. “From an organizational perspective, it’s a huge success. From a political impact and accessibility perspective, it’s going to be important. We have Sen. Bill Nelson there, Sen. Marco Rubio, the governor.”
Read related: The Latino Vote: Not just about 2012, but looking beyond
It’s also history in the making: This year marks the first time the group will have a sitting president and his challenger both address participants at the same conference – even if it’s a day apart.
Presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will speak Thursday, June 21, and President Barack Obama will speak Friday, June 22.
NALEO president Sylvia Garcia said in a statement that she was pleased that both Obama and Romney had accepted the invitation.
“With the changing demographics and the growing Latino population, this conference is an opportunity for the president to address key elected officials and leaders regarding the administration’s efforts to address the unique issues and challenges facing the Latino community today” Garcia said. She added that “the NALEO membership is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about Governor Mitt Romney and his position on issues of importance to our constituents and the Latino community.”
Also slated to speak: U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio – who is eyed as a potential vice presidential pick – Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Florida Sen. Rene Garcia, the chairman of the state’s Hispanic Legislative Caucus, who will make opening remarks at the leadership luncheon Thursday.
Sen. Garcia told VOXXI that he would speak about the importance of the Hispanic vote. “And I’m trying not to be partisan,” said the Republican. “Regardless of where they go, Hispanics are going to be the decision makers. The numbers we are growing. We’re not leaving and people have to give us respect and not take us for granted.”
That will be the message at the three-day NALEO conference, which will include discussions on broadband accessibility, social media, energy and the college gap for Hispanics.
“The Hispanic community keeps growing and that elevates its political significance,” Zapata told VOXXI.