Tony Vargas entered the District 7 legislative race on Tuesday, giving voters in the heavily Latino South Omaha district the choice of a Latino candidate along with a former state senator and a brand new senator appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Vargas, 31, is a bilingual Peruvian-American and a member of the Omaha Public Schools board of education.
"I look forward to continuing to be an advocate for families, workers and small business owners in my community of downtown and South Omaha," Vargas said.
His entry into the 2016 race to select a successor to former Sen. Jeremy Nordquist shines a spotlight on the 7th District contest. The Legislature contains no Latino members.
Already in the contest are former Sen. John Synowiecki and newly appointed Sen. Nicole Fox.
The legislative district includes the heart of South Omaha, which is almost 50 percent Latino, along with older eastern European immigrant neighborhoods and downtown Omaha. Vargas lives in the Little Italy neighborhood.
Vargas was an applicant for appointment to fill the vacancy created by Nordquist's resignation to become chief of staff to Rep. Brad Ashford. But Ricketts chose Fox as the newest state senator.
Vargas was appointed to the Omaha school board in 2013.
A former public school teacher in New York City, he now works as an education policy consultant.
Vargas is the son of Peruvian immigrants; his father was a machinist and his mother worked on a factory assembly line.
Ray Aguilar of Grand Island has been the Legislature's only Latino member. He left office in 2009.
Vargas and Synowiecki are Democrats, while Fox is a Republican. Although state senators are elected on a nonpartisan ballot, the 7th District is heavily Democratic.