By Danny Contreras
As Latino voters are increasingly courted by political parties and their candidates, CTLatinoNews.com researched the Latino employment records of the state’s congressional delegation to provide a snapshot of how campaign speeches and promises translate into their congressional hiring practices once they are elected to office. Among the state’s seven Democrat members of Congress, if current staffing levels in their offices were to reflect the percentage of the population, overall most appear to have staffs that fall short in representing this growing segment of the labor force.
The question seemed to be a sensitive topic for some. Two of the state’s U.S. representatives preferred not respond to our inquiry on this subject, nor did the offices of the state’s two U.S. Senators where the numbers are just as bleak. One appears not to have any Latino employees; the other senator has two Latinos in a staff of 50 which translates to a current employment record of Latinos at about 4%.
According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos in Connecticut make up 13.4% of the total population of the state. In the congressional offices of the state’s five representatives, at the top end – one congressman has employed one full time and one part-time Latino staff member – while at the low end - none are on the staff. This among congressional staffs that range in number from 18 employees to 24 in the House and 50 in the Senate, putting the current employment record of Latinos at about 3.1 percent for the entire delegation.
Overall, Latinos do not fare well when it comes to federal government hiring. According to an Aug. 31 story in CTLatinoNews.com, Latinos are less likely to work for the government than are either Whites or African Americans.
To identify the number of congressional staff members and how many Latinos are employed by the state’s five House members, CTLatinoNews.com reviewed records provided by The Sunlight Foundation, which tracks House of Representatives staffing and salaries,
It reports First District Congressman John Larson, has a total of 24 employees in his district and Washington offices. His director of communication, Edmund Skowronek, says Larson currently employs nine staff members in his Hartford office; one is a Latina. Skowronek says, “For the past four years Gladys Mercado has been an excellent member of the team here in Hartford, using her bilingual skills to help address constituent issues and help keep us in tune with the Latino community.”
Skowronek defended Larson’s Latino staffing level by saying his “goal for his Latino constituents is the same as for the rest of his constituents: to provide the best opportunity for jobs and to act as a liaison for all constituent issues related to the federal government.”
In the Second Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney is at the top end in the Latino employment area. His office currently employs a total of 23 staff members in Connecticut and Washington D.C. One full-time staffer in Connecticut is Latino and a second, works part-time. According to Josh Zembik, Courtney’s director of communications, the congressman’s awareness of Latino constituents has also led to his hiring of several other bilingual staff. He says, “Congressman Courtney’s staff includes Latinos, as well as people who are fluent in Spanish and able to quickly help non-English speakers with casework problems.”
Zembik said hiring in Courtney’s office goes beyond racial guidelines. “The Congressman strives to hire the best staffers available, regardless of gender or race. He is also committed to working with eastern Connecticut’s vibrant Hispanic community, including small business owners, first-generation Americans and students.”
In the Fifth District, Chris Murphy, who recently defeated former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate Democratic nomination, had his Congressional office take the unusual step of referring inquiries about his staffing to his campaign. Press secretary Taylor Lavender said that while Murphy has maintained the same level of Latinos in his staff over the years, the amount of outreach for the Latino community has increased. Currently, Murphy has one Latina full time on his combined staff in Connecticut and Washington. She is Hilda Santiago, Director of Latino Outreach, who was described by Lavender as “very involved, especially in cities like Danbury, New Britain and Waterbury that have a high Hispanic population.”
However, Lavender explained that the fears and tribulations of Latino residents are shared throughout the state and Congressman Murphy has “secured money for programs like Pathways Senderos in New Britain to prevent teen pregnancy and keep teenagers off the streets and job training at the Danbury community center.”
According to the Sunlight Foundation, Murphy has a total of 18 staff between his Washington and district offices.
Chose Not To Respond
Third District Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, the longest-serving member of the Connecticut delegation, did not respond to repeated requests for information. According to the Sunlight Foundation, DeLauro has 20 staffers between her two offices. It was not immediately apparent from reading the list if any are of Latinos.
The office of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (CT-4) also did not return repeated messages seeking comment. According to the Sunlight Foundation’s list of staff members in his Washington and the district offices, he employs 20 people. His sole Latino staffer appears to be Ligia Marroquín, a constituent services representative who has represented Himes at Spanish-language events.
UPDATE: After this story was posted, Elizabeth Kerr, Himes’ Washington communications director, contacted CTLatinoNews in an email and said, “We have a diverse staff with a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Your information that Ligia Marroquin serves on the Congressman’s staff and heads up Latino outreach is correct, and we have a number of other employees who speak Spanish and work to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking community. You many also want to note that the Congressman was born in Peru and speaks fluent Spanish himself.”
Senate Office Staffing
To determine the staff members of the state’s two U.S. Senators, CTLatinoNews.com examined Senate Clerk documents from Oct. 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012 (the most recent figures available). U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal employed 50 people in that time, and appears to have two Latinos employed as staff members. His office did not return repeated messages to verify the information.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman also employed 50 people during the same time frame, and Senate Clerk documents do not seem to indicate any Latinos work on his staff. His office did not respond to messages to verify this information.