By Suzanne Bates
After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential race, in part because of his poor showing amongst Latino voters, Republicans started having a more earnest conversation about how to appeal to Latinos. That conversation has been taking place in Connecticut as well, and some of the state’s prominent Latino Republicans have advice for the GOP in reaching out to this growing segment of the voting population.
Ed Lopez-Reyes, who lives in Coventry and is national vice-chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a group known for its early support of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and one that promotes policies and candidates who support free markets and individual liberty, said he thinks the GOP offers Latinos a message of opportunity.
Lopez-Reyes said he has worked with many Latinos who are conservative, including some who identify with the Tea Party movement. “Latino voters are not as monolithic as people would suggest,” he said. “I meet with a lot of Hispanic members of the Tea party, who believe in the tea party message – they are upset about high taxes and Obamacare.”
Lopez-Reyes said where he thinks the GOP went wrong is by not doing more to appeal to urban voters, and by abandoning issues like environmentalism and public transportation.
“I ask my friends who live in Hartford why they are ok with the way things are in their city and their state, and the response is a blank stare,” he said. “Why hasn’t the GOP capitalized on that?”
He acknowledges, Republicans in the state have some work to do – of the 22,000 new Latino voters who registered for the 2012 election, only 6 percent registered as Republicans, while 48 percent registered as Democrats and another 46 percent were unaffiliated, according
to Sec. of the State Denise Merrill. Of the total population of Latino voters in Connecticut, estimated to be about 157,000, 8 percent are registered Republican, 52 percent are registered Democrats, and 39 percent are unaffiliated.
Connecticut is a state that is pretty dark blue, so the numbers aren’t overly shocking, but statewide Republican candidates have in the past found a foothold by staking out a middle ground. That didn’t work in 2010 and 2012, when GOP candidates were trounced in the state’s biggest cities, but without gaining some traction with Latino voters in the future most statewide GOP candidates face a huge obstacle.
State Sen. Art Linares (R-Westbrook), is among the Latino GOP leaders who says he would like to help the GOP reach out to Latinos. The first term legislator was elected in 2012 to what was considered a safe Democratic seat, he now says Republicans need to listen to Latinos. “Rather than saying that what we need to do is appeal to Latino voters, what we need to do is understand what the struggles are of the Latino population, what their needs and desires are as a community,” he said.
Linares, who at 25 years old is also one of the state’s youngest office-holders, said he was inspired to run for office by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who was running for his senate seat in Florida when Linares was a student at the University of Tampa.
Linares said many of the Latinos he knows are entrepreneurs like him. Linares started his solar energy company, Greenskies, when he was still a student. His father was also an entrepreneur.
Latinos are focused on building prosperity and making a better life for their families, he said. That includes a focus on education, economic investment and healthcare. Those issues don’t sound like traditional Republican issues, but Linares said he likes to look at solutions without attaching party labels to them.
Hector Reveron, who ran for a state senate seat in East Hartford in 2012, but lost to his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Gary LeBeau, said that the state GOP needs to do more to help candidates who can appeal to Latino voters.
After growing up in a “horrible situation” in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx, Reveron said he was able to lift himself out of poverty with the help us his mother and by staying out of trouble and getting his education.
Reveron said he was attracted to the GOP because the party talks about personal responsibility. He said he believes the Democrats keep Latinos in poverty by keeping them on government assistance. “It makes me sad to see all of these Latinos living in areas that are so economically impoverished,” he said. “The constant presence of the nanny state is keeping them down. They think (Republicans) want to keep them down – but we want to help them be better on their own.”
Reveron’s mother received government assistance, and he said he understands that there are times in people’s lives when they need help, but he said he was frustrated when he saw people who tried to get a job, only to have all of their assistance yanked away, which then forced them to give up going to work.
All three men – Linares, Lopez-Reyes and Reveron – said a priority for the GOP is to change the way it addresses immigration.
“We need to be the party that says we want immigrants to come to America, because they bring that drive and ambition to live the American dream that is so important for our future,” said Linares.
But Lopez-Reyes said he meets many Latinos, especially those whose families have lived in the U.S. for generations, who say that immigrants need to follow the rule of law when they enter the United States, and who express concerns about the economic impact of unfettered immigration.