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MA Politics

Latino State Legislators…A Preview Of The Upcoming Session

Bill Sarno

As the state legislature plunges into its biennial struggle with Connecticut’s budget, the cast of Latino legislators in Hartford includes many familiar faces but also some significant changes.
Democrats control both houses of the legislature and Latinos will be vice chairman of several House committee and hold influential positions within the majority leadership.
Two of the key figures are Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-95) and Jason Rojas (D-9) who  have been named deputy majority leaders. Rojas is also a member of the screening committee, which has a role in deciding which bills move forward through the legislative process.
Candelaria is a member of the Appropriations and Children committees, and the Joint Committee on Legislative Management. He also is chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus.
In the Senate, the first two Hispanics ever elected to that body won again this fall, but only one, Republican Art Linares of Westbrook, will be seated.
With Sen. Andres Ayala (D-23) named to head the Department of Motor Vehicles, it will take at least until late February to find out if there will be a Latino Democrat in the Senate.
Two Latino newcomers, one from each party, were elected to the state House of Representatives in November, joining nine Hispanic Democratic incumbents in that chamber. Last year there were ten Hispanics in that chamber.
Freshmen legislators Aundre Bumgardner (R-41) and Christopher Rosario (D-128) said they want to pursue local transportation projects. Both have been named to the Transportation Committee.
Coming into the 2015 session, Ayala was seen as one of the rising stars of the state Senate and a person of growing influence at the state Capitol. However, in a what many Latino leaders said was a Christmas surprise, Gov. Dannel Malloy named the Bridgeport Democrat to be his new head of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
As a state commissioner, Ayala moves closer to the governor’s inner circle, but the 23rd District not only loses an influential representative in the Senate but also must hold a special election to fill the vacancy. This poll is unlikely to happen until late February at the earliest.
Meanwhile, a second Democrat from Bridgeport is also leaving the legislature. Malloy recently nominated state Rep. Auden Grogins for the state superior court, creating a vacancy which also will have to be filled by a special election. At least one Hispanic, Republican City Councilman Enrique Torres, and Democrat Steve Stafstrom already are in the race.
Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey had appointed Grogins to replace Jason Rojas (D-9) of East Hartford/Manchester as  chairman of the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee. This panel oversees matters related to municipalities such as zoning and planning.
Grogins will be replaced by Rep. Phil Miller, but Bridgeport will be still have a voice on that panel, Rep. Ezequiel Santiago (D-130). Rojas remains on the committee.
Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) of New Britain and Hilda Santiago (D-84) of Meriden have been named assistant majority leaders.’
Rep. Minnie Gonzalez (D-3) of Hartford, who was first elected in 1997 was named  chief majority whip and Ezequiel Santiago was named a deputy majority whip. The whips are the “enforcers” of the legislature, making sure members attend key votes and know what the majority position is.
Rep. Matthew Lesser (D-100) of Middletown, whose mother is from Argentina, is co-chairman of the Banks Committee, which deals with banking, savings and loan, credit unions, securities selling and lending.  He will also serve on the Appropriations and Government Administration and Elections committees.
In the House, the new minority leader, Themis Klarides, announced leadership and committee membership for 2015-2017 in December.
“I understand the Republicans already have their business card printed,” Rosario joked in early January.
The Democrats knew who their leaders would be early in December, but had to wait until two days before the Jan. 7 session opening to learn their committee assignments with Sharkey having met with the various chairman to discuss memberships.
When the Democratic Majority Caucus reported its House committee appointments Monday evening, several Latinos were among the vice chairmen.
Edwin Vargas (D-6) of Hartford is vice chairman of two committees: Commerce  and  Executive and Legislative Nominations. He also is a member of the Appropriations and the Children committees.
Victor Cuevas  (D-75) of Waterbury is vice chairman of Labor and Public Employees. He is a member of Insurance and Real Estate and of Appropriations.
Angel Arce (D-4) of Hartford is vice chairman of Transportation and is on the Housing and Judiciary committees.
Robert Sanchez (D-25) of New Britain is vice chairman of the Education Committee and a member of Finance, Revenue and Bonding as well as  Higher Education and Employment Advancement.
Hilda Santiago (D-84) of Meriden is vice chairman of Finance, Revenue and Bonding. She also is a member of Appropriations, Banks and Human Services committees.
Rosario was named to Appropriations and Energy and Technology committee.
Gonzalez is on Public Safety and Security along with the Judiciary Committee.
In addition to Planning and Development, Ezequiel Santiago has been named to the Commerce and Appropriations committees.
As for the Republican Latinos, Linares will be the ranking member of the Planning and Development Committee and also serve on the education, internship and judiciary committees.
In the House, Bumgardner was assigned to Finance, Revenue and Sharing, which pleased him. “I get to vote on the budget before everyone else and have a say on tax policies.”
Describing himself as a fiscal conservative, Bumgardner said his No. 1 priority is to get the state in good fiscal health. The 20-year-old Republican from Groton said the state should become  less reliant on bonding for projects that are not major capital projects such as highway resurfacing.
“We have to get away from gimmicky budgets,” Bumgardner said.
Bumgardner’s other committee assignments are education and transportation.  He said he is still formulating his education agenda and was concerned about the oversight and transparency of charter school management.
One transportation project Bumgardner wants to advance is a water taxi service on the Thames River to link New London and Groton. The taxis would connect attractions on both sides of the river such as the rising Coast Guard museum and help get people to work, dining and nightlife.
Rosario wants to continue the Bridgeport Democrats’ push for a second rail station in that city. The station, which would be in his east side, is seen as crucial to economic development in Rosario’s district along with the neighboring districts represented by Ezequiel Santiago and Andre Baker (D-124).

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