Bill Sarno CTLatinoNews Thoughout his teen years, or practically half his life, Aundré Bumgardner has worked in political campaigns for Republican candidates in southeast Connecticut. This year, at age 20, Bumgardner, whose describes his roots as Hispanic and African-American, decided to run for himself. He obtained his party’s nod to run for the state House from the 41st District, a constituency that is bisected by the Thames River and covers the coastal areas of his hometown of Groton and New London. Bumgardner’s opposition was formidable. Democratic Elissa Wright was seeking her fifth term and had a big edge in name recognition and party registration. Moreover, the Democrat’s slate included U.S. Representative Joe Courtney. a big vote-getter in the area. Bumgardner won by 39 votes, getting his slim victory margin from an area of New London that had been strongly Democratic in recent elections. “I was the only Republican to win the district,” he said. Bumgardner became, not only the youngest legislator to serve this term in the legislature, but also his party’s lone representative among a dozen candidates with Latino roots who were elected to the state House on Nov. 4. The new state representative’s Hispanic background is linked to the Caribbean and Central America. His mother, Elizabeth, was born in Puerto Rico and was a bilingual teacher in New London Public Schools for many years. Currently, she is principal for North Windham Elementary School. Bumgardner’s father Pierre, an employee of the Town of East Lyme, was raised in New York by his mother, Marcela Gonzalez, who emigrated from Panama. The representative-elect has two younger siblings and the household, he said, does not generally share his passion for politics. Bumgardner said he did not run as a Latino or African-American. He said his victory was a “testament to hard work” and his ability to share his story convincingly with voters.The 41st District’s population was less than 10 percent Hispanic and black, according to Census figures. However, Bumgardner said he did find sections that were largely black or Hispanic and had not been previously touched by Republican candidates. “I won these areas,” he said. Another place where the young Republican made a strong impression was in a televised debate sponsored by The Day newspaper. He represented his generation well against an experienced candidate more than three times is age, coming across as knowledgeable, energetic and articulate. His candidacy won the New London’s newspaper’s endorsement despite stated differences with his free market economics and his view that the state’s gun laws should be weakened. In January, after being sworn in to office, Bumgardner plans to join the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. The only other Republican Latino eligible is incumbent Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook who has had little contact with the all-Democratic caucus. Bumgardner looks forward to joining the group, which is primarily comprised of Democrats from the state’s largest cities. He views participation as an obligation from someone who represents a district with an urban component, including Groton’s downtown area. “There is no shortage of issues for urban areas,” Bumgardner said.
He is a major exponent of invigorating the southeast Connecticut economy, possibly by shifting some of the shrinking casino revenue from Hartford to the region affected. Bumgardner espouses a “paradigm shift” in urban development, using a transit oriented approach to establish cultural and lifestyle changes to “reclaim the cities.”
Among the issues he plans to champion are an extension of commuter rail service to link New London with T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island.
Another project he endorses is using water taxis to connect New London’s Bank Street area to downtown Groton, Fort Trumbull and the Nautilus museum. He said a pilot program last summer was successful and he is holding Governor Dannel Malloy to his promise to provide funding for a permanent setup.
There is a personal side to Bumgardner’s interest in water commutation. It could relieve him of the need to drive through to other districts to get from his home to the New London portion of his constituency.
Bumgardner’s background spans both towns. He was born in New London but grew up in Groton where he is a member of the Republican Town Committee. Bumgardner graduated from the Regional Multicultural Magnet School and the Isaac Interdistrict Magnet School for Arts and Communication, both in New London. He attended a boarding school for high school in Weston, Mass. and did his freshman year at Stetson University in Florida before taking a year off to be closer to home and to follow his political ambitions. He plans to continue his college education.
Generally, Bumgardner does not like to label himself but admits he is sort of a “Yankee Republican,” fiscally conservative and progressive on social issues.
“What I offer is a unique set of experiences that define me as a person, as a thinker,” he said.
These experiences include several years working for local and state party leaders and candidates in the New London and Groton area. Bumgardner said his political career began volunteering for then Congressman Rob Simmons, whose wife Edith was his writing teacher in fourth and fifth grade. He rates Simmons as one of the two party leaders he most admires. The other, Tom Foley with whom as a teenager he did an internship during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. “He would have made a great governor … he has a unique skill set that would have shaken up Hartford,” Bumgardner says of Foley who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010 and this year.
As for Bumgardner’s future, he and Linares are seen as two of their party’s future stars. Or as one senior state Republican leader described the incoming state representative, “one of CTGOP’s young guns.”