As a conservative Latino, Ignacio Valdez has at times drawn the ire of his more left-leaning peers.

"I have been called a traitor. I've been called all sorts of names. I've been rejected," said Valdez, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico who unsuccessfully vied this cycle as a Republican for a Utah House seat serving part of Ogden.

At least some of the ire, he thinks, stems from former President Donald Trump's harsh remarks over the years directed at undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. "How can he be OK with someone who has said such things?" his critics wonder. Valdez, however, said he understands where Trump is coming from, and the criticism he draws due to his conservative views doesn't sway him.

"I don't care. I do whatever I want with my life," Valdez said.

Black and Latino voters have historically tilted more to the left and the Democratic Party, according to the Pew Research Center, Gallup and other researchers. They are hardly monolithic, though, and numerous conservatives of color, like Valdez, have emerged on Utah's political scene, reflecting shifting attitudes nationwide as indicated in polling released last February by Gallup. Broadly, the polling shows that while the Democratic Party still musters more support from Black and Latin Americans than the Republican Party, the gap is narrowing.

Whether what's happening in Utah is a new trend, an anomaly, the same as it's always been or a reflection of the conservative tilt in the state can be debated. But for conservatives like Valdez and Cari Bartholomew, a biracial Utah State Board of Education candidate from Payson, the explanation for their political affiliation is straightforward — the Republican Party and conservative movement align with their beliefs, conventional political wisdom notwithstanding.

Ignacio Valdez, who ran as a Republican for the District 10 seat in the Utah House in Weber County, in an undated photo. | Ignacio Valdez

The push toward more and more conservative minority candidates "is growing," Bartholomew said, but they don't always get the media attention she thinks they deserve. She's vying for the District 13 school board seat as a Republican and will face GOP incumbent Randy Boothe in the June 25 primary.

Rod Hall, a Black Republican candidate for the District 3 school board seat, echoed that. He said he’s seeing “more and more” Black people turn to the conservative movement. Hall will face off in the Republican primary against incumbent Brent Strate.

Jamie Renda, who is white, thinks conservative principles of self-reliance and educational choice can resonate among Black and other minority communities, which figured in her efforts in launching Path Forward Utah. The Ogden-based organization works with "diverse communities," aiming to empower them, serving as a safe space of sorts for conservative minorities and promoting the conservative cause.

Most Black conservatives are "shunned in their communities if they think different. They're an outcast in their community," said Renda, a board member of the organization who first got involved in racial issues in the late 1990s in lobbying for removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol while living there. Bartholomew, Davis County Republican Party Chairman Yemi Arunsi, who is Black, and Carlos Moreno, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Venezuela who's running as a Republican for the Salt Lake County Council, are also Path Forward Utah board members, among others.

Whatever issues minorities may face in taking on the Republican label, Utahns have already elected two Black Republicans to federal office, among other postings — U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, who serves the 4th District, and Mia Love, who used to hold the post.

Moreover, Hall, a pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Layton, said he hasn't received any backlash from others in the Black community as a Black man vying for office as a Republican. More to the point, he said the conservative movement aligns with his religious beliefs and "all those things that the Bible teaches."

For her part, Bartholomew, similar to Hall, said she's a believer in the principle of bettering yourself through your own gumption, a notion typically aligned with the Republican Party. "I'm fiercely independent, and I don't believe in the bigotry of low expectations," she said.

Progressives or those on the left, she charges, "get caught up in kindness, and they lower the bar," leading to distribution of benefits or aid that can generate a sense of entitlement or complacency among recipients. "The conservative cause is more you get what you put into it," she said.

From left, Rod Hall, Jamie Renda of Path Forward Utah and Cari Bartholomew. Hall and Bartholomew are running as Republicans for seats on the Utah State Board of Education. | Tim Vandenack,

Aside from running for office, Hall, Bartholomew and other conservatives are already using their political voices to push for change. They were among a sizable contingent of people of color who testified earlier this year before Utah lawmakers on behalf of HB261, the controversial measure, ultimately approved, that scales back diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Utah's public universities. Many others in the Black and Latino community had blasted HB261 as a step back in the fight for civil rights.

What's more, even if a majority of Latinos lean Democratic, Valdez — who lost to Jill Koford at the GOP nominating convention for the District 10 Utah House seat — thinks the Republican Party better aligns with the values of the community. He sees the Republican Party as the party of law and order, entrepreneurship and prosperity, values that are near and dear to many Latinos. Indeed, he suspects more and more could start shifting their allegiance to the conservative cause in the years to come.

“A lot of Hispanics, they are going to start voting that way in the next few elections,” he predicts.