Colorado Senate President challenges presidential hopefuls on Latino workforce struggles

Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) answers a questions by Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia (D) at a Latino Forum on June 21, 2019. (Telemundo)

In a live forum with Democratic presidential candidates on Friday State Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Democrat, asked Pete Buttigieg what policies he would pursue to better include Latino workers in the 21st-century economy. 

The issue is one that is significant for Garcia’s district and Colorado as a whole, he told PULP. 

“I think we’re moving that way,” Garcia said of an emphasis on high-tech jobs and the inclusion of Latino workers, noting the hemp industry and the work being done at Pueblo’s Vestas plant. 

The forum, hosted by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials education fund, centered around issues impacting Latinos in the U.S. They are expected to be a significant voting bloc in the 2020 presidential election. 

To Garcia’s question, Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said there are a number of small steps he’d pursue in addition to delving into bigger questions about the U.S. economy. 

“We have to ask ourselves how is it if the GDP is rising and life expectancy is not,” he said. “It asks us what it is that we’re counting and who the economy is working for, and as you said so many are left out of this economic growth.” 

Buttigieg said he’d like to focus on portable and prorated benefits, which he admitted might be tricky when people are increasingly participating in the gig economy and working multiple jobs. 

“We can work on that, but some of the solutions are abundantly simple like people need to get paid more. That’s why we need to raise the minimum wage to $15 (per hour) as a beginning,” he said. “And when we do, that will disproportionally benefit Latino workers, so many of whom are in those jobs. But it’s not only workers in minimum wage jobs, it’s going to benefit everybody.”

Following this year’s legislative session in Colorado, local governments throughout the state can make their own decisions on raising the minimum wage. Garcia said he supports that method because of the state’s diversity.

“We’ve had that conversation in Colorado. I trust more of a local opinion on that… the reason I say that is because it doesn’t look consistent across the board.”

He did not say whether he’d like Pueblo to have the conversation around raising the minimum wage, but Garcia emphasized the focus on job creation and attracting companies to the region.

Buttigieg added the U.S. needs to strengthen labor unions to bolster rights and working conditions across the country. 

Finally, Buttigieg said his plan to boost Latino workers includes hiring a Secretary of Education “who actually believes in public education.”

Garcia said he spoke with all of the candidates before the forum on the topic of workforce and Latino inclusion. 

“There was an honest conversation backstage,” Garcia said of his question, which he asked a handful of candidates before the forum. “It’s why I want to remind them to visit Colorado and go beyond Denver. Pueblo has played a key role in elections. That’s true of Obama, Clinton, and Trump. It’s important to keep that relevance in southern Colorado.”

Garcia is a board member for NALEO, which he’s been a member of since serving on the Pueblo City Council beginning in 2009.

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