Linares and Ayala Are State's First Hispanic State Senators

Art Linares, a Cuban-American and one of the youngest members of the General Assembly, has come to Hartford with an ambitious agenda: finding agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

The 24-year-old Republican from Westbrook is also one of the state's first two Latino state senators. He and Andres Ayala, Jr., a Bridgeport Democrat who won election in November, are part of a growing national movement of Hispanic candidates running for office.


"We need to find common ground and propose legislation that the public can benefit from," Linares said. "If people are interested in creating jobs and creating an economic climate here in Connecticut that is conducive to job growth, I'd be happy to work with anyone no matter what party they are in."

Connecticut now has more Hispanic state legislators than at any other moment in the state's history, said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. In addition to Ayala and Linares, there are 10 state representatives who are Hispanic. There are about 157,000 registered voters who say they are of Hispanic origin – about 8 percent of all voters. Overall, the state population is about 14 percent Hispanic.


"I don't view this as an avenue to get more Latinos involved in things, I see this as an avenue to get all groups involved in politics," Linares said. "My core beliefs stem from my family beliefs and my background and I'm sure that Sen. Ayala feels the same way. That has a lot to do with our political thought."

Even though he is one of the first, Ayala said he thinks people voted for him based on his record, not his ethnicity.

"I know that many of my friends statewide who are Latino are very pleased and proud of this moment and we want to celebrate that," Ayala said. "But we also want to make sure people know and understand we are there to do the greater good and the greater good involves doing the best work possible to improve everybody's lives in the state of Connecticut."

"I've been in local politics now for 16 years, 10 years on the local city council, six years as state rep," Ayala said. "If you look at the makeup of the district, it's a pretty balanced district. A lot of work went into making sure we get support across the board."


In November, Linares made history when he beat Democrat James Crawford and Independent Melissa Schlag to fill a seat vacated by Sen. Eileen Daily. Daily retired after representing the 12 towns in her district for nearly 20 years. He says he knocked on 10,000 doors while trying to persuade voters of the 33rd district, he said.

Linares co-founded a commercial solar energy company, Greenskies, while majoring in entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa. Middletown-based Greenskies recently scored a $30 million contract to install solar panels at 27 Wal-Mart stores in Massachusetts.

His legislative priorities include making the state more business friendly environment and improving communication between legislators and businesses. Linares said his first step would be to propose elimination of the small business entity tax of $250.

Linares is inspired by his father, who was poor growing up then started a successful business in the United States. He says his father, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba, makes him believe in the American dream and upward mobility.

For Ayala, who is 43, getting elected meant finding support in his diverse home district in Bridgeport.

"I think we saw on a national level, the Latino vote was quite influential in a lot of races nationally and locally as well," Ayala said. "I think what it means is you have a community that is accepting its responsibilities, going to the polls, going to vote, being aware of the issues that are out there and also understanding that there are folks that are elected that can absolutely positively deal with the issues in the community."

Ayala teaches social studies in the Bridgeport Adult Education program. He always enjoys teaching his students about civics and government, he said. Ayala beat Republican Caz Mizera for the 23rd district senate seat in November.

Ayala recognizes the importance of this Latino milestone, but said good state representatives will help everyone in Connecticut.


"When we are talking about issues, issues don't necessarily have an ethnicity," Ayala said. "When we are talking education, if we improve education for Latinos, we are improving it for African Americans, Asian Americans, everyone. When new improve opportunities for housing for one particular ethnic group, we improve them for all."