Fortuño Could be the Neo of Hispanic Running Mates

There’s been a new set of rumblings in the current GOP 2012 race that involves a Hispanic politician. And no, it’s not Senator Marco Rubio.

Although the rumors and gossip of him becoming the VP nominee simply won’t dissipate, despite his repeated “No” statements, it’s not him. Instead it’s been Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño.

While talk of Fortuño having a greater political future ahead of him has been around as early as May 2010, the idea of Fortuño having a serious shot at attaining greater political office has only begun to take form. While Senator Rubio has been the Hispanic face of the GOP since his election in 2010, Governor Fortuño has been quietly been behind the scenes enacting significant reforms in Puerto Rico since his election in 2008. From cutting the state (I use the term ‘state’ simply for convenience purposes) government workforce by 23,000 (at the time nearly 60% of those employed on the island were working for the government), to enacting major tax reform, to greater transparency for elected officials, to slashing bloated government spending several years in a row, Governor Fortuño has a wealth of accomplishments on par with Republican Governors Chris Christie and John Kasich.

That’s not to say the island is in pristine condition. If Puerto Rico were a U.S. State, it would be in the bottom in terms of the unemployment rate and GDP. Not to mention there has been a severe crime problem on the island, though the Governor has taken measures to combat the issue. However, given the state of Puerto Rico prior to his winning office, the Governor has made great strides in putting the island back on the path towards prosperity.

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As the primary season heats up in the GOP race, the Republican Party is desperate for new Hispanic faces who can help soften tensions between the party and the community. Though the GOP has had more than just Senator Rubio to help represent them (Govs. Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval, as well as Congressman Raul Labrador were all elected in 2010 alongside Rubio), the Senator seems to snag 90% of the face time. It gives off the impression that he’s the “One-Trick Pony” of Hispanic GOP representatives and that outside of Rubio, the GOP is still lacking with this growing community.

Governor Fortuño can change that. He’s already making news with the island having another plebiscite on its political status this fall – coincidentally on Election Day. And if the GOP primary race remains tight through to Puerto Rico’s primary date of March 18, you may see an even greater spotlight on the Governor and increase in his name recognition to GOP and Independent voters.

If Marco Rubio is serious in his desire to NOT be in the running for Vice-President, it is entirely plausible for Governor Fortuño to replace him as the possible Hispanic candidate. This is particularly plausible if Mitt Romney, with his reputation as a moderate among GOP primary goers, wins the nomination and needs a more conservative VP candidate to legitimize and energize the GOP base. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has personally interviewed Governor Fortuño and has been a strong advocate for better relations between the GOP and Hispanics, seems the most likely to bring in Fortuno should he win the nomination.

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Like Governor Chris Christie, Governor Luis Fortuño has had his work cut out for him. Taking control of an island that has been in a state of economic decay and stagnation for decades and trying to spurn growth in the middle of a deep recession is no easy task. There is still much that must be done. However, with the current make-up of the GOP’s 2012 field looking feckless, nasty, and downright absurd, the eventual nominee will need a VP candidate who can provide unification and excitement for the base. The ultimate irony in selecting Fortuño, however, would be that he couldn’t vote for himself on Election Day!

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