After 39 years as a resident of New Haven and four terms representing the city in Hartford, state Rep. John S. Martinez has now stepped into a national spotlight.
Martinez took office as the president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Representatives Nov. 12 after winning the election for the position unanimously.
The caucus, which comprises approximately 300 legislators from 16 states, promotes issues important to the national Hispanic community, such as immigration, health and education. The bipartisan group elected Martinez president at a meeting in Puerto Rico attended by about 180 members.
“I am very humbled,” said Martinez, one of the Connecticut House’s deputy majority leaders. “It is a tribute when one is recognized by one’s colleagues.”
Saeed Ali, the chief of staff for caucus member and state Sen. Richard Polanco of California, said Martinez was selected as president because of his reputation, his organizational skills and his ability to build consensus among the caucus members.
“Rep. Martinez is an incredibly talented, organized and well-respected leader in Connecticut and nationwide,” Ali said.
Martinez said he hopes to focus primarily on economic development, fueled by increased access to venture capital for small Hispanic-run businesses, as well as education, health and immigration issues affecting the community as a whole.
“How do we empower ourselves to help ourselves?” Martinez said. “Education has to be a priority, since it is key to success.”
Martinez also said he wants to get Hispanic women and youths more involved in the political process, adding that the large Latino population in the nation’s prisons is another issue many members of the caucus are interested in addressing.
While he said the members of the caucus have many cultural and political differences that can lead to disagreement, he said he believes that keeping the caucus members focused on an “issue-based agenda” would help bring the different factions of the group together.
Martinez said his experience as a legislator from New Haven would help him be more successful as the new president of the caucus.
Patricia McCann Vissepo, the executive director of New Haven’s Casa Otonal, which provides services to the elderly, said she hopes Martinez’s new leadership position in the caucus will make the country more aware of the Hispanic population in Connecticut, especially in New Haven.
Martinez voiced similar concerns about making sure the Hispanic population in Connecticut is accurately represented and said his role in the national caucus will most likely help promote the inclusion of Hispanics in the political process of Connecticut.
Sen. Efrain Gonzalez Jr., a New York state legislator and chairman emeritus of the caucus, said Martinez “is a hard worker, and knows how to bring people together. He has a lot of energy, and is getting things done.”