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The Nevada Independent

Academy teaches campaign basics to equip future candidates, boost Latino representation

After a 25-year hiatus, the two-day session offered lessons in the A to Zs of being in public office, as well as serving as support staff.
Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon
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Longtime Hispanics in Politics member Chris Giunchigliani put up posters reading “Campaign Essentials” at the front of a classroom in Las Vegas.

“How many have ever entertained the idea of running for office? OK, excellent,” said the former educator who held elected offices for decades, acknowledging the raised hands as she kicked off her lecture to a class of 17 prospective politicians and campaign operatives. “And how many of you actually have worked directly with a campaign after the person was elected? All right, so we got some experts in the group as far as that's concerned.” 

Giunchigliani was one of a half-dozen guest speakers at the two-day Hispanic Political Academy held by the nonprofit, Las Vegas-based civic engagement group Hispanics in Politics. The late-September workshop focused on the basics of running for office, from campaigning and fundraising to budgeting, community outreach and earning votes, as well as creating a support system for the potential candidates.

A shortage of Hispanic representation in local government inspired Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, to offer the Hispanic Political Academy again after a 25-year hiatus. He said he modeled the academy comeback after Emerge Nevada, which recruits, trains and supports Democratic women to run for office. 

“I was totally impressed by the number of candidates they have, and the young ladies going through the program and getting elected,” Romero told The Nevada Independent. “HIP is a nonpartisan organization and we're gender open. So I thought, ‘Why don't we go back to doing the academy again? It was pretty successful.’” 

Latino candidates and Latino votes

Hispanics and Latinos make up about 30 percent of Nevada’s population but the Nevada Latino Legislative Caucus has just eight members — making up about 12 percent of the 63 legislators. 

Isaac Barron and Ruth Garcia-Anderson, two of the five city council members for North Las Vegas, are Latino — making up 40 percent of the council, proportionate to Hispanics being 42 percent of North Las Vegas’ population. Las Vegas Latina councilmembers Olivia Diaz, Victoria Seaman and Nancy Brune make up three of the seven members on the city council. Henderson’s city council and the Clark County Commission don’t have any Latino or Hispanic members. 

Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, Nevada’s first Latino secretary of state, reminded the class that representation matters — having candidates that look and sound like the voters could encourage their turnout, especially among Hispanics and Latinos.

“[Our community] is only going to turn out if they have a direct connection to the issue,” Aguilar said. “We have a large population for the state, but we're not represented at all in local government. Until we have that representation, we're not able to have an effect.”

A June report from Equis Research, which specializes in polling Latino voters, concluded that in order for candidates to win the Latino vote, their messaging must resonate with the population. The report also found that Latinos tend to be the “swingiest” bloc of voters and often do not prioritize party loyalty when it comes to voting.

According to Pew Research, Nevada is among the states with largest shares of Latino eligible voters with the group making up 21 percent of the electorate.

Hispanics in Politics is aiding the effort to increase Hispanic representation in Nevada leadership by showing prospective candidates what it takes to run a campaign and emphasizing the importance of being an active member in the community. 

During her presentation, Giunchigliani shared that she knew she couldn’t “out raise” Steve Sisolak in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, yet she won the counties of Humboldt, Elko, Eureka, White Pine and Carson City, areas usually forgotten about by Democrats because of their Republican majorities. The former Clark County commissioner said she had to figure out how to make every dollar spent count and not only get her name out there, but create a connection with voters in a way to almost guarantee they would vote for her. 

“I lost, but it's OK. I had fun … I won those folks, many of them in rural areas, and I didn't have money to send out mail. I did my door to door. I did my phone calls. I went to where no one had ever walked,” said Giunchigliani, whose political career also included a decade and a half in the Assembly. 

She added that she also wrote personal notes and gave her cellphone number to “every elected official” in Nevada as well as people she would meet while canvassing, which would help gain trust and open a conversation about the issues that interest them — issues she could advocate for in her campaign. 

“If you don't go to any meetings or you don't go out to the district [you’re looking to run for], you are missing in action,” Giunchigliani said. 

Political ambitions

For Abraham Camejo, the academy was a chance to tune up his campaigning skills after running for the Assembly twice — last year and in 2012 — and losing in the Democratic primary to Assemblyman Max Carter (D-Las Vegas). Camejo is a business owner, father and community advocate for affordable housing, food insecurity and workforce development — issues he ran on during his campaigns. 

Camejo said he would also like to bring up the issue of hospital and emergency room availability and access in the heavily Hispanic East Las Vegas, where he said he perceives the nearest hospital is often busier than in more affluent areas in the Las Vegas suburbs.

“If my daughter has a fever, where do I go at 2 o'clock in the morning? I’m going to Summerlin Hospital because Sunrise [Hospital] is going to be too full,” Camejo told The Nevada Independent, adding that he remains actively advocating in the issues he cares about despite losing twice. “Because if you're running to get elected, but you’re not really involved, then why did you run in the first place?” 

Some attendees find the thought of running for office less appealing but see a future in campaign management. Ace Acosta, 28, said he became interested in politics and leadership in high school as part of the Hispanic Student Union at Rancho High School and currently serves on the North Las Vegas Citizens Advisory Committee. 

Acosta was homeless at times while growing up and said he holds out hope that policy changes and support can address housing affordability and shelter resources, among other issues intertwined with homelessness.

“While a lot of [politicians] are well-meaning. A lot of them just don't get it,” Acosta said. “Homeless people usually get left out of the political process, too … So their issues don't get heard. And homelessness is not one issue. It's actually multiple issues — mental health, education, immigration.”

In 2016, Acosta worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign through local canvassing and outreach efforts. 

“I think a lot can actually be done with the right people in the right places,” Acosta said. “Politics is more than just the politicians. It's more than just Republican and Democrat. It's the process of how things get done here. Politics or government affects you more than you realize in your everyday life.”

Updated on Oct. 11, 2023 at 8:20 a.m. to clarify a Chris Giunchigliani quote.

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