Non-Latino Legislators – Voices for Latino Constituents


From left to right: Rep. Matthew Ritter (D-Hartford), Sen. Terry Gerratana and Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield (D-Hamden, New Haven).
When it comes to Latino issues, does it matter if your representative is non-Latino? Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield (D-Hamden, New Haven), Sen. Terry Gerratana, representing New Britain, Farmington and Berlin, and Rep. Matthew Ritter (D-Hartford) are three influential legislators who are non-Latinos, but are the voices for some of the state’s largest Latino communities.
Their platforms and policies they fight for show them to be in tune with the nuances separating urban from suburban approaches to issues such as education, crime, taxes and jobs. As they continue to be players in Connecticut politics, it is important their Latino constituents get to know them better.
Holder-Winfield and Gerratana have prioritized immigration as one of their constituents’ main concerns this session.
“The bill that has everyone’s attention is of undocumented residents obtaining drivers’ licenses,” Gerratana said.
Holder-Winfield has resisted the federal government’s attempts to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Instead, he has taken the opposite approach by seeing how to best integrate immigrants into city life. “We have to deal with those issues, since the federal government doesn’t have a comprehensive immigration strategy that works,” he said.
One of Gerratana’s main focus areas is strengthening infrastructure in transportation and education to put local residents into jobs, specifically in Jackson Laboratories at the UConn Medical Center, CTfastrak, and job training programs at Tunxis Community College.
“That’s been my broader vision,” Gerratana said. “To improve the economy, to provide more jobs, and of course . . .a transportation system that will get them to those jobs.”
Holder-Winfield, an education reformer who recently announced his candidacy for Mayor of New Haven, envisions the major cities around the state being supported in “a more regional way” by contributing to the quality of life of their surrounding communities.
“The people in the suburbs want social service resources located in cities like New Haven, because the people who need those resources are people that [suburbanites] don’t necessarily want in their suburban community,” he said bluntly, adding that the towns then balk at paying for those city services through their own taxes. “It’s difficult to have that conversation because they say, ‘We don’t have this problem.’ It would behoove them to think of this differently.”
Ritter, a former Hartford City Council member, spoke proudly of his two terms spent fighting to spare Hartford residents from a massive tax increase that would double what residents were paying. “We obviously passed a bill so that it did not happen. It got passed the last night in the Senate, with eight minutes to go before midnight.”
He said his opposition to the death penalty is another highlight of his platform.
Both Gerratana and Ritter advocate for the need to prepare for healthcare reform so urban residents can leverage the changes to their advantage.
“Next year, we have the Affordable Care Act coming on, and this is going to mean that there will be more jobs . . .more healthcare jobs in our community,” Gerratana said.
Ritter added that in 2014 residents will be able to buy insurance though exchanges thanks to the Affordable Care Act. “It’s been fast and furious; the governor has been terrific; the commissioner of insurance has been terrific.”
The three legislators all have plans to improve schools in their districts. Gerratana and Ritter both said they are proud of the work they have been doing to help individual schools in their districts, such as DiLoreto Magnet Elementary School in New Britain and Jumoke Academy Middle School in Hartford, respectively.
Gerratana also pointed out the funding that she and the rest of the New Britain delegation secured for in-school services, including a family resource center and an additional school-based health center.
Social support services in schools are critical in cities that face high crime rates and challenges to families, Holder-Winfield said. “Trauma is something I’ve talked about a lot. Because our communities are so compressed, because there tends to be more violence, our young people have to deal with those things.”
He said the key is to get legislators to recognize that dealing with the children, so they are capable of learning in an at times violent environment, should come before dealing with the schools themselves.