New Leaders Need Apply

In a presidential election year that includes two Latino Republican candidates running for the top job—one of them calling for the mass deportation of approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States—an assessment of Latino leadership may be warranted.

According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the number of Latinos in public offices nationwide reached 6,124 in 2015. That’s a good number but certainly far from sufficient, especially considering the negative attention and legislation facing Latinos.

Last year entrepreneur Jorge Baldor decided to energize potential Latino candidates by creating the Latino Center for Leadership Development (LCLD). Born in Cuba, Baldor grew up in Dallas where he co-founded his business ResidentCheck, a national tenant background screening service. As the Latino population continued to grow in the Dallas metro area, he began to notice the growing number of issues facing the community and the lack of Latino elected officials to address them.

One issue of particular concern to Baldor was preserving Texas law, HB1403 that allows undocumented college students to qualify for in-state tuition. He formed LCLD with a personal investment and embarked on a successful campaign,, to stop efforts to repeal the law. In a state like Texas that has grown increasingly conservative and with a national climate and political rhetoric that reflects a growing hostility toward Latino immigrants, one wonders how Baldor and the LCLD managed to secure continued support for this law and the DREAMers?

“The argument against in-state tuition for DREAMers was that if they can’t work, then why get the education,” asserts Rebecca Acuña, LCLD executive director. “But now, in-state tuition for immigrant students has been in place since 2001 and we have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We can point directly to the benefits of in-state tuition when these young people testify before the legislature. Student after student testified that because of the law, they were able to go to college. Because of DACA, they have obtained work permits and have been able to give back even more to their community.”

Celebrating its first anniversary on March 14, the Dallas-based organization has launched the LCLD Leadership Academy, forged a partnership with Southern Methodist University (SMU) to create the Latino CDL-SMU Tower Center Policy Institute, and initiated a study abroad program in Mexico for undocumented college students or DREAMers.

“This Academy helps people build on their expertise, increase their networks, and consider ways they can be most effective as agents for our community,” shares Acuña. “Through the Academy, they meet policy experts, elected officials, and people who have worked on campaigns who can tell them about different ways to serve, whether that be through elected office or on city boards and commissions.”

As for the LCLD, Baldor’s plan appears to be working. The initial cohort of fourteen from the Leadership Academy of fourteen has spawned four candidates for public office, as well as five who are serving on local boards or commissions, even though the program is only halfway completed.

“I’ve been so impressed with the Leadership Academy, I can’t say enough positive things about it,” says Jaime Resendez, 33, a Leadership Academy fellow who has opted to run for a trustee position with the Dallas Independent School District.  This is the first campaign for the attorney and Army veteran who served a year in Iraq.  “I’ve never liked politics, I still don’t, but this was something I knew I wanted to do and the Academy will help connect me to the people I need to know to help me run a successful campaign.”

As for the Latino Policy Institute at SMU (Baldor’s alma mater), the first post-doctorate candidate has been selected, Aileen Cardona-Arroyo, who currently teaches Latino politics at SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies. She’s excited by the prospect of bridging academia with policymakers. “It’s important to encourage research-driven policies,” she explains. “The institute will invest in research as well as policy implementation.”

As part of LCLD’s anniversary celebration, the Institute presented a joint policy forum where the main topic was how media coverage of immigration affects policy. ““I’ve found that public opinion on immigration is not just a matter of partisan identification, but also group-politics,” shares Cardona-Arroyo who has based her doctoral research on this topic. “While pro-immigrant protests increase welcoming attitudes on immigration among Latinos, they also increase restrictive views among non-Latinos.”

The names of the ten DACA students or graduates chosen out of 250 applicants to participate in the study abroad program were also announced at the anniversary celebration.  LCLD, the Mexican Government, and El Colegio de México (COLMEX) will collaborate in this all-expense-paid project that seeks to provide students an opportunity to learn about Mexican history and Mexico-U.S. relations through courses offered in Spanish at the Colegio from June 6, 2016–July 8, 2016.

With only a year completed, LCLD, like its founder is nothing if not ambitious. “We’re hoping to build a leadership pipeline,” says Acuña.

All LCLD programs are free and open to the public. For more information go to

By Valerie Menard