How Latinos helped shape a winning projection for a blue PA House of Representatives
Democrats are a handful of seats away from securing a majority in the State House for the first time in a decade, furthering the PA blue wave.
The Republican red wave was more of a drop in Pennsylvania, where Democrats are currently two seats away from achieving a majority in the State House of Representatives days after Election Day.
Much of the upset was attributed to a fresh, redistricted map that gave State Democrats a more encouraging outlook amid of a seemingly growing red movement.
The redistributed districts provoked pushback and litigation from Republicans, who argued the Legislature’s Reapportionment Commission “admittedly made extensive use of race” beyond the scope of the Voting Rights Act.
Mark Nordenberg, the Commission head, argued to the Inquirer in July that consideration of race was thoughtfully applied beyond its minimum requirements to even out the candidate playing field for voters of color.
And indeed, the PA Latino population brought their candidates to the table, putting Republicans to task in districts like Reading, where Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz, a Democrat, flipped a GOP stronghold blue.
“What’s gonna happen from here on out, and I’ve said this before, is that our opportunities as [the] Latino bloc here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are only gonna increase,” said State Rep Manny Guzman, the Latino incumbent for District 127, in Berks County.
Of the influence the new maps will have in future elections, Guzman said he “doesn’t anticipate 10 years from now when they’re doing this process again, I don't anticipate Latinos not having a strong showing and not being the number one or number two demographic.”
“I think there’s an excitement, there’s a momentum. And we have to keep that going,” said Cepeda-Freytiz. “We have to now find a way that [Latinos] remain connected in the process and become excited about running for office because it’s doable and it’s attainable.”
The existing makeup of the House is off balance, despite a growing Hispanic population. Hispanics hold seats, but they are few and far between — Rep. Manny Guzman, the incumbent for Berks, Rep. Danilo Burgos, serving a generous fraction of Philly, Rep. José Giral, who inherited the Philly District from Ángel Cruz, Rep. Ben Sanchez from PA-153 in Montgomery County, and recently-elected Cepeda-Freytiz, also representing Reading.
Yesenia Rodríguez of Hazleton was the sixth challenger in District 116, but ultimately lost to Dane Watro by a wide 61-31 percent margin. Barring Giral, the only other challenger came from District 129, where Cepeda-Freytiz won by double-digit numbers.
The Pennsylvania State Senate has no Latinos.
Responding to whether the recent wins would inspire future Latino candidates, Cepeda-Freytiz said, “it’s a tough question.”
“This was never on my to-do list. This was never a goal of mine to run for office. If anything, I despised politics. However, I’ve always had a love for people and community (...) If I wanted to show love for my community, I knew that I had to sacrifice and assume this leadership role,” she said.
But to Guzman, who told AL DÍA that Latinos should “get ready,” the recent upset is the start of a long-term takeover.
“It’s inevitable that there are going to be more opportunities from here on out for Latinos and Latino candidates who want to run, and potentially have a chance to win,” he noted.
“Our challenge as a Latino community is finding those candidates and encouraging those candidates, and providing those candidates with the resources because it’s not easy to run this type of a race, especially when many of us are working-class people,” Guzman added.
His background speaks to his perspective. He is one of five siblings raised by a single mother with very limited resources.
Cepeda-Freytiz owns a restaurant, Mi Casa Su Casa, which she closed down to run her campaign. And Burgos operated as a neighorhood grocer before he assumed office a few years ago.
Some Democratic Strategists believe there is a growing movement in the depths of local politics.
“It really trickles down,” said Jonathan Tinoco, a strategist and Field Director for Cepeda-Freytiz’s campaign, who added that Latino roles across several offices created a resource pipeline.
“When you have that type of leadership on that level, now we have a pipeline of communication, understanding. But also accountability that was not being communicated (...) It’s really a step forward,” Tinoco said.
Guzman shared that opinion, and told AL DÍA he hopes to scout quality candidates in a more level playing field.
“To put it succinctly, we need to get ready, because the opportunities are only gonna increase from here on out,” he said.