Proving that Hispanic issues have become important politically, Gov. Bob Holden has created a 22-member Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
The commission’s purpose, according to a news release from Holden, is to “serve as a statewide advisory body to the governor and the General Assembly on issues of importance to the Hispanic citizens of Missouri.”
The commission, which includes Columbia resident Beatriz Calmet-Chinn, will gather information about and promote topics important to the Hispanic community, monitor legislative issues and make recommendations to state agencies and private businesses.
Fifteen appointees are part of the larger 22-member group and represent various backgrounds. Only eight of the 15 are from either Kansas City or St. Louis. The other seven positions will be ex-officio spots filled by representatives of government departments, including Economic Development, Higher Education, Elementary and Secondary Education and Public Safety.
Calmet-Chinn, owner of a Hispanic business directory known as “El Puentebridge” since 2001, believes the group will prove effective in helping the Hispanic community.
“My goal is to see what the public and private sector can bring together in their efforts to help the Hispanic people,” she said. “When you work for the private sector, you have a totally different perspective than people who work in government.”
Tomas Baca of Milan was also appointed. He is the public affairs manager at Premium Standard Farms, which employs numerous Hispanic immigrants, and has been president of the Milan Centro Latino for about two of the organization’s four years.
Baca said he was honored to be nominated and looks forward to making a positive impact. Though Missouri’s Hispanic population has been growing steadily for several years, Baca doesn’t think it took Holden too long to form the commission.
“I don’t think the state’s been neglecting the need,” he said. “Like anything, it takes time to address the issues that are facing the Hispanic population. In retrospect, you can always say that we could’ve used this commission sooner, but I think this is a positive step forward.”
A similar commission existed under former Gov. Joseph Teasdale more than 20 years ago but had been dissolved.
In the news release Holden said the commission will “make the voice of Hispanic Missourians stronger in areas of public service and state policy.”
Results of the 2000 census, conducted the same year Holden was elected, showed that the Hispanic population in Missouri had nearly doubled since 1990 to about 120,000 residents.
Holden, a Democrat, is in the midst of a battle for re-election. The Democratic governor faces a primary challenger, State Auditor Claire McCaskill. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Matt Blunt is the Republican favorite to take on the winner.
Though Calmet-Chinn normally votes Republican, she was impressed with Holden’s creation of the commission. Still, she said, that probably won’t change her voting habits.
Calmet-Chinn said that while politicians often act out of self-interest, they sometimes do things simply because they need to be done.
“When you’re governor, you are here to serve the people,” she said. “You’re not here to serve yourself. So, you have to bring the best to the table for the people.”
The Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs is the fourth appointed group to handle minority issues.
The others are the Minority and Underrepresented Environmental Literacy Program, the Missouri Minority and Business Advisory Commission and the Special Health, Psychological and Social Needs of Minority Individuals Commission.