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National Journal

Hill People: Luis Fortuno

By Lisa Caruso

20 November 2004
Copyright © 2004 National Journal Group Inc. All rights reserved.

He's young, ambitious -- and the first Republican to represent Puerto Rico in Congress. Luis Fortuno, 44, is a rising star in the GOP, particularly as the party aggressively mines the Hispanic community for new voters. A Republican national committeeman, Fortuno served as a spokesman for the Bush campaign at both parties' conventions; he was one of 25 congressional candidates to address the GOP convention, even though as a delegate from a U.S. territory, he won't have a vote on the House floor. He campaigned for the president in the battleground of Central Florida, which boasts a growing Puerto Rican community, and cut a radio ad for Florida's Senate candidate Mel Martinez, who went on to win on November 2.

Fortuno intends to make his mark in Washington, floor vote or not, and he recognizes his value to a party that counts only four Hispanics in the House (Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all representing Florida, and Texan Henry Bonilla); Martinez will be the only Hispanic member of the GOP in the Senate. The party knows Fortuno's value, too -- he received campaign donations from the Republican National Committee, the PAC of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., and the campaigns of such GOP heavyweights as Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., and was formally welcomed to Congress by Speaker Dennis Hastert on Thursday. "I intend to be a voice to attract Hispanic voters, as well as on mainstream issues," Fortuno said. "Hopefully, our party will be able to show that the Republican Party ... truly opens its doors to minority groups." On Tuesday, he was elected vice president of the 2005 House freshman class.

According to the TV networks' exit polls, President Bush captured 44 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide, up from 35 percent in 2000. Fortuno wasn't surprised. "Hispanic values are Republican values, to a great degree," he said. "It was something waiting to happen." Fortuno said his historic win is another reflection of the trend. Representing the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, Fortuno won his three-way race with 48.5 percent of the vote. "Family values are extremely important in our community.... I campaigned on a conservative platform of fiscal conservatism, family values, school vouchers, a five-minute moment of silence in the schools" -- all issues that resonate with Puerto Rican voters, he said. And he believes the future of the GOP lies with Hispanics. "We will keep growing as a party to the extent that we pay attention to the fastest-growing group in the country, and the largest minority group in the country." As for Fortuno, pay attention to him, too.

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