Georgia’s New Latino State Legislature

Rep. Rey Martinez at a podium

Newly elected GOP state representative Rey Martinez is the only Latino member of the Republican House faction. Photo: Ben Gray/AP

A record number of Latino candidates have been elected to state legislatures across the US – including Georgia.

Why It Matters: As of at least 2018, Latinos and Hispanics have been the fastest-growing eligible voter group, according to the Pew Research Center. About 10% of Georgia’s population is Latino or Hispanic.

The big picture: So far, 64 new Latino Democrats and 15 new Latino Republicans have won seats in parliament nationwide, said Kenneth Romero-Cruz, executive director of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators Russell Contreras from Axios.

  • There are still some races to go, but this could push the number of Hispanic lawmakers to over 500, which would be a record.

Zoom in: The Georgia legislature will add four Latino and Hispanic lawmakers next year: new state assemblyman Rey Martinez (R-Loganville), state assemblyman Phil Olaleye (D-Atlanta), and state senator Jason Esteves (D-Atlanta). Newly elected state congressman Saira Draper (D-Atlanta) is half Hispanic and identifies as Hispanic.

  • Olaleye and Esteves will be the first ever Afro-Latino Georgians to serve in their respective chambers.
  • With State Senator Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas) who says that he is now the very first Latino elected to a leadership role in both chambers and State Representative Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), there will be two Latinos in the Georgia Senate and four Latinos/Hispanics in the House of Representatives.

Remarkable: Romero-Cruz said the newly elected Latino state legislature in Georgia could be crucial in winning Latino voters for the US Senate runoff.

What you say: “We need to start talking to Hispanic voters now — not a few months before the election,” Rep. Rey Martinez told Axios.

  • Martinez becomes the sole Latino member of the Georgia State House Republican caucus, but hopes to recruit more Latino and Hispanic candidates. “I don’t want to be the only one,” he said.
  • He told Axios that Democrats have failed to send a message to a Latino community that “wants to be left alone. We want to be able to make the American Dream a reality ourselves.”

The other side: State Senator Jason Esteves said it was a “false narrative” that the Latino community was failing Democrats as they supported Democratic candidates across the country.

  • But, he said, while Georgia has “made progress” in Latino representation, more needs to be done. “Neither party does a really great job of speaking to the Latino community in the state,” he told Axios.

Catch up fast: Esteves blamed the need for even more education and engagement of Latino voters, as well as gerrymandering, for the problem.

  • “Look no further than Hall County,” he said.
  • The county has one of the largest English-speaking populations and no Latino representation on the Capitol. “That was intentional and is still intentional,” he argues.