[ Texas ]


Latina Public Officials in Texas

By Sonia R. García, Valerie Martinez-Ebers, Irasema Coronado, Sharon A. Navarro, and Patricia A. Jaramillo

In-depth profiles of the women who have been the first Latinas to hold key elected and appointed positions in Texas government.



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6 x 9 | 198 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-71788-6

In the decades since Latinas began to hold public office in the United States in the late 1950s, they have blazed new trails in public life, bringing fresh perspectives, leadership styles, and policy agendas to the business of governing cities, counties, states, and the nation. As of 2004, Latinas occupied 27.4 percent of the more than 6,000 elected and appointed local, state, and national positions filled by Hispanic officeholders. The greatest number of these Latina officeholders reside in Texas, where nearly six hundred women occupy posts from municipal offices, school boards, and county offices to seats in the Texas House and Senate.

In this book, five Latina political scientists profile the women who have been the first Latinas to hold key elected and appointed positions in Texas government. Through interviews with each woman or her associates, the authors explore and theorize about Latina officeholders' political socialization, decision to run for office and obstacles overcome, leadership style, and representational roles and advocacy. The profiles begin with Irma Rangel, the first Latina elected to the Texas House of Representatives, and Judith Zaffirini and Leticia Van de Putte, the only two Latinas to serve in the Texas Senate. The authors also interview Lena Guerrero, the first and only Latina to serve in a statewide office; judges Linda Yanes, Alma Lopez, Elma Salinas Ender, Mary Roman, and Alicia Chacón; mayors Blanca Sanchez Vela (Brownsville), Betty Flores (Laredo), and Olivia Serna (Crystal City); and Latina city councilwomen from San Antonio, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, and Laredo.

  • Foreword by Patricia Madrid
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Understanding Latina Political Leadership
  • Chapter 2. Areas of Inquiry: Why So Few Latinas Hold Public Office
  • Chapter 3. Irma Rangel: The First Latina in the Texas Legislature
  • Chapter 4. Latinas in the Texas Senate
  • Chapter 5. Latinas in Statewide Office
  • Chapter 6. Latinas on the Bench
  • Chapter 7. Latinas as Mayors
  • Chapter 8. Latinas in Local Government
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix A. Tables—Latinas in Public Office
  • Appendix B. Interview Instrument
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Latinas, especially those of Mexican descent, have a long history as political actors dating at least as far back as the Texas revolution in 1836, when Francisca Alvarez, the so-called "Angel of Goliad," persuaded Mexican officers to defy the execution orders given by their president, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, thus saving the lives of numerous Texas soldiers held as prisoners of war. Since 1959, when Norma Zuniga Benavides successfully ran for school board trustee in Laredo, Texas, Latinas have served in public office in the United States (Cotera 1976; Gomez-Quiñones 1990; Acosta and Winegarten 2003). Only recently, however, have scholars begun to examine the complexity and contributions of Latina leadership in the American political context.

What motivates Latinas to become involved in political activity, and what barriers do they confront in their efforts? Do they typically follow the conventional paths of men and women of other races and ethnic groups? As elected leaders, do they have unique political perspectives and/or skills gleaned from their cultural background or life experiences? Finally, how does their leadership influence public policy? To answer these central questions, this book presents case studies of the first elected and appointed Latina public officials in various levels of offices in the state of Texas. Specifically, we describe and analyze the political stories of women who have reached public office as the "first state legislator," the "first state senator," the "first mayor of a major Texas city," and so on.

These detail-rich case studies, derived primarily from personal interviews, are intended to provide readers with a multidimensional understanding of Latinas' political leadership. As Alessandro Portelli, a leading scholar utilizing oral history, explains, "Oral sources tell us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing and what they now think they did" (in Stille 2001). As much as possible, we substantiate their subjective stories with archival data and other sources. We also examine and compare these stories in light of conclusions drawn from earlier studies of women in politics. Our methods make these case studies both descriptive and theory-building.

Undoubtedly, the numbers and influence of Latina political leaders are increasing at the national level and in states other than Texas. However, taking a case study approach within one state is a first step towards fully understanding the efforts and impacts of Latina public officials. It is our hope that future research will continue our approach by examining Latina leadership in other states.

Examining the first Latinas elected to specific positions in Texas has important implications. First of all, since Latinas are underrepresented, these first Latina public officials have already paid a price in crossing the barriers to their entry into politics; pressure is increased when she is the first one, or the only one, because of society's tendency to stereotype her as representative of all Latinas. Second, Texas leads the country with respect to the largest number of Latinas (and Latinos) elected to public office. Third, as the demographic makeup of the state and the country changes, we all benefit from understanding how an inclusive and diverse democracy should work. Fourth, with the 2000 Census pronouncement of Latinos as the largest ethnic group in the United States, we can expect that this population will continue to seek political representation at all levels of government. With that as a given, it is essential to examine Latinas, specifically Mexican American women, and their role in politics.

National Attention to Latinas

Events prompting this study of Latina trailblazers started in the late 1980s, when Latinas achieved a new presence and level of visibility in the national political arena. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a Cuban American, received national attention in 1982 as the first Latina to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Ten years later, in 1992, two additional Latinas were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives: Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), the first Mexican American representative from California, and Nydia Velásquez (D-NY), the first Puerto Rican representative from New York.

In 1996, Loretta Sánchez, a businesswoman from Orange County, California, brought further public attention as well as notoriety to Latinas in politics when she narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Robert Dornan in a bitterly fought election. The controversial longtime incumbent Dornan was targeted as "out of touch" with his constituency, especially after a distracting run for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination. The 46th District had always had a slight Democratic majority, but it became even more Democratic after the 1990 Census, which showed a considerable increase in Hispanics living in the district. Sánchez won by only 984 votes on the strength of support from Hispanics and blue-collar workers. Dornan contested the election, alleging that some of the registered voters were not U.S. citizens, but the results were upheld. Sánchez handily defeated Dornan in a 1998 rematch and has not since faced serious opposition.

In a short period of time, three other Latina Democrats were sent to the U.S. House from California: former state legislator Grace Napolitano (1998), former state senator Hilda Solis (2000), and lawyer and activist Linda Sánchez (2003), the sister of Loretta Sánchez. The Sánchez sisters received national acclaim as the first "sister act" in the Congress. As of 2006, seven Latinas were serving in Congress, all in the House of Representatives. No Latina has ever run for or been elected to the U.S. Senate. In 2006 Patricia Madrid, attorney general of New Mexico, ran for Congress in one of the most competitive races for the Democratic Party nationwide, hoping to be the first Latina congresswoman from New Mexico. U.S. Representative Heather Wilson (R) edged out Madrid by 879 votes.

Although numerous Latinas have sought Texas congressional seats, the Lone Star State has yet to elect a Latina to the thirty-two-member delegation to the U.S. Congress. Two prominent Latinas ran in Texas Democratic primaries in 1996 for the House of Representatives: Dolores Briones, who was elected as county judge in 1998, campaigned unsuccessfully for an open seat in El Paso, while Mary Helen Berlanga, the first Latina on the State Board of Education, unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent in Corpus Christi on the Gulf Coast. Four years later, Latinas tried again. Although attorney and community activist Diana Rivera-Martinez unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent in the Democratic primary in Mercedes in south Texas, Regina Montoya Coggins won the Democratic nomination in Dallas, but was unsuccessful in her bid to unseat the Republican incumbent in the general election.

Other more recent, albeit unsuccessful, stories regarding Latina congressional candidates are demonstrative of their continuing emergence. These candidacies are also indicative of the tough challenges these women face in the Lone Star State. In 2004, state judge Leticia Hinojosa from McAllen unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Lloyd Doggett in the Democratic primary in the newly constructed 25th Congressional District, which stretches more than 350 miles from Austin to McAllen. Some would argue that the new configuration was intentionally designed by the Republican majority in the state legislature to defeat Representative Doggett. Interestingly, the former chair of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, Rebecca Armendariz Klein, won the Republican nomination but could not defeat Doggett in the restructured district. In another newly restructured district, Houston businesswoman and attorney Arlette Molina won the Republican primary but was unable to defeat the Democratic challenger, Al Green, a former justice of the peace and president of the local NAACP chapter.

Texas Latinas, like Latinas nationwide, are notably more successful in winning elections for state legislative seats. For example, Polly Baca-Barragan was the first Latina elected to both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado Senate, in 1974 and 1978, respectively. The first Latina ever elected to a state legislature in the United States, Baca-Barragan served for twelve years. She also was the first Latina to be nominated by a major political party for the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1980, and the first Latina to serve in a state party leadership role (Senate Democratic Caucus) in 1985-1986. Other significant Latina firsts include the late Texas state representative Irma Rangel, who was first elected in 1976 and served fourteen consecutive terms prior to her death in 2003.

Gloria Molina was California's first Latina state legislator, elected in 1982. She resigned in 1987 and successfully ran for the Los Angeles City Council. In 1991, Molina became the first Mexican American of either sex to be elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. As the first Latina on the board, Molina was also the first Latina elected to local office to receive national publicity.

The increasing number of Latina candidates in hotly contested elections at county, city, and school district levels in prominent urban areas such as San Francisco and Pasadena, California; Phoenix, Arizona; San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, Texas; and Santa Fe, New Mexico, has continued to focus national media attention on the importance of Latina leadership in local arenas.

Interestingly, from our perspective as Texas scholars, a local Latina leader making national news in 2004 was Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez. A retired federal law enforcement officer, Valdez outpolled three opponents in the 2004 Democratic primary and then went on to narrowly defeat the Republican challenger, a thirty-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department. It is important to note that Valdez is making history as the first woman, the first Hispanic, and the first openly gay person to serve in this capacity (Moreno 2004).

Patterns of Representation for Latinas

Although Latinas have made gains in politics in recent years, there are still relatively few, and for the most part, they are unrecognized as political actors. Since the 1980s, many organizations and scholars have tracked the level of political involvement of Latinos and Latinas. According to the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), there were 3,128 Latino/a elected officials nationwide in 1984, 4,625 in 1994, and ten years later that number had risen to 5,041. As of 2005, there were more than 6,000 elected and appointed Latino/a officials, an almost 100 percent increase in representation over the past twenty years.

As the importance of gender in electoral politics increased, greater scholarly attention was given to disaggregating Latino and Latina elected officials. Sierra and Sosa-Riddell (1994) reported 592 Latina elected officials in 1987, and that total increased to 744 in 1989. By 1992, Latinas comprised more than 30 percent of all Latino/a elected officials, when women as a whole constituted only 17.2 percent of all elected officials in the country. Significantly, Latina officials were most prominent on local school boards and in municipal governments (Pachon and DeSipio 1992, cited in Montoya et al. 2000).

As of 2004, Latinas held 27.4 percent of all elected positions held by Latinos and Latinas nationwide, a slight drop in their relative proportion, but Latinas had the highest representation in state senates of all Latino/a elected officials (40 percent), followed by 33 percent in county offices, 32 percent in Congress, 32 percent on school boards, 26 percent in state houses, 24 percent in municipal offices, and 23 percent in judicial/law enforcement offices. One study, covering 1990 to 2002, shows that Latinas made significant progress in the Congress (from one to seven representatives) and in state offices (increasing from sixteen to sixty-one). Latina increases still outpaced increases in Latino/a representation overall, as well as increases among white women (Fraga and Navarro 2004).

Regarding Latina representation in Texas, in 1991 Texas led all other states with significant Hispanic populations, with 361 Latina elected officials, followed by California (163) and New Mexico (135). By 1999, Texas led the country in the total number of Latinos elected to public office, but when the numbers were disaggregated by gender, Texas ranked only sixth out of the states with significant Hispanic populations. Arizona and California—followed by Florida, Colorado, and New York—ranked above Texas. In 2005, NALEO reported that there were 2,137 Latino elected officials in Texas, 591 of them (over 30 percent) women. As mentioned above, Texas Latinas once again rank first in the country in the number of public officials, followed by California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. The majority of Texas Latina elected officials can be found in municipal and county offices and on school boards.

The Status of U.S. Latinas

To fully understand the significance of Latinas achieving some prominence in elected office, it is necessary to acknowledge the struggles that U.S. Latinas have faced and continue to face. Research in history and the social sciences has documented and illustrated the discrimination and oppression experienced by Mexican American women (Melville 1980; Cordova et al. 1986). These early studies underscore the complexity of Latinas' experiences in the United States. A growing area of research addresses the legal issues faced by and impacting Mexican American women and Latinas in general (Hernandez 1976; Ontiveros 1993; Valencia et al. 2004). A host of issues affecting Latinas range from reproductive rights, pregnancy discrimination, workplace discrimination, equal pay, educational attainment, and affirmative action to sexual harassment, domestic violence, and sexual violence. Mexican American women have played a pivotal role in the struggle for equality and justice for Latinos. Organizations such as Comisión Femeníl Mexicana Nacional (established in 1973), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) Chicana Rights Project (established in 1974), and other women's legal organizations played key roles in bringing cases in the courts (Valencia et al. 2004, 41).

With regard to reproductive rights, "the issue of voluntary consent for sterilization is an area of particular relevance" to Latinas (Valencia 2004, 43). In Madrigal v. Quilligan (1981), a federal court in California heard a challenge by Mexican and Mexican American women who alleged that the University of Southern California, Los Angeles County Medical Center performed illegal and unwanted sterilizations upon them without their consent (ibid.). Although the trial court in Madrigal denied the women's claims, reasoning that the sterilizations resulted because of the women's limited English abilities and their "cultural background," the case resulted in stricter federal regulations requiring medical consent in one's native language.

With regard to workplace discrimination, Valencia and colleagues also point out how the challenges that all women face are compounded for Latinas, especially "when one considers the intersection of various factors, including gender, race and ethnicity, class, language ability, and immigrant status" (2004, 48). As a result of the cumulative effect of these factors, Latinas are more likely to work in traditionally segregated jobs, as secretaries, custodians, maids, nannies, and garment workers. They are also more likely to be the lowest paid workers in comparison to men and other related groups of women. The U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported in 1999 that while women earn only seventy-five cents for every dollar that a man earns, African American women earn just sixty-five cents, and Hispanic women earn fifty-five cents for each dollar that white men earn.

In addition, given the realities of the country's segregated workforce, Latino/a undocumented immigrants, legal residents, and U.S. citizens often work side by side. In EEOC v. Tortilleria La Mejor (1991), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a Latina plaintiff "successfully argued in federal court that the protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were applicable to all workers irrespective of their legal status" (Valencia et al. 2004, 49). Earlier, Mexican and Mexican Americans who worked as maids in a hotel in California successfully challenged the discrimination and sexual harassment they faced in federal court in the 1989 case EEOC v. Hacienda Hotel.

In sum, Latinas have been at the forefront of legal battles in the fight for equality and justice for Mexican American women—and for all women. Latinas "have had to struggle with the dual challenge of being both Mexican American and female" (Valencia et al. 2004, 61). The intersection of these two forces means that they, and Latinas in general, face unique issues, as in the realm of reproductive rights and workplace discrimination.

Latina Organizations

One factor contributing to the increased political representation of Latinas is the early involvement and support of Latina organizations. In many cases, Latinas in political office received their initial training from community-based organizations and activities (Takash-Cruz 1993; Hardy-Fanta 1993; Prindeville 2002). One recent study shows how Latinas, like women from other races and ethnic groups, are creating their own paths of leadership development and advocacy by forming various Latina-based organizations (García and Márquez 2005). National organizations that have helped to prepare Latina women for political office include the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Ladies Auxiliary, which established chapters as early as the 1930s; the Mexican American National Association (MANA), established in 1974; and Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional, established in 1973. Other Latino/a-based organizations established in the 1970s and 1980s—such as the National Hispana Leadership Institute, MALDEF, and Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SWVREP)—offer leadership training for Latinos in politics. Similarly, the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), established in 1971, and specifically the Hispanic Steering Committee have sponsored candidate development conferences for Latinas, and NWPC currently provides resources for female candidates of color. Regional organizations established in the 1980s and 1990s also target and assist potential political candidates; the Hispanic Women's Political Coalition in Denver, Colorado; the Hispanic Women in Leadership in Houston, Texas; and Hispanas Organized for Political Empowerment in California are a few examples.

Political action committees have also been formed to foster Latinas running for office. Although technically not a formal political action committee, the Latina Political Action Committee (LPAC) (established in the mid-1980s and based in Sacramento, California) was formed to elect more Latinas and raise money for Latina candidates. Formal PACs such as the Florida Hispanic Women's Pact and the Latina P.A.C. in Houston raise money for Latina candidates and others who support their issues. Latina P.A.C., in particular, established in 1991, supports qualified Latina candidates for elected and appointed positions, regardless of political affiliation.

Latinas in Texas

Given this book's focus on Latinas in Texas politics, a review of their political role in a historical context is necessary. Generally speaking, Texas women in the 1990s experienced less than average status compared to women in the other forty-nine states. Studies show that Texas ranked thirtieth in terms of the number of women in the state legislature in 1996. A report on the status of women in Texas by the Institute for Women's Policy Research indicates that Texas ranked seventeenth in the nation in terms of the number of women elected to state and national offices in 2000.

Mexican American women have served in various public offices (Acosta and Winegarten 2003). As mentioned earlier, since 1959 Mexican American women have served in elected positions. Research also documents Mexican American women's involvement in securing women's right to vote in the 1900s, and in forming mutualistas, or mutual aid societies, beginning in the 1920s. These societies were informal networks that provided assistance and services to recent Mexican immigrants. Mexican American women were also involved in the Chicano civil rights movement and the women's movement during the 1960s and 1970s. They have been involved in party politics, registering voters and collecting poll taxes, and during the 1960s, many were involved in Viva Kennedy Clubs. Some women formed organizations within the two major parties: the Mexican American Democrats (MAD) (later the Tejano Democrats) and the Mexican American Republicans of Texas (MART). Many women also got involved in third party politics, specifically La Raza Unida in the 1960s and 1970s. In many cases, Chicanas ran for public office as La Raza Unida candidates. As early as 1964, Virginia Muzquiz did so, running for the Texas state legislature. Likewise, Tejana candidates Alma Canales and Marta Cotera ran for statewide offices in 1972.

Latinas have also been involved in other political organizations, such as the American GI Forum Women's Auxiliary, the Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizations (PASSO), and the Texas Women's Political Caucus. These groups and the women associated with them often helped launch Tejanas' ascension to public office (Acosta and Winegarten 2003).

Theoretical Framework

Although Latinas have gained visibility in the national political arena and have clearly demonstrated leadership in U.S. politics, very few studies document their significance and potential as elected officials. Latina scholars have begun to fill the void in this area of research. Sierra and Sosa-Riddell contend that "Latina activity is highly complex and comprised of many diverse forms of political practice and intervention" (1994, 307). Motivated by the desire to solve problems in their neighborhoods, schools, and communities, Latinas are more likely to be active in grassroots political organizing. However, some Latinas have a more general commitment to the notion of public service, a motivation that leads them to activities in electoral politics. Political participation is typically viewed as being divided into two separate spheres, electoral and grassroots, and political scholars often confine their research to a single sphere. Latina leaders, however, frequently remain active or at least maintain connections in both spheres simultaneously (Sierra and Sosa-Riddell 1994; Pardo 1990; Takash-Cruz 1993; Montoya et al. 2000; García and Márquez 2001). We expect to find evidence of this interconnectedness and overlapping activity among the Latinas in our study.

The sense of a strong Mexican cultural identity, with its traditions and ties to religion and spirituality, is also important to Latinas in politics. Because of this strong connection to their culture, Latinas are also likely to retain their traditional gender roles while advocating for their community. The literature on Chicana feminism suggests that Latinas do not separate politics from the needs of the family and the Latino community as a whole (Pesquera and Segura 1993). Perhaps due to family responsibilities and traditional cultural sex roles, Latinas are more likely to develop policy priorities and direct their activities to the needs of women and families, and their particular ethnic communities. These important elements of their political socialization and orientations are shaped by their unique experiences and political history as minority women (García and Márquez 2001). Thus, we expect the Latinas in our study to demonstrate a strong cultural identity as well as a focus or emphasis on policies that assist families and Latino communities.

Some scholars of race/ethnicity politics find that Latinas demonstrate "a vision of politics" that is more participatory or inclusive (Hardy-Fanta 1993). Latinas are also able to transform traditional networks, resources, and relationships based on family and culture and use them as political assets (Pardo 1990). Equally important, Latinas demonstrate a capacity to overcome barriers of race, class, gender, and culture largely because they are able to draw from their experiences as longtime community activists (Takash-Cruz 1993; Sierra 1997; García and Márquez 2001).

Research also addresses how Latinas are politically motivated by various reasons, incentives that combine traditionally relevant, political goals with specific community-oriented objectives (García and Márquez 2001). They exhibit a commitment to getting particular candidates elected and certain policies addressed, as well as a commitment to their individual communities (influenced by the demographic makeup of the district or city) and the Chicano/Latino community at large. Latinas manifest abilities to bridge traditional and community motivations for their political involvement (García and Márquez 2001). As they enter traditional mainstream politics, Latinas bring with them their experiences from grassroots politics and from cultural networks and resources (García and Márquez 2001). Similarly, we expect that the Latinas in our study will demonstrate these attitudinal characteristics, as well as draw from their families and cultural networks.

Finally, recent scholarship theorizes that Latinas are well positioned as powerbrokers and have the potential to play key roles in American politics. Given their multiple identities as women, women of color, members of an ethnic minority, and part of a growing immigrant constituency, Latinas have a unique perspective and ability to advocate for multiple constituencies as well as adapt to different contexts (Fraga et al. 2005; Fraga and Navarro 2004). This intersectionality of identities provides Latinas with resources and skills to negotiate and form coalitions. In particular, they have the capacity to bridge the barriers between women of different ethnic and racial groups, as well as between men and women of different racial and ethnic groups. Similarly, we expect to find that the Latinas in our study demonstrate the capacity to negotiate, form coalitions, and adapt to differing political contexts.

Although Latinas share certain experiences as women of color, it is also important to note that they are not homogenous. There are various differences among Latina candidates and public officials that are based on many factors. Some of these cleavages are common among all people in politics, such as educational levels, class, ideological differences, feminist orientations, religion, partisanship, marital status, gender, motherhood, and sexuality. Other differences, however, impact Latinos and Latinas specifically, such as language, immigrant status, ancestry, cultural orientations, degree of assimilation, historical experiences, and regional backgrounds. These differences highlight the importance of coalitions and compromise within the larger Latino community. Coalitions are especially important today, given the increasing concern for immigrant rights within the Latino community.

A related point is that in most other contexts, the ability to advocate for multiple constituencies may not be viewed positively. Representatives that advocate for multiple groups may be viewed as not being loyal, as "flip-flopping," or as "sitting on a fence." However, in electoral politics, given the dynamics and necessity of compromise and coalitions, advocating with an understanding of multiple constituencies should be considered a unique strength. Democratic theory suggests that politics centers on conflict, compromise, cooperation, and coalitions. Effective representatives need certain skills, including the ability to form coalitions and mobilize communities, to negotiate differences, and to view politics as inclusive and participatory. The strategies that Latinas employ provide an excellent model to broaden our understanding of U.S. electoral politics.

Format and Areas of Inquiry

As mentioned, this book provides case studies of the first elected and appointed Latina public officials in Texas, and it is dedicated to Latinas in statewide office, in the Texas State House, and in the Texas Senate, and to those who are judges, city mayors, and city council members. With regard to municipal offices, Latinas were selected by city, based on the city's size or historical significance. It is important to note that, although it is beyond the scope of this particular project, the authors recognize that many Latinas hold county positions in Texas.

The objectives of the book are as follows: 1) to present an overview of Latinas' participation in electoral politics; 2) to provide case studies of specific Latina public officials in Texas; 3) to contribute to a theoretical framework on Latina politics; and 4) to provide a basis of useful information and resources on Latinas in public office for students, practitioners of electoral politics, and aspiring public officials.

Given that the women presented in this book are the first Latinas to hold a particular office, it is essential to understand their backgrounds and initiation into politics, as well as their ascendance to public office. Four areas of inquiry bring us a step closer to understanding why there are so few: 1) political socialization; 2) the initial decision to seek public office and the experiences and barriers faced; 3) leadership style; and 4) perceptions of representational roles and advocacy priorities.

The areas addressed in the book are in some respects relevant to all public officials, to all female elected officials, and all minority public officials. However, we believe that Mexican American women as public officials, particularly "the first ones" appointed or elected to specific public offices, have unique perspectives and/or experiences. Identifying their perspectives and sharing their experiences will provide readers with a broader understanding of American politics, civic participation, and electoral politics.

With respect to political socialization, several key questions are examined. What factors influenced the socialization of the Latinas in our study? Were they raised in political families, or did they experience political socialization as adults? How does culture influence Latinas' socialization? Some of the literature on Latinas' political socialization suggests that Latinas are influenced by traditional gender roles similar to those of women in other race or ethnic groups, but they are also affected by cultural traditions that may impede or enhance political participation (Hardy-Fanta 1997; Pardo 1990).

Regarding these women's bids for public office, some of the questions include: How did they decide whether or not to run for public office? What factors do they consider in deciding whether or not to run for public office? And, how do they run their campaigns? Latinas tend to link individuals, family, friendship networks, and community relationships when running for public office (Hardy-Fanta 1993). The literature also suggests that Latinas manifest a unique form of campaigning—one that is more personal (Hardy-Fanta 1993). Gender, context, and political resources play a role in shaping the organization, message, and style of the campaigns (García and Berberena 2004).

Other questions center on the routes these women took to holding office. Do Latinas follow the same paths to office as other elected officials? The literature suggests that Latinas do not follow conventional routes. The informal requirements for elective office are usually a college education and high-status occupation, which Latinas, in general, may not have, perhaps because of deliberate and systematic discrimination. Instead, Latinas gain their political experience from community activism and participation in political campaigns (Takash-Cruz 1993; Sierra 1997; Fraga et al. 2003). Equally important is the relationship between their early political socialization and the decision to seek public office.

Related to this area of running for office are the potential obstacles for Latina candidates. The literature suggests that Latinas face barriers based on race, class, and gender (Takash-Cruz 1993; Gutiérrez and Deen 2000; García and Márquez 2001), and also that Latina public officials are able to overcome these barriers (Takash-Cruz 1993; García and Márquez 2001), including the media stereotype of Latinas as political novices. Other important challenges Latinas face are cultural and societal factors that demand traditional familial responsibilities.

The third and fourth areas of inquiry relate to leadership, advocacy, and types of representation. Do Latinas make a difference after they are elected? As leaders? As representatives of Latinas and the larger Latino community? The literature suggests that Latinas demonstrate an ability to advocate for gendered agendas and Latino-based agendas. Among their strengths is the ability to use their experiences as women and as Mexican Americans to build coalitions, and to advocate for multiple interests simultaneously (Fraga et al. 2003; Fraga and Navarro 2004).

Equally important to these areas of inquiry is demonstration of the significance of increased Latina representation. Why is it important to have more Latinas in office? Many would argue that the reason we would want more Latinas in public office is to advocate for the issues that most affect Latinas and the larger Latino community. Issues such as child care, equal pay, domestic violence, breast cancer research, and reproductive rights affect women generally, but affect women of color in different ways. Latinas clearly play a role in representing and advocating for their communities. Electing more Latinas also brings this country closer to a true representative democracy.


Using interviews and secondary sources, we adopted a case study approach in order to compare the experiences of the first Latinas to hold select public offices in the Texas. When possible, we conducted face-to-face and follow-up interviews with each officeholder to gain a deeper understanding of her experience. In some cases, we also interviewed staff or family members. We compiled questions for the initial interview instrument (Appendix B), recognizing that collection methods might vary according to each coauthor's interview technique. The questions focused on each woman's political biography, her personal successes as a public official, her leadership style, and her attitude regarding specific policy issues related to Latinos, such as civil rights, women's rights, and education, among others. The secondary information was obtained from newspapers and other sources.

The case studies were selected on the basis that each was the first Latina elected or appointed to that particular public office. Latinas in state, as opposed to local, offices were more clearly identifiable. Irma Rangel (Chapter 3) was selected because she was the first Latina to be elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Judith Zaffirini (Chapter 4) was selected because of her position as the first of two Latinas elected to the Texas Senate. Leticia Van de Putte (Chapter 4), the second Latina elected to the state Senate, gained additional recognition as the first Latina to serve in a party leadership role when she was selected to preside over the Democratic Caucus in the state senate. Lena Guerrero (Chapter 5) was selected because of her accomplishment as the first and only Latina to serve in a statewide office in Texas.

Chapter 6 focuses on four state judges. Texas has a three-tier judicial structure, with judges elected in partisan elections. Although no Latina has ever been elected for the highest courts (Texas has two high courts), two were selected because they serve as the first appellate justice (Linda Yañes) and first chief justice (Alma López) to serve on an appellate court. Two other Latina judges were selected for our study; the first district court judge, Elma Salinas Ender, who was initially appointed, and Mary Roman, the first Latina district court judge to be elected in a major city (San Antonio).

The selection of case studies of city council members and mayors for Chapters 7 and 8 was more pointed. We began by identifying Latinas in medium to large cities and then added cases from cities with some geographic or historical significance. The first Latina mayor of Brownsville, Blanca Sánchez Vela, and the first Latina mayor of Laredo, Betty Flores, were selected not only because they represent major cities, but because these cities are located on the Texas-Mexico border. Olivia Serna, the first Latina mayor of Crystal City, was selected because of the town's historical significance for the Chicano civil rights movement. The five case studies of the first Latinas to serve on city councils were selected because they represent medium to large cities: San Antonio, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, and Laredo.

Recognizing the similar outcomes of each case study, our investigation is concerned with how these Latinas became the first in their positions—under "what conditions (and through what paths)" (George and Bennett 2005, 78). Our selection was deliberate. Given the absence of literature on our specific questions, we decided to focus on Latinas in public office. As some of the first to attempt to address this research question, we believe this study falls under what George and Bennett describe as "the early stages of a research program," justifying selection on the dependent variable since the comparisons may still "serve the heuristic purpose of identifying the potential causal paths and variables leading to the dependent variable of interest" (2005, 23).

However, our study was also able to achieve some level of theory-testing. Drawn from an array of scholarly work, the literature can inform a set of expectations to be examined across cases. Therefore, a cross-case comparison reveals patterns that achieve a modest level of analytical rigor while also providing for the depth of each Latina's experience and the flexibility of theory-building.

We fully recognize the limitations of our research design. Our decision to use a case study approach allowed us to delve more deeply into the lives of each of our cases. However, our conclusions are thus limited to these individual women. Although we are unable to generalize to all Latina public officials, or even Latina public officials in Texas, we believe our study will encourage others to pursue other methods to further this research program.

Outline of Book

Chapter 2 presents an overview of the relevant research on Latina politics and women and politics, as well as culture, gender, and ethnicity in Texas politics. Chapter 3 is devoted to the late Irma Rangel; as the first Latina elected to the state legislature and the first in the country, her legacy will never be forgotten. Chapter 4 is dedicated to the first and only Latinas in the Texas Senate; Judith Zaffirini was first elected state senator, and Leticia Van de Putte was the first Latina selected to chair the Democratic Caucus in the senate. Chapter 5, "Latinas in Statewide Office," focuses on Lena Guerrero as the first Latina appointed to serve in a statewide office, that of railroad commissioner. Despite her political downfall, her success as an elected official and railroad commissioner cannot be ignored. Chapter 6, "Latinas on the Bench," is dedicated to the first Latina state judges. Four, in particular, are investigated: the first Latina appointed state judge, Elma Salinas-Ender; the first Latina elected state judge from a major metropolitan city, Mary Roman; the first Latina appointed appellate state judge, Linda Yañes; and the first chief justice of an appellate court, Alma López. Chapter 7, "Latinas as Mayors," highlights the first Latina mayors of Laredo, Brownsville, and Crystal City, Texas. Betty Flores was elected mayor of Laredo in 1998; Blanca Sánchez Vela was elected mayor of Brownsville in 1999; and Olivia Serna was first elected by the city council as mayor of Crystal City in 1979. Chapter 8, "Latinas as City Council Members," is dedicated to the first Latina city council members from five cities. The five women whose political trajectories will be discussed are Anita Nanez Martinez, from Dallas; Alicia Chacón, from El Paso; Maria Berriozábal, from San Antonio; Graciela (Gracie) Saenz, a native of Houston; and Consuelo (Chelo) Montalvo of Laredo. The epilogue highlights some of our findings and addresses future areas of research.

Sonia R. García is Associate Professor at St. Mary's University in San Antonio and serves as both the Chair of the Political Science Department and Graduate Director of Political Science.

Valerie Martinez-Ebers is Associate Professor at Texas Christian University and became the first Latina president of the Western Political Science Association.

Irasema Coronado is Associate Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and serves as the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Sharon A. Navarro is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Patricia A. Jaramillo is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

From the book:

"I didn't know I was going to be the first one. I felt like I was really going to have to deliver. If I didn't succeed, they were going to say, 'All Mexican American women are failures.'"

—Texas Representative, Irma Rangel

"There are not enough women who have figured out how to balance [faith and family], how to prioritize, but I believe that the younger women will make a difference . . . that as they grow up professionally and politically, that you will see more women in the ranks."

—State Senator Judith Zaffirini

"I think the expectations are higher because there haven't been that many [Latinas in the Texas Senate] and you are represent[ing] not just females, but an ethnic group that has not always been afforded the opportunity to participate in the political process."

—State Senator Leticia Van de Putte