Former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño told a crowd gathered at Tequilas restaurant in Waterbury Saturday to “break the shackles” of one party rule.
“No one can be beholden to one party just because throughout history a community has voted one way or another,” Fortuño said. “That makes no sense. If we keep doing the same thing over and over again, the end result will be the same.”
He said no one should take the Latino community and its vote for granted.
State officials estimate that there are between 110,000 and 149,000 registered Latino voters in Connecticut, but Latino advocates believe that number is much, much higher.
The current governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Javier García Padilla, who beat Fortuño by 0.6 percent of the vote, was in Connecticut last week stumping for Republican Tom Foley’s opponent, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Both parties say that proves just how important the Latino vote is in the race for governor. The highest percentage of the Latino population in Connecticut is from Puerto Rico.
Based on numbers from the Secretary of the State’s office, of the estimated 149,917 registered Latino voters, 76,638 are registered as Democrats, 60,786 are registered as unaffiliated, and just 11,585 are registered Republicans.
The battle to increase voter registration in the Republican Party is not unfamiliar to Fortuño, who in 2008 was the first Republican governor elected in Puerto Rico in 35 years.
“Break away and vote with your conscience and vote what is much better for your family,” said Fortuño, who is currently a partner in the Washington office of the law firm Steptoe & Johnson.
Fortuño traveled to Connecticut on Saturday with his son, Luis Roberto Fortuño. The two helped Ruben Rodriguez, who is running for state representative in Waterbury, campaign in the morning before traveling to Waterbury to meet up with the Foley campaign.
Fortuño — who spent four years in Congress followed by four years as governor — said his proudest accomplishments are his three children.
He said they’ve had better opportunities than most kids their age across the country, but he still fears they “will not have a better future than we have had.”
That reality couldn’t be more evident than right here in Connecticut, he said.
“Look four years back and then fast forward into now. No one is better off in Connecticut,” Fortuño said. “Taxes are much higher, so if that’s the end result of these four years, there’s only one thing you should be doing on Nov. 4 — and that’s voting for Tom Foley as governor.”
Fortuño said he’s sympathetic to the fiscal situation Foley would face if he’s elected to office. Nonpartisan analysts are projecting a $1.278 billion deficit for the next fiscal year, which pales in comparison to the one Fortuño faced when he took over in 2009.
Fortuño said Puerto Rico’s deficit was equal to 44 percent of the revenue the territory collected. As a result, “we slashed the budget by 20 percent,” he said. “People don’t like that. People like to talk about it but 20 percent is a lot.”
Even though he implemented the largest tax cut in the territory’s history he lost re-election by 0.6 percent of the vote. He said the economy grew the last two years of his tenure as governor, but it wasn’t enough to propel him to victory.
Foley, who introduced Fortuño, said minorities have been hurt disproportionately by the lagging economy and unemployment rates are as high as 30 percent among some minority groups.
“Our schools that are underperforming fall disproportionately in our cities and hit minority families the hardest,” Foley said. “So I’m going to be focusing on making things more fair in Connecticut.”
He said “minorities are not getting their fair share of government contracting.”
As governor, Foley promised to do more for the Latino community in the area of government contracts. He said Malloy has made promises, but not enough of the jobs are coming into the minority communities.
“They also want to be included in the government and Gov. Malloy has not included any minorities in his administration and they’re upset about it,” Foley said.
Rodriguez said it’s important for Latinos to know that there are other choices out there.
“We’re not here just to have one party. We’re here to vote for the right person,” Rodriquez said.
He was one of several Latino candidates in attendance Saturday. Pablo Soto of Meriden and Eva Maldonado of Stamford attended along with several local and statewide leaders in the Republican Party and the Independent Party.