From far away or up close, there is something you quickly notice at the Iowa Statehouse: the black and white of it is... there's no brown there. Why doesn't Iowa's 100- member house of representatives or 50-member senate have one Latino lawmaker?
"You know," said Mary Campos, a longtime community activist from Des Moines, "A lot of it is they are afraid." Campos is the granddaughter of Mexicans who came to the United States illegally. She feels Latinos, those here legally, lack the confidence, connections and cash to get elected to the legislature.
Iowans have twice elected an African-American man president. But Campos, who has run three failed campaigns to join the Des Moines City Council, said brown-skinned people haven't fared nearly as well. She said, "I don't care if they're from Mexico. I don't care if they're from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, just so they come up front and we can support them. I'd be happy to have one of them in there before I leave this earth."
Campos came to the statehouse Tuesday with about four dozen members of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, who lobbied lawmakers on the issues before them. They know some of their issues face opposition with certain groups of lawmakers. LULAC doesn't want people to show identification when they vote. Some Republicans do. LULAC wants children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. Some Republicans oppose that. And the group wants to expand Medicaid. But Governor Terry Branstad opposes that.
LULAC State Director Joe Enriquez Henry said the group will try to grow its influence by concentrating on the 7 Iowa counties where 54% of the state's Latino population live, including Polk and Marshall. He said the goal is to get Latinos to city and county leadership positions there and then work to expand those efforts to the legislature.