Southwestern Kansas counties lack Hispanic representation

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Hispanic residents make up more than half of the population in Ford, Finney and Seward counties, but there is only one Hispanic elected official in all three southwestern Kansas counties and their three largest cities.

Some local groups want to recruit more Hispanic candidates so residents can choose leaders who truly represent them, KCUR-FM reported .

Latino residents may not feel like they have the support to seek public office, said Karem Gallo, the president of the Liberal chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens. The group has been working to register more voters.

“That’s one of the things that we have been working on, to let our community know that we are there to help them,” she said.

Doreen Vargas, who works for La Raza Community Services in Dodge City, said she’s been working with the Ford County Democratic Party and struggles to pinpoint why Hispanic candidates aren’t running for office.

“It’s just hard to understand why. So many people, they’re just so busy, you know, and then a lot of them work at the (local meatpacking) plant and they’re so tired,” she said. “It’s so hard to participate in community activities, especially if they have a family.”

Garden City School Board member Tim Cruz also credited money and time as the biggest hurdles, while Finney County Commissioner William Clifford points to the county Republican party’s failure to recruit immigrant groups.

Clifford, who chairs the party, said immigrants deserve representation.

Meanwhile, the area could be experiencing the effects of a leadership vacuum, said Christopher Olds, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University.

“There’s no leadership present to bring Latinos together, foster closer bonds together, and lead people to take specific actions, like engaging in the community or advocating for policy concerns with local government,” he said.