The Biggest Issues Facing NJ's Latino Population
Maria Teresa Montilla, President of the Latino Leadership Alliance of NJ, discusses the biggest issues facing New Jersey’s Latino population and their efforts to engage the Latino community in public service.
"We are pleased to be joined by Doctor Maria Teresa Montilla, who is president of the Latino Leadership Alliance in New Jersey. Good to see you doctor. Good to be here Steve. Yeah. Let's talk about the fact that latino representation in the state of New Jersey and the nation, interesting, percentage of the New Jersey population that happens to be latino is? Roughly eighteen percent that of the national percentage of the latino population also. Okay so, in New Jersey government, if you take the state legislature, right? An august body that I used to be a member of for a very short one term period, two years, back in the day I remember we had very few members of the latino community. Today, how many? We still have a... two few among our senators and in assemblypeople, based on the population really, we should be roughly eighteen percent. What do we have? Even percentage... under six percent right now. Yeah? We have two state senators that are latino. So it's Senator Teresa Ruiz and Senator...? And Nellie Pou. Nellie Pou, right here as we tape in Paterson, New Jersey. Exactly. Where she represents. So we... Two out of forty? Yes, absolutely. And overall, assemblypeople, I think we have six or seven and... Out of eighty? But if you go by percentage, you're talking about eighteen percent, roughly. Why do you think that is? Why do you think that it's disproportionately lower? The number of representatives versus the population itself? Well there are a few factors that contribute to that. It's not just one simple answer. But one of them is, it's lack of latino participation in the political system, the structure, of the party, I would say. You know that our system calls for the parties either nominating, having candidates is not the general public, or independent people that run. That's right. It's an inside game? It's an inside game, run by two private organizations, the Republican and the Democratic party who determine within their organization who's going to be on the ballot. Right. So if you're not part of that organization, you will never be on a ballot. And latinos don't have high representation at that level. You're trying to change it? We are trying to change it, and we're trying to stimulate and increase the participation of latinos in the political system, both within the parties and outside the party, as you might know, independent, you know, unaffiliated voters in New Jersey are the majority, actually more than the sum of Republicans and Democrats together. Hmm. And that reflects, actually, the trend nationwide. Unaffiliated voters are really, you know, the sum of those who are affiliated to either party. So from that point, we're also stimulating participation of all latinos..."