Close to 300 Latinos — many with Venezuelan roots — packed Taylorsville’s City Hall Thursday night for a town hall that at times seemed like a party, even if not everyone was invited.
With some help from the Utah GOP, the event was put together by Carlos Moreno and Carolina Herrin, immigrants from Venezuela and Brazil, respectively. It featured Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams, five other Republican state officials and musical performances that had the audience clapping and singing along.
The event was not officially labeled as partisan, but the Utah GOP later called it their event on Twitter. Historically, the Republican party hasn’t done a good job at reaching out to non-white voters, Cox said.
“It’s one of the problems we have with the Republican party and I’ve been very vocal about this,” he said.
The elected officials took questions on ways to improve Latino high school students’ graduation rate, access to healthcare and calm deportation fears.
While the town hall brought different voices into the conversation, it was overshadowed by the fact that none of the state’s three elected Latino officials, women or other minorities were present on the panel.
“We hope that they and other cities will continue to reach out to the Latino community for meaningful dialogue,” Barb Muñoz said. “I hope next time to see the panel of elected officials reflect the diversity of the audience as well.”
Muñoz attended the event with her husband, Martín, who is Mexican American. She said they were excited to hear about the event in Taylorsville, where they have lived for 18 years.
State Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she did not receive an invitation to attend the town hall. Romero, Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City and State Sen. Luz Escamilla, D- Salt Lake City, oversee districts with a large number of Latino constituents. Romero said she finds it problematic that none of them was asked to come.
“To totally dismiss us I think is disrespectful if it’s a nonpartisan event,” Romero said. “If it’s a partisan event, then advertise it as such.”
Moreno, the one of the organizers who has been planning for the event since November, said he is new to Utah and did his best to reach out to speakers.
After the event, Moreno responded to a Twitter post by Romero on the issue. He said she was welcome to come to the event without an official invitation, as other Republican lawmakers did.
“We don’t restrict the entrance to anyone here,” Moreno said.
Romero said she would be open to being at another town hall if invited in the future.