In the race for governor, Kevin Stitt, Joy Hofmeister are trying to win favor with Oklahoma’s growing Latino population
In an election year where Republicans nationally hope to make big waves among Latino voters and Democrats are trying to hold on to what has historically been a safe vote, both Gov. Kevin Stitt and challenger Joy Hofmeister are working hard to appeal to the community.
Stitt is running what is believed to be the first Spanish-language television ad by an Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate. He has attended a number of Latino community events across the state including a parade and a festival in Oklahoma City and a luncheon put on by members of the Hispanic business community. At each event, he expresses what he says are his shared values of “faith, family and freedom” with the Latino community.
Hofmeister has signs, shirts and placards in Spanish and is also attending cultural events and meeting with community members. She has another Hispanic community meet and greet on Saturday in Tulsa.
Latinos and Hispanics are Oklahoma’s fastest-growing demographic and now make up nearly 12% of the population, growing by 42% since 2010, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
Both candidates have focused their stump speeches at Latino community events on education policy, but with stark differences. Hofmeister pitched strengthening public education and Stitt campaigned on his private school voucher plan.
According to data from the districts, Hispanic and Latino students are the largest demographic at the state’s two biggest districts, making up nearly 60% of the students at Oklahoma City Public Schools and nearly 37% at Tulsa Public Schools.
Hofmeister supporter Brenda Hernandez, vice president and founder of the Oklahoma City-based Latino PR firm Tango Public Relations, said support for public education is vital.
“Being that we do have the largest percentage in our Oklahoma City public schools, I think it is important to support our public education,” Hernandez said.
Before tacos were served at a meet-and-greet event for Hofmeister in south Oklahoma City on Oct. 21, Hofmeister spent time talking with voters about education.
“We know that it is critically important to have a strong education for all children and today, we have a governor that does not understand the connection between strengthening schools and the need to build a robust economy,” Hofmeister said in a stump speech at the event.
Meanwhile, Stitt has been advocating for school vouchers, a plan he thinks would benefit the Latino community by offering people more opportunities to choose the best schools for their children, he said in a brief interview at the Fiesta de las Americas, a cultural festival in South Oklahoma City. As he walked around the event he would introduce himself in Spanish and tried for as long as he could to hold the conversation, which was often only a couple sentences before he had to switch back to English.
“More school options is also important for the Hispanic community, because just like what I’ve been trying to promote across the state you shouldn’t just be forced into a poor school,” Stitt said in the interview. “If you’re in a ZIP code that has low graduation rates let’s bring that up, let’s give parents more options and let’s create competition in our school.”
At each of three Latino cultural events The Frontier attended with Stitt, he also touted his success in helping bring a Mexican Consulate to Oklahoma City, which is set to open in March 2023.
“I got a chance to listen and I heard you and I went to Mexico City and Monterrey and we’re bringing a consulate to Oklahoma City and it’s going to be coming early next year,” Stitt told the crowd at the Hispanic Fiesta at Scissortail Park on Oct. 7.
But bringing a consulate to Oklahoma was not solely Stitt’s doing, the Mexican government, U.S. Department of State and other state entities were also instrumental in the project.
Currently, the closest Mexican Consulate is in Arkansas, a long trek for Jose Martinez, a 52-year-old Stitt supporter who is originally from Mexico.
“Normally we’d have to go to Arkansas to get a Mexican passport,” he said. “So I would have to go all the way over there. (But) bringing the consulate over here permanently is a very good thing for a lot of people.”
Victor Roman, a 40-year old Stitt supporter, said in his 15 years living in south Oklahoma City, he had never seen any governor visit his community before Stitt. Roman said Stitt’s appearance at the Fiesta de las Americas parade gave him “hope that things are going to turn around for the Hispanic community.”
“Just by him taking the leap of faith and being out here with the Hispanics, even though he doesn’t know a lot of Spanish, he’s trying and he gets an E for effort,” Roman said.
Ozzy Castillo, 37, had been unsure if he was going to vote, but said he is now a Stitt supporter after he and his four children met the governor at the Fiesta de las Americas parade.