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Louis Ruiz elected Assistant House Minority Leader

In February of this year, Democrat 31st District Kansas representative Louis Ruiz, was elected Assistant Minority Leader. He is the first full Latino to achieve such a high post and the first Latino since 1998 to hold a leadership position in the State house.

According to his biography, Ruiz previously held “appointments to the Board of Commissioners for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. As a Human Relations Commissioner, Mr. Ruiz was engaged in efforts to mitigate hate crimes and intimidation, efficiently resolve neighbor disputes, enhance operation of county governmental entities, and improve performance of HUD programs.”

Ruiz talked with Hispanic News at the state capital about the duties the position entails. “We are the number one and two in the Democratic house. Anything that comes through that may be divisive or decisive, we talk amongst ourselves and the leadership and try to see where our caucus is going to go and in which direction we are going to vote.”

The leadership also helps “determine what issues are important and how we structure our leadership role and how we appoint ranking members into different committees that are in session this year,” added Ruiz.

For Ruiz, the moment is bittersweet. “It breaks my heart that my father was not here to see any of my political aspirations advance the way they have. … But I feel very proud that there is a Hispanic/Latino in this seat. That means that there is room for other people to come and follow and be involved.”

Former State Representative Rick Rehorn who held the seat until he retires encouraged Ruiz to run some 10 years old. “I endorsed him to run for the seat because I liked his background and he had worked in both the private sector … both labor and management side. He also served on some non-for profit boards. I’m happy for him.”

Ruiz admitted it is a tough row to hoe when you are a minority in a minority party at the state level, especially if you are a Democrat in the Kansas State Legislature where Democrats count 28 out of a body of 125 legislators.

“We are the super minority and that means that some good legislation that we would like to see go through to help the state of Kansas, but because we do not have the numbers to pass and promote good legislation, we have to see good bills pass by the wayside.”

Kansas State Representative Tom Burroughs was elected House Democratic Leader as well in early February for the first time. Burroughs told Hispanic News, “Louis is a very bright minded young man and brings a lot to the table when it comes to debuts and handles himself in a matter that is reflected of Democratic values.”

John Alcala represents the 57th district in Shawnee County, which covers the Topeka area. He insisted that Ruiz seek the position.

“I called Louis when the elections came up and told him that I felt that he had qualifications and leadership ability to step into that position and I asked him if I could nominate him and call people to lobby on his behalf,” he recalled.

“Louis is a man that stands up when he knows he is right,” insisted Alcala. “He is also a man in situations where there is disagreement he is willing to find resolution. I think that is really important – to never cease the lines of communication. And I think that is important for a leader. … I think he has earned his stripes here in the state house. I think it was his turn to step into that role.”

Alcala is certain that at some point Latinos will take their place in the political system making him and Ruiz more than political oddities.

“I think we are going to see that wave with the young and upcoming Latinos that are being more educated, furthering their education, getting more involved in community. I thing we are going to see that happen. I think that cycle is going to come,” insists Alcala.

Ruiz is less optimistic. He has been vocal trying to get people involved in the political process. This activism goes back years to when he was a member of the Communications Workers of America. He spent 30 years at Lucent Technologies and its predecessors Western Electric and AT&T.

“People, until they want something, they could care less who’s there or who they voted for. If something happens, like they have a family member in jeopardy with the law or it may be a DUI or … they need some help on an issue, then you hear from them,” laments Ruiz. “I always ask them, ‘Have you voted? Why don’t you vote and help us get more brown faces in the legislature?’ It is always something like ‘I don’t think my vote counts.’”

Ruiz points out in frustration that there have been legislators that have won by less than ten votes. “They have the same voting rights and power as I do and it bothers me that our Latino people are so apathetic, so disillusioned. This is not just locally it is across the nation. … We have been referred to as a sleeping giant. I am still waiting for it to wake up.”

The price for that apathy is clear according to Ruiz. He sees a lot of people that have never been involved in politics coming into the legislature.

“Tea Party people, because they have a lot of money and because they are Tea Party and they raise heck in the right places, get support from certain individuals and organizations and they are here. Money has bought their seats. Instead of being qualified and a good person, a statesman or stateswoman … they are here a lot of times just to see how much havoc they can create.”

Ruiz is equally critical of the Latino community.

“Latinos like to stay in their own bubble and be leaders in their own groups. … To take a chance outside of the bubble is a big change. You have to put a lot of skin in the game and it is not a comfortable area to be in when you have to be maybe the only Latino here.”

His advice to people looking to get involved in politics is to work at the grassroots, working on political campaigns, serving on boards, staying educated and informed on the issues that are important to the community.

Ruiz admitted that he is not looking to retire anytime soon. “I feel I will keep running until my heart tells me something different … I feel that I am adding value to the legislature and to my community. Nobody has requested that I be replaced or wants to fire me yet, so I will consider that I am doing a decent job at least to stay in office.”