Puerto Rico Gov. Luis FortuñoCourtesy of the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, with Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño. Fortuño has endorsed Romney in the GOP primary.Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico
A Hispanic of national stature on the GOP presidential ticket would help the party rebuild bridges with the community and harness the Latino vote, the Governor of Puerto Rico said.
In an interview with Fox News Latino, Luis Fortuño spoke candidly about a number of issues -- from the national elections, his first term as governor, his chances for re-election, and the buzz around conservative circles that peg him as a possible vice presidential candidate.
“The GOP can’t even envision winning the White House if we lose a significant percentage of the Hispanic vote,” said Fortuño, who is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday.
Fortuño believes that the party has an opportunity to engage the fastest growing voting bloc in the nation with a ticket that carries a unique Hispanic perspective.
“That person can be a Puerto Rican or a Cuban, or whomever,” Fortuño said, “but that person can bring that perspective and I believe commence to rebuild bridges that have been burned with the Hispanic community.”
The Latino population grew from 35.3 million in 2000, to 50.5 million in 2010.
Latinos represent 9 percent of all eligible voters. Many live in key battleground states such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
For the Republican Party, the stakes are high.
“It is wrong to believe that Hispanics are Democrats,” he said. “Hispanics are traditionally and historically conservative, not just socially conservative, but fiscally conservative.”
He pointed out that the Latino community is deeply diverse, made up of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans and many others, but united in its aspirations.
“Education is extremely important to the Hispanic community, as well as faith, and certainly working hard,” he said. “I believe that whether it is this time around, or the next time around, whoever that nominee will be will look at different Hispanics with national stature such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl), Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) or Gov. Susana Martinez (R-NM) and others that have the credentials certainly to occupy that position."
A rising GOP star, Fortuño himself has been singled out as a possible candidate for vice president.
His recent endorsement of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, frontrunner in the GOP primary, before the crucial Florida primaries further added to the speculation. When asked if he would give serious consideration to a request to be on the GOP ticket, he didn’t quite say no.
“I don’t foresee that happening,” he said. “Really, I don’t foresee Gov. Romney asking me to do that. I foresee Gov. Romney asking me to help him get elected, and I certainly would love to assist him to the extent that my campaign allows me.”
For now, Fortuño is seeking re-election.
He said that even though a year and a half ago he was not electable, the economic turnaround achieved by his administration will probably lead him to a second term.
Upon entering office in 2009, he inherited a bankrupt government with a huge 3.3 billion budget deficit.
In order to set the course for a balanced budget, he implemented a series of painful and unpopular measures.
He slashed government expenses by 20 percent, including his own salary by 10 percent. He cut the state work force by more than 20,000, prompting widespread protests against his administration.
His critics feel that the measures were draconian and have done far more harm than good, leaving many unemployed in a difficult economy.
Public discontent also spilled over into student protests, when his administration shaved the University of Puerto Rico’s budget by a quarter and upped tuition by $800 a semester.
A New York Times story noted that Fortuño was criticized for excessive force by police against student demonstrating who were protesting higher university fees.
“Riot police hit protesters, bystanders and journalists with batons and used pepper spray and choke holds, in incidents that were videotaped and are discussed in the report,” the publication said, referring to a U.S. Justice Department report that assailed the problems in the police department, which Fortuño oversees.”
His supporters tout his economic measures.
In three years, the deficit is a little over six percent.
Puerto Rico achieved its first bond rating increase in 27 years and a major tax reform has been put in place.From a high of almost 17 percent, unemployment is at 13 percent, after a six-year recession.
The island is still besieged by a wave of violent crime, in large part due to the illegal drug trade. Fortuño has repeatedly called for federal government intervention.
This coming Nov. 6th will see a referendum to address the island’s political status, which he hopes will start a dialogue with Washington. Fortuño states that his major achievement has been bringing common sense back to government, but he is fully aware of the political collateral damage.
“I came into office to do what was correct, not to see what was politically expedient to get re-elected,” he said. “Especially in the day and age that we are living in, that is required of elected officials. And if it just so happens that you don’t get re-elected, so be it, as long as you are doing the right thing.”
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is a freelance writer based in New York City. She is a former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and has worked for ABC News, the Associated Press Television News in London and CNN International. She writes a Blog for www.magacin.com called Susanne en la Ciudad.