Task force aims to increase number of Latinos in state government

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

Latinos account for one in five New Jerseyans and more than 500,000 are registered voters in the state. As a growing demographic bloc, they’re both a sought-after constituency and are slated to become the future of New Jersey’s political landscape. Ahead of November’s election, several organizations are banning together to form the Latino Gubernatorial Task Force in an effort to increase the number of Latinos serving in appointed positions. Correspondent Briana Vannozzi sat down with two of its founding members.

Vannozzi: Arlene Quiñonez Perez and Roberto Fergone, is the reason you’re starting this task force because Latinos and Hispanics aren’t being fairly represented within the gubernatorial appointees?

Perez: There’s certainly been a lack of representation at the state level, and it’s been a number of years and a number of different administrations, whether it’s Democratic or Republican. I think we’ve always had an issue making sure that our voices are heard and certainly that reflects the population that we have, which is 20 percent.

Fergone: There’s also a great talent pool within the Latino community in New Jersey that could benefit the state government and really benefit the people of New Jersey.

Vannozzi: How do you actually go about funneling these potential candidates to these positions?

Fergone: Well, I think in two ways, right. The organization, the group we’re trying to form, are really facilitators, so we’re trying to do two-fold. One is really trying to encourage more Latinos to go into public service, to take advantage of the experience and knowledge they have and use it to the benefit of the state. And then the other side of it is really encouraging the incoming administration, regardless of who wins, to use that talent and really take advantage of that as they’re building their new administration. So, I think both of those are really our goals, to be the facilitators to increase participation.

Vannozzi: But what does that look like? Are you actually collecting resumes to do that?

Perez: Yeah, so I think one of the things you hear often in different administrations is that there’s a lack of a talent pool. So, I think we want to make sure that isn’t the case and we want to make sure that we can pull together resumes. And luckily, we’ve both been through this quite often in state government where we know the different positions and we kind of know how they’ll be filled and in what order. So as long as we can focus on bringing resumes that can fit into those different positions, I think that’s really what we’re looking to do.

Fergone: We also plan to reach out to both of the campaigns as they’re starting to transition now, rather than waiting necessarily until after Election Day, or as the transition starts. I think right now is really the time to be able to offer names and opportunities to people to start shaping the next administration.

Vannozzi: A lot of times I think people think about gubernatorial appointees as maybe just commissioners, cabinet positions, but these are people who are on some very important boards in our state that make a lot of critical decisions. What kind of positions are we talking about?

Perez: We’re talking about Port Authority, the state board on investigations, the parole board, there really are a lot. And when you look at the policy boards, you’re talking about the licensing boards.

Vannozzi: You have in these candidates, in the Republican candidate Kim Guadagno’s ticket, Carlos Rendo, the first Republican Latino mayor in the state. But in the Democratic candidate, Phil Murphy, you have a platform that is more sympathetic to some of the causes and issues that are of concern for this group. Is there one candidate or the other that lends itself better to these issues?

Fergone: I think it’s really important for us as a community to start focusing on engagement. The Latino community is the second largest population group in the country. The fact that we’re trying to engage them and have them more be involved, I think that’s the goal.

Vannozzi: Roberto Fragone and Arlene Quiñonez Perez, thank you so much for sitting down to chat today.