Having long been overshadowed by their Democratic counterparts, conservative Latinos in Connecticut will enter 2015 confident that they can grab a bigger share of the state’s political spotlight.
The first big step was taken Dec. 6 at a Meriden restaurant with the initiation of a new statewide entity, the Latino National Republican Coalition of Connecticut, formed to identify and engage support.
This move was quickly followed up by the creation of an LNRC of CT page on Facebook. Set up as an information center and gathering place for supporters, this page can be reached via https://www.facebook.com/LNRCofCT.
“Here you will find other like-minded Connecticut conservative Latinos and Latinas,” said Pablo Soto, who recently ran for state representative in Meriden and Berlin and is the new group’s second vice president.
Coming soon, is the formulation of a legislative agenda based largely on input from the state’s urban Hispanic communities.
The formation of LNRC of CT was based on the belief that with better organization Hispanic conservatives can bring into the political process what is seen as a largely untapped reservoir of support for conservative Republican values and principles within the Latino community.
“I think that Latinos for the most part have always been conservative,” said Ruben Rodriquez, LNRC of CT’s first chairman. “What you see emerging now is a group of
concerned residents who are seeking to fully engage this community with regard to politics,” said Rodriquez.
The LNRC of CT also will attempt to erase the perception that the Hispanic vote is exclusively a Democratic domain. “It’s time we show Connecticut that the headlock on Hispanics of this state will no longer continue unchallenged,” said Jay Gonzalez, one of the coalition’s founders. “Many Hispanics have conservative views and values, and we feel with better organization we can turn a lot of heads,” Gonzales said.
Both Soto and Gonzalez are members of the nonpartisan state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
In launching their new organization, the Latino conservatives were helped by Meriden Mayor Manny Santos (R), who secured the meeting site, and by Ruben Estrada, chairman of Latino National Republican Coalition of New York, who provided guidance.
The Connecticut coalition’s officers are Rodriguez; Soto; Isaias Diaz, an attorney and former chairman on LPRAC, as vice-chairman; Eva Maldonado, a recent Republican candidate for state Senate in Stamford, as secretary; and Maria Serrano-Palazzo of Meriden as treasurer.
Both the New York and Connecticut groups fall under the umbrella of the Latino National Republican Coalition (LatinoNRC), which describes itself as “a conservative grassroots movement that is attempting to build a voting base within Latino communities across the nation.”
In addition to New York and Connecticut, there are chapters in Florida, Texas, Illinois and the District of Columbia.
The national coalition describes its mission as being to elect Latino Republicans to all levels of government, to provide a forum to empower
Latino Republican voting constituency through recruitment and training, and to serve as a voice for Latinos on national issues and policies.
“We are dedicated to free market principles, traditional family values, and believe in the supremacy of the Constitution as the guiding principle for the Republic,” says the group’s mission statement.
Connecticut conservative Latinos can be expected to translate these principles in terms of what they see as the best route for their community and the state.
“We look forward to seeing improvements in the communities where we all live,” Rodriguez said.
For Soto, who also is a member of the Republican state central committee, there generally is not a significant distinction between Hispanic and non-Hispanic conservatives on issues such as controlling immigration. However, he said the idea of rounding up millions of undocumented immigrants and shipping them out is unrealistic.
As to an emphasis on the minimum wage, which has the support of Democratic Hispanics, Soto said, “I believe that this hurts our society, especially the Latino community more than it helps.”
Speaking as a Latino, Soto said he “would prefer members of our community to aspire to achieve success and have a secure financial future rather than spend their lifetime working for a minimum wage or advocating to increase it.”
To determine how LNRC of CT stands on various issues, Rodriguez said the group will hold a series of mid-January meetings in partnership with black Republicans and conservatives in various urban communities to find out what the residents say is important.
“Then we will set up meetings with legislators to discuss what can be done,” he said.
The state’s conservative Latinos also are developing a strategy to expand their base, particularly among the state’s Puerto Ricans who, thanks to their citizenship status, currently represent the largest source of Latino voters in Connecticut
“Republican values and principles are very common in Puerto Rico,” Rodriguez said. “The island turnout is 70 percent or higher, but that doesn’t translate when the citizens move to the States,” he said.
At the same time, Rodriguez recognizes that with the growing diversity of the Latino population, energizing the Puerto Rican community is not enough. “Many residents who come from Cuba or Mexico or Peru have different feelings about voting and they will need to be engaged differently,” he said.
Another hurdle LNRC of CT will need to overcome is that Republicans do not fare well in voter registration numbers for the Latino population. According to 2013 estimates from the secretary of state, more than 81,000 registrants listed themselves as Democrats compared to about 14,000 signed up as Republicans. However, more than 62,000 Latinos were registered as unaffiliated with any party. This list, while the only official source, has been criticized because it depends only on name recognition of Latino names by the Secretary of state’s office.
These numbers greatly handicapped candidates like Maldonado, Soto and Rodriguez who ran unsuccessfully in districts with large Latino populations.
However, two young Hispanic Republicans were victorious in state legislative districts where the Latino electorate is relatively small.
Art Linares, whose grandfather fled the Castro regime in Cuba, won a second term from Senate District 33 which covers the lower Connecticut River Valley and part of the shore. He is 26.
Aundre Bumgardner, 20, won election to the state House from a district that includes parts of New London and Groton. His mother is from Puerto Rico and his father has African-American and Panamanian roots.
Both Linares and Bumgardner are considered by the state’s Republican leaders as among the party’s rising stars.