Former East Chicago Councilwoman Myrna Maldonado is helping launch the Porter County Latino Democratic Caucus.
Maldonado, who now lives in unincorporated Porter Township, wants to increase Hispanic influence both in public office and at the ballot box.
“I consider myself very fortunate that Myrna Maldonado has moved to Porter County,” said County Democratic Party Chairman Don Craft, who hired her. “He brings a lot of energy to this project.”
Craft said the goals of the new meeting are open-ended. Once united, the group will articulate the Latino issues it wants to address.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11.3% of Porter County’s population is Hispanic. That number has increased as more Hispanics moved to the area, Craft said.
The first meeting of the convention will be held Feb. 18 at Mexico Lindo Mexican Restaurant Bar & Grill in Portage.
Moving to the Four Seasons Lakes four years ago was a big change for Maldonado, he said. He began to ask who represented him on the City Council, but learned that he was not in a city.
Maldonado has served on the council in East Chicago for 12 years and as district president for 16 years. He also served as the city’s Democratic chairman.
He said Maldonado does not intend to run for office, but aims to help others run for office. He said they expect to see party representatives active in voter registration campaigns and voting.
“But I can help, I’m willing to do it,” Maldonado said.
He said he and Craft started working on the venture a few months ago. Since then, he has contacted several hundred people who might be interested in attending the meeting. He said the response was entirely positive.
Natalia Galvan, chairwoman of the state party’s Latino caucus, suggested it to him after he became president last summer. “I knew this would happen, but it finally happened,” she said.
Craft eventually found Maldonado and convinced him to help. “He and I basically talked about Latinos organizing in a way that builds power in the Latino community,” he said. “That’s where we hope to go with this group.”
“This is very much a team effort,” Maldonado said.
“We’re Democrats and we’re just trying to be inclusive,” he said.
Craft is looking forward to seeing what issues the Latina women’s group will focus on. He expects members to take up the issue of immigration. “There are very divided feelings about what can and should be done about this,” he said. However, there will be other issues that members will determine as priorities.
“I think the last mission is still open-ended because they can decide as a group what they want to do,” Craft said. “I can’t wait to see what they do.”
Craft is optimistic about the future of the county party and its prospects this year.
“I enjoy the job very much. We have enlarged the party; we have increased the number of district leaders who are active in the party,” he said.
“I think our national people will be successful,” Craft said. At the state level, “I think we have some excellent candidates,” including gubernatorial candidate Jennifer McCormick, who is serving as superintendent of public instruction.
“I think we have a great slate locally,” including Dane Lafata and Dan Whitten, both strong candidates running for county commissioner. He said the County Council candidates are also good.
Last year, “we saw a lot of women come out and vote,” and she expects them to vote again this year. “There are still many women in Porter County who are upset about the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” she said.
Doug Ross is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.