Nation's Only Latina Democrat Elected To Statewide Office Is Rhode Island's Nellie Gorbea


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Nellie Gorbea on election night 2014 was featured in a story last year.
Nellie Gorbea on election night 2014, was featured in a story last year.

A few months after taking office, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea learned that the driver’s license office was refusing to transfer the licenses of drivers who moved to the state from Puerto Rico.
Officials said they couldn’t verify the licenses because they couldn’t access Puerto Rico’s driver’s license database, as they could for U.S. states.
Gorbea, who was born in Puerto Rico, and worked there, got in touch with Puerto Rico’s Department of Transportation and built a bridge between the two offices and their computer systems. Problem solved.
Elected last November, Gorbea has been trying to make an impact in the Rhode Island’s secretary of state’s office. Her role in the tiny state would seem of little importance to the rest of the country. But in fact, her place in elected office holds significant impact for the community: She is the nation’s only Latina Democrat elected to statewide executive office.

There are two Republican Latinas, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Evelyn Pacino Sanguinetti, Illinois lieutenant governor, elected to executive offices. But Gorbea is alone for her party, even as the Democrats presidential frontrunner is a woman.

“It’s really disheartening when you think about it,” Gorbea said.

Nationally, there are 318 statewide executives, which are governors, lieutentant governors, attorneys general and secretaries of state, according to Latinas Represent’s website.
On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., Gorbea talked with NBC Latino on how she’s been carrying out her role as Rhode Island’s secretary of state and her unique place in politics.
About 14 percent of Rhode Island’s population is Latino, with 17 Latinos holding elected office in the state, local and city offices. They are members of five different Latino subgroups – Dominican, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Colombian and Cuban.
“It is a place that has a diversity of ethnicities and immigrant groups and because it is a small state, everyone kind of knows each other and so you are able to break through some of those stereotypes,” Gorbea said.
Gorbea said her decision to run for political office came after “a lot of conversations and experiences, so I think we do have to have these conversations. If you have an idea about where you want to take your community, you have to have these…..
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