Secretary of State encourages Latinos to get politically involved

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman speaks at the Latino Advocacy & Leadership Institute in Granger last Friday about how she got her job and why she loves her work.

Photo by Laura Gjovaag
Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman speaks at the Latino Advocacy & Leadership Institute in Granger last Friday about how she got her job and why she loves her work.


Rep. Bruce Chandler was a surprise guest at the event. He encouraged participants to help others succeed in order to gain success themselves.

GRANGER – An all-day leadership forum in Granger for Latinos interested in public service included everything from advice on how to properly introduce yourself, to a luncheon keynote address by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

The Latino Advocacy & Leadership Institute event, which was free to attend, attracted a crowd of about 50 participants who received instruction and advice from former Washington state legislator Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney, KCTS Executive Producer Enrique Cerna, Connections Group President Cathy Allen and Director of Business Development and Public Affairs at Tri City Health Martin Valadez.

In her luncheon speech, Wyman explained how she became secretary of state, noting that it was not something she had grown up wanting to be.

“I didn’t choose this path,” she said. “It wasn’t on my radar.”

Instead, she concentrated on learning as much as she could. She was the first person in her family to go to college and when she went to Germany with her military husband, that schooling gave her the opportunity to work while overseas. She continued to take jobs relating to records and soon discovered she has a passion for elections.

“I’ve spent the last 23 years trying to get people registered to vote,” she said. “It’s important for everyone to vote, it’s our opportunity to pick the leaders in our communities.”

To demonstrate how important voting is, she asked five people at the front of the room to choose a concert the entire crowd would go to, given a choice between several musical acts. She then asked the rest of the crowd if it was fair to only ask five people and not the entire crowd.

She then had everyone in the room stand up and started giving the statistics for voting in the state. For example, out of seven million people eligible to vote in the state, only four million are registered. She had slightly less than half the group sit down.

She said in presidential election years the state has an 80 percent turnout, so she had one in five of the remaining people standing sit down. She then said non-election years had an even lower turnout and told more people to sit down.

In the end, she demonstrated that about five out of a group of 50 are the people who are usually making the choices for everyone, due to low voter registration and turnout.

Wyman also talked about how odd year elections tend to have a greater direct impact on people’s lives.

“Local leaders tell you how fast you can drive, what your kids can read in school,” she said. “The president rarely takes any action that affects you directly, but more people vote when the presidency is at stake.”

She asked for everyone who has voted in every election they were eligible to vote in to raise their hands. She said those are “perfect voters” and by not voting, people are giving them their power.

“It’s fine, as long as you agree with them,” she said.

Wyman said she’s the only Republican who holds statewide office on the entire West Coast. She said she thinks her status is due, in part, to her willingness to invest in the people around her.

“If you earn people’s respect, it will come back to you tenfold,” she said.

Wyman explained that she became a county auditor because, as an elections supervisor during a nasty recount, she was polite to everyone involved despite emotions running high on all sides. The Republican party asked her to run for the county auditor position because she was able to earn the respect of both sides of the debate.

She answered several questions, including one on internet voting. She said her opinion on internet voting has not changed since she wrote on the subject in 2000. She gave two reasons she is against it. One is that not everyone is comfortable with the level of technology required, and that will lead to people doubting the outcomes of elections.

The other problem is that, at some point during the process, the voter ID has to be removed from the vote. Thus, if something goes wrong, there is no way to make sure the vote counted.

“With online banking, if your account is hacked, you can have your money restored through the legal process. There is a way to make you whole, even if it takes a while,” she said.

“With voting, if your vote doesn’t count, there’s no way to make you whole. You have lost your vote.”

Also speaking during the luncheon segment of the all-day forum was Rep. Bruce Chandler, who thanked the participants for investing their lives and futures in the Yakima Valley.


Cathy Allen, the president of the Connections Group, told the participants at the Latino Advocacy & Leadership Institute that her job is persuasion.

She said she wanted the participants to learn some basics on how to make an impact on other people quickly. She started by teaching the group how to properly introduce themselves, giving a quick biography without being boring.

Allen said a good introduction has five pieces: your name, your claim to fame, your message, what you want and then your name again.

She told the group they need to meet 200 new people a year. She gave the group strategies for remembering people, including associating them with the place they met.

“Anybody could be very important to your life,” she said. “You need to meet as many people as you can and impress them right away.”


Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney, a 16-year veteran of the Washington State House of Representatives, told participants in the Latino Advocacy & Leadership Institute to dream big and work together for a better future.


Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney served in the Washington State House of Representatives for 16 years, but her roots are in migrant farmworkers of the Yakima Valley.

Gutierrez-Kenney talked about the importance of Latino leadership.

“We have the numbers and we have the talent,” she said. “We are part of the beautiful fabric of all colors in our community. We need to work together and get involved.”

She said running for office isn’t the only way, and encouraged people to apply for committees and commissions to get experience. She said Latinos also need to exercise their rights, such as voting.

“I would see problems in the community and ask, ‘why don’t they do something about that?’” she said. “Then I asked, where was I? Why didn’t I step forward to help?”

She asked the participants of the forum to step outside their comfort zones and use their skills for the good of everyone. She said there is a risk, of course, but Latinos need the “ganas,” the desire, to be part of the solution.

“We have to work together, never give up, have ganas, and keep dreaming,” she said. “If you had told five-year-old me working in potato fields that I would be a state legislator someday, I would have said, ‘what a wonderful dream’.”


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