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Latinos Aren’t Important on Capitol Hill

August 1st, 2010 · 15 Comments

By Pablo Manriquez

In February, a report issued by the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association (CHSA) discovered that among Congressional staff on Capitol Hill, “Latinos are almost completely left out of key staff positions and are drastically underrepresented at all staff levels.” Further, the CHSA report concludes that Latinos “are not only being denied a seat at the table, Latinos are not even in the same room where important policy decisions are made.”

According to the report, “There is a lack of comprehensive data to assess diversity on the Hill. While Congress requires this data from federal agencies and government contractors, Congressional offices are not required to collect such data.” Thus the CHSA constructed a more-piecemeal approach to examining the “Diversity Crisis” on Capitol Hill, relying in part on a review of The Roll Call Fabulous 50 — a list compiled, in essence, of the most-skilled and most-influential congressional staffers on Capitol Hill — as well as on a demographic analysis conducted by the National Journal of Congress between 2003 and 2007.

The Roll Call list “was released on January 25, 2010, and had not one Latino. One has to go back to 2008 before finding a Latino listed.” The National Journal research showed that, by 2007, among:

…key aides of Members, committees, caucuses, leadership, and other coalitions… there were only three Latinos listed, and one of those was the executive director of the [CHSA] — a position one would reasonably expect a Latino to hold. Further, there was absolutely no gain in the representation by Latinos over the four-year period, rather Latinos actually lost ground.

Losing ground has defined the Latino American experience in 2010. And so at this point, the easiest argument to make involves invoking the ugly white face of ethnic discrimination, perhaps by highlighting a proud redneck Republican or reminding the reader of a Democrat’s remark about “negro” accents. Then we Latino Americans may fancy ourselves victims of majoritarian injustice, prejudice, bigotry in hiring.

From this premise, we can construct an apocalypse of conclusions about the infuriating delay of a comprehensive immigration reform bill and the patently unconstitutional mangling of our inalienable American rights by a renegade Sun Devil governor with bleached blonde hair and cold Caucasian blue eyes. Bigotry is delicious in the American political circus, especially in a midterm election season increasingly defined by dangerously uncomplicated partisan noise.

However, evidence suggests that the fault may be elsewhere. Several top-level Hill staffers with whom I’ve discussed the CHSA report have indicated that the Latino hiring deficit stems from a lack of qualified Latinos in the applicant pool. That said, research published by the Pew Hispanic Center may lend credence to their assertion.

Since 2009, the organization has found rates of Latino education attainment in the United States are abysmal. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that “41% of Hispanic adults age 20 and older in the United States do not have a regular high school diploma.” The same organization published a report last October noting that while 89% of Latinos surveyed between the ages of 16 and 25 say that “education is important to success in life,” only 48% say that they themselves plan to get a college degree. Combine these data with the estimated 65,000 bright, young American DREAMers who get stiff-armed every year in the college admissions process and a diluted applicant pool for qualified congressional staffers becomes increasingly plausible. After all, a bachelor’s degree is required of a qualified applicant for even the most entry-level staffer job on the Hill. Top-level staffer jobs tend to require advanced degrees or certifications, often in concentrated fields of study, and for good reason. Our nation’s highest lawmaking body is an extraordinarily complex procedural labyrinth. Its successful navigation often hinges on the cohesive administration of a team of specialized political professionals. With trillions of taxpayer dollars on the table every year, affirmative action in Hill staffer jobs would seem irresponsible. Indeed, the potential consequences of a lawmaker’s hiring decisions are such that it seems reasonable to expect professional qualifications to supersede all other considerations.

That said, the causes of the Latino hiring deficit in congressional offices on Capitol Hill remain as illusive as its consequences. But make no mistake, Latinos are not at the table where important policy decisions are being made on Capitol Hill; and important policy decisions are finally beginning to be made on Capitol Hill regarding a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will be disproportionately consequential to Latino futures in the United States. Latinos are not the first American minority group to be outsiders in the legislative construction of their own American fate. Decades ago, a Capitol culture of white men drafted and passed a Civil Rights Act in a highly contentious political climate. As always, context is key; but it should be obvious to even the most-casual observer of American politics that the immigration reform debate is heating up. Thus as our comprehensive immigration reform bill takes shape, it seems prudent that Latinos, operating as outsiders, borrow from the autobiographical wisdom of Malcolm X, who recalls learning very young that in America, “if you want something, you had better make some noise.”

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Tags: Democratic Party · diversity · Education · GOP · Government Accountability · Immigration · National Association of Latino Elected Officials · Republican Party

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Claudia S // Aug 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    That’s why we need to get involved. We need a movement to inspire the latino youth to get into politics.

  • 2 Anna // Aug 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Re: “41% of Hispanic adults age 20 and older in the United States do not have a regular high school diploma.”

    All of these statistics include illegal immigrants. What percentage of American citizens of Latino descent have college degrees? More Latinos are graduating from college and getting advanced degrees than a generation ago. The numbers are improving, but they add uneducated illegal immigrants to our statistics to make it seem like we never make any progress, and then they use that to justify excluding us.

    I call BS on this article.

  • 3 Anna // Aug 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Re: “Losing ground has defined the Latino American experience in 2010. ”

    I agree. I knew O would be a nightmare for us.

  • 4 stephen // Aug 1, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    I talked to a latino congressman about this once and I was told that Latino staffers don’t stay very long. Soon after they get connected with some corporation or private company, they get snatched up and go after the money. There may be something to this, as Latinos who are more likely to be raised in poorer families, are probably more likely to chase the money when it comes. White folks who were raised with money aren’t so tempted and would rather do the hard but satisfying policy work even if its less money. Who knows if thats true, but given the small labor pool for such jobs because of Latinos’ abysmal performance in education, its plausible.

  • 5 kyledeb // Aug 2, 2010 at 12:06 am

    No wonder we can’t get immigration reform done.

  • 6 Pablo // Aug 2, 2010 at 9:22 am

    @Anna // that’s a very good question. I assume it does not count illegal immigrants, as illegal immigrants are hard to count — and particularly migrant laborers, who are also disproportionately Latino. I’ll look back through the poll’s methodology and see what I can find.

    @stephen // That makes sense, particularly when we consider that the economic bust has been particularly hard on Latino families. I’ve long said that there should be more paid staffers on The Hill and that Hill staffers should be paid a whole lot more. But they aren’t. That said, when poor folk from poor families get offered more money, I don’t blame them for taking the cheddar and runnin’. Nevertheless, point taken. Good point. Thanks!

  • 7 Omar Garcia // Aug 2, 2010 at 10:28 am

    We already knew she was a marketing genius. (In Spanish a person with star power and marketing savy is called “apantallapendejos”) So hurry up and download, buy, consume and worship everything Gaga related. She and her husband (Lord Gaga) will be richer and happier. I just wish all those who have a new found respect for her would encourage as adamantly the respect of immigration law.

  • 8 Omar Garcia // Aug 2, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Oooops. i had a little “copy/paste” mishap.
    This is what I meant to post above.

    Granting people of Hispanic background key staff positions on Capitol Hill (or any staff anywhere) for the sake of diversity is like including a black athlete in the swiming team (or white athlete in the 4×4 relay running team). It’s a matter of merits not race preference. Let’s not make this a race discussion.

  • 9 Chicano future tense // Aug 2, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I got a kick out of reading this article.
    Quoting the wisdom of Malcolm X seemed a little silly to me given the context of the authors argument which is that he is very upset because there aren’t any Latino staffers on Capitol Hill.I wonder if the author also knew that Malcolm X would have been more than thrilled to burn down Capitol Hill and hang all the white politicians and his “house niggers” as he referrred to those blacks who aid,abet and reinforce the rule of the white man.
    Personally,I’m really not so concerned about how many Latino staffers there are on Capitol Hill as I am about working class and poor Latinos getting jobs,health care and education,sane immigration reform.
    The “beef”,the “urgency” of having more Latino staffers,minor bureaucrats and petty functionaries is more in the domain and concern of middle and upper middle class Latino careerists and opportunists who want a good paying job and some pittance of prestige. There are already too many Latino “poverty pimps” and “corporate marketers” out there hot to trot to pimp out and make money off Latinos either through corporate business or government.
    Malcolm X also said that blacks should not cooperate and be used by either the Democratic or Republican party,that blacks should form their own political block to organize and build “black power”,that blacks should separate and build their own “black nation”.
    Hey!..what can I say about Malcolm X’s concept of a “black” or “brown” nation??…if that’s what black or brown people were to want then why the hell not??
    @ Anna..By the way,last time I checked undocumented Mexican workers are also Hispanics and we should avoid trying to build yet another wall in this case between Latino Citizen vs Undocumented Mexicano..we don’t need any more walls of discrimination and petty prejudices.As far as I’m concerned we Latinos are all the same people papers or not.
    IMHO,Latino advancement and progress will NOT be determined on Capitol Hill.Rather,real change will be made out in the barrios,in the streets and on the job by grassroots organization and community groups and impassioned individual Latinos who having been awakened to politics will storm the streets of America demanding jusitce,self-determination and control over their own lives and communities.
    In the final anaysis,It’s up to Latinos to determine what kind of political,government,social and economic system would work best for them..in their interests.
    Capitol Hill is no true friend to Latinos..Capitol Hill is one big bordello exchange where politicians,careerists and opportunists go to market themselves or sell their people out to the highest bidder..”The famous saying “We have the best congress money can buy”..that’s no lie..
    Ehh…getting pushed out of shape because there aren’t many Latino Staffers on Capitol hill is a little like a “tempest in a teapot”..

  • 10 Pablo // Aug 2, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    @Omar
    I agree. I agree lets not make this about race, let’s make this about hiring. Also, Lady Gaga is an excellent tweeter. So is @mephjeff and @shitmydadsays. Also, @MicEvHill — he is immigration bill informed as all hell.

    @Chicano
    Apparently, X & MLK Jr. both came to the Hill on 26 March 1964 to hear the Civil Rights Act debated in the Senate.

  • 11 Anna // Aug 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    C Future Tense:

    It’s not about building a wall between citizens and the undocumented, but about getting accurate information. I don’t believe any of the statistics I see pertaining to Latinos, because I know they’re skewed.

    As for your comment about chnage coming from the bottom up, I agree, but we, like all other Americans, need people in government who can actually implement policy changes. It’s not grass roots verus Washington DC.

  • 12 ex-LatinoHillStaffer // Aug 3, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    In full disclosure, I helped write the report (I’m n0t a regular reader of this blog, but a friend forwarded me this link).

    I do not know what “top-level hill staffers” were consulted, but they are completely and unconditionally wrong about their perceived lack of qualified latinos in the hiring pool. CHSA has an extensive database of qualified Latinos, whom often have masters or law degrees, and often with organizing or campaign experience. In my capacity as part of CHSA’s placement committee, I have met and talked to qualified Latino candidates almost every single week and passed along resumes to hiring offices, often from the applicants home district, again and again. It was the frustration of seeing so many qualified Latinos unable to get hired that was the motivation in writing the report in the first place. Saying there aren’t qualified Latinos is a completely untrue and unacceptable excuse.

    I would also dispute that Latinos are more likely to leave for more money, and this can be easily proven by taking time to look at the miniscule percentage of registered lobbyists that are Latino. In my experience, staff of any ethnicity from a humble background are less likely to leave for money. Its hard to complain about “only” being paid 40k when its way more than your parents ever made. While to the very rich salary may be irrelevant, I’ve found those staff with an upper middle class background the most likely to complain about their salary and not having access to the lifestyle they are accustomed to and expect.

    Finally, I would like to clarify that there was additional evidence the report analyzed, such as old House and Senate Employment Surveys, and a study by Diversity Inc. magazine that provide an even more thorough analysis than what was mentioned in the blog. All that said, thanks for posting and helping bring light to this important issue that ultimately affects all of our our nation’s policies.

  • 13 Anna // Aug 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I knew the claim that there were no qualified applicants was a lie. Some people are too quick to believe any BS excuse that justifies discrimination against them.

  • 14 Pablo // Aug 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you, ex-LatinoHillStaffer. Your insight is invaluable. I apologize for not having responded sooner as I just now caught your message, having delved into the subject over the last few days in the recess’d Senate & House offices. In short, I’ve discovered your statement repeated again and again. But if it’s not a lack of qualified Latinos, and it’s not a high Latino turnover, where does that leave us? Ethnic discrimination/racism? Insider protectionism? Something else?

  • 15 The Most Influential Latino Staffers on Capitol Hill | iChicano // Mar 20, 2013 at 6:01 am

    [...] studies have consistently shown that among Capitol Hill staffers, Latinos remain sparse — especially in leadership positions. Just last month, Roll Call released its “Fabulous 50″ list of Capitol Hill’s [...]

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