Latinos Make Gains In CT, Now Worry About Future Progress


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Representative-elect Chris Soto (D)

For many of Connecticut’s largely Democratic Latino population, a day that began with great hope turned into a night of dismay, disbelief and concern as the Republican billionaire Donald Trump steadily accumulated electoral votes.
Early in the evening it was clear that Latinos had helped Democrat Hillary Clinton easily garner Connecticut’s seven electoral votes by contributing huge margins in the cities where they primarily reside. The margin was unofficially 25,000 votes in Hartford, 11,000 in New Haven, and 9,000 in New Britain and Bridgeport.
The urban vote also helped assure re-election of Democrats to the U.S. Senate and the House of Representative and resulted in a dozen Latino state representatives being able to easily buck a Republican surge in the legislature.
However, as the night wore on, local and state successes faded into the background as it became clear a candidate who had derided Hispanics and other immigrants, would become the next president despite strong support for Clinton by Latinos in several states.  
“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Jason Ortiz, a Puerto Rican, who had managed the successful primary campaign of Chris Soto, who was elected to the state House on Tuesday. “I just don’t even know what to say,” Ortiz added.
Yanil Teron, Director of the Center for Latino Progress, speaks at a gathering of Latino leaders last year.
Some Latino leaders expressed worry about how a Trump presidency would impact immigrants since he had promised to remove those people, especially Mexicans, who were in the country without proper documents.
“I am very concerned for the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) youth and immigrant families,” said Yanil Teron, director of the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford, who had strongly opposed Trump’s election.
Members of Connecticut Students for A Dream, a group consisting of undocumented immigrant young people, had gathered at the University of Connecticut and the Ecuadorian Civic Center with immigrant families and first-time Latino voters. “We’re all fairly anxious awaiting the results,” said Eric Cruz Lopez, a spokesperson for the organization.
There was little anxiety, however, for the eleven Latino Democrats currently in the state House. Each won re-election easily, often with only token opposition. These winners are Angel Arce, Minnie Gonzalez and Edwin Vargas in Hartford, Ezequiel Santiago and Chris Rosario, in Bridgeport,  Jason Rojas in East Hartford, Juan Candelaria in New Haven and Bobby Sanchez in New Britain, Matthew Lesser in Middletown, Hilda Santiago in Meriden and Geraldo Reyes in Waterbury.
Connecticut’s Hispanic community is far from monolithic and within this population there were political leaders such as Ruben Rodriguez, a founder and chairman of the Latino National Republican Coalition of CT. “I’m really excited with the results of this elections, nationally especially in Florida where a big margin of Hispanics live and gave the vote to Trump and (U.S. Senator) Marco Rubio,” said Rodriguez, a conservative Republican, active in Waterbury.
At the same time, Rodriguez acknowledged the need to improve the in-state results. “I know we wanted to do better in Connecticut,” Rodriguez said, “but it will take some time. We are working hard in reaching out to Latinos in Connecticut explaining to them that the GOP just wants to help and fix what Democrats have damaged.”
Like the CT Hispanic Democratic Caucus, the Republican group is looking forward to the 2018 state elections when the ballot will be topped by the governor race. “We are hoping by 2018 in Connecticut will have more involvement of the Latino community in the Republican party,” Rodriguez said.
With the election of another Hispanic Democrat, Soto in New London, the Latino contingent, along with the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, will represent a bigger part of the Democratic majority which is expected to shrink to only seven seats, pending some possible recounts, thanks to Republicans posting a net gain of eight seats.
Soto’s election was virtually assured by his Democratic primary victory over a longtime incumbent. In Tuesday’s general election, the former Coast Guard officer garnered 84 percent of the vote and established himself, according to some party leaders, as one of the Democrats rising stars.
Meanwhile, in the southern section of New London, which with southern Groton across the Thames River, comprises House District 39, Republican Andre Bumgardner, a Republican incumbent, was ousted by Joe de la Cruz. The winner’s unofficial margin was about 800 votes.
De la Cruz, who was born in Germany and whose heritage is Filipino and Irish, beat Bumgardner who, as a 19-year-old, won by 39 votes in 2014, in both New London and Groton. De la Cruz also was endorsed by the Working Family Party.
The lone Latino state senator, Arthur Linares (R-33) of Westbrook turned aside Essex First Selectman by approximately 8,000 votes. Linares, who is of Cuban descent, won by about 5,000 votes in 2014, although he lost unofficially in four of twelve towns compared to only two last time.
In Senate District 33, Linares again demonstrated his ability to win over a traditionally Democratic constituency. Most district towns had supported Clinton by small margins, with Linares’ hometown of Westbrook one of the exceptions in that it backed Trump by less than 300 votes.
During the campaign, the Democrats had targeted Linares because he had been a Trump delegate while the Republicans focused on the unpopularity of Democratic governor Dannel Malloy.
Linares’ victory was crucial to Republicans who have apparently picked up enough seats elsewhere to gain an 18-18 tie in that chamber. In the case of tie votes, Democratic Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman would cast a deciding vote.
In two widely watched House races, Republican Emanuela Palmares, attempting to be the first Brazilian elected to the legislature, lost to 12-term incumbent Bob Godfrey (D-110) and Democrat Eva Bermudez Zimmerman failed to oust Republican incumbent Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) in Newtown.
Godfrey built a 1,300 vote margin in the downtown Danbury district as the city as a whole went strongly  for Clinton and Blumenthal.
The Trump factor was cited by Bermudez as helping the two-term incumbent Bolinsky in the suburban Newtown district, which gave a 250-vote margin to the presidential winner. “At this point, I think it’s a sign of the climate, a sign of the push for the new president,” she said in The Danbury News-Times.
Other Latino candidates came up short against incumbents. In Senatorial District 8, which includes Avon, Canton and other suburban towns, Democrat David Peña, who is of Mexican descent, lost to incumbent Kevin Witkos by about 15,000 votes.
Desiree Agosto, a Republican, was defeated by incumbent Peter Tercyak (D-26). Republican Jose Quiroga in Bridgeport and Green Party candidate Hector Lopez in New Canaan and Wilton were over-matched by incumbents.
Latino support was unable to help Democrats win in two key races involving districts that combined urban and suburban communities.
In the 22nd House District, Dr. William Petit, a well-known Republican newcomer, defeated longtime incumbent Democrat Betty Boukus, by running up a huge margin in Plainville, which also backed Trump. Boukus had won the smaller part of the district that is part of New Britain, an area with a sizable Latino population.
In Senate District 13, two-term incumbent Dante Bartolomeo, a Democrat who also was endorsed by the Working Families Party, unofficially lost to Len Suzio by about 500 votes.
Bartolomeo won in Middletown and Meriden, where she was strongly supported by incumbent state Rep. Hilda Santiago and City Councilor Miguel Castro on Tuesday night. There was a good turnout of Latinos in Meriden, Castro said, but he added that Suzio built up a big lead in Cheshire and Middlefield.
The Republican’s success in the state legislature election brought a warning from the Working Families Party which includes many Latinos such as Wildalid Bermudez, a member of the Hartford City Council.
“Tonight’s results spell disaster for working families across Connecticut, said Lindsay Farrell, WFP state director, who attributed Republican gains to the influence of corporate money. “We can expect more cuts and less opportunities for regular, everyday people as Republicans, emboldened by victories tonight, will try to chip away at the progress we’ve made through investments in our workforce,” Farrell added in a press release.