By Emanuela P. Leaf
Art Linares, 26, is state senator for the 33rd Senate District, which encompasses the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Saybrook, Portland and Westbrook. He is the first Latino Republican to serve in the state’s General Assembly and the first Cuban American.
A Westbrook resident, Sen. Linares is the lead Republican senator on the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee, which oversees all matters relating to local governments, regional planning and development activities, and economic development programs impacting local governments. And as Assistant Minority Leader, Sen. Linares also serves on the Education Committee, the Internship Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
In 1961, a force of exiles trained by the Central Intelligence Agency stormed Cuba in an attempt to free the country from communist dictator Fidel Castro. After the invasion failed, Sen. Linares’ grandparents fled the country they loved in order to ensure that their children were safe and able to grow up in a free country.
In the United States, Sen. Linares’s father started a successful business, and that success inspired Sen. Linares to start a business out of his basement when he was 19 years old. He co-founded Greenskies, a successful, Middletown-based, commercial solar energy company.
In 2010, Sen. Linares took a sabbatical from his solar power company to volunteer for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in Washington D.C. The experience inspired Linares to become involved in public service upon returning to Connecticut.
But, aside from his age, family background and his success in business and politics, the most remarkable fact about Linares is how he represents a shift in the Republican Party relationship with the immigrant community – one that goes beyond courtship around election time, and is actually backed up with votes in the state legislature.
On May 19, the House of Representatives voted 78 to 70 to expand the number of undocumented immigrants who qualify for much lower in-state tuition rates. Meanwhile, another bill that would make these students eligible to compete for a $140 million pool of financial aid was approved by the state Senate in a 24 to 12 vote.
Linares was one of four Republicans voting for the financial aid bill. The others were Minority Leader Len Fasano of North Haven, Kevin Witkos of Canton and Anthony Guglielmo of Stafford.
Opponents argued that expanding who is eligible would crowd out funding for other residents.
Sen. Linares disagreed. “It’s not a handout. It’s a hand helping people up,” he said during the Senate debate. “Increased competition is a good thing. This is America.”
Last month, Linares was named as one of the “GOP’s Rising Stars” by the Republican National Committee, as part of a program aimed to highlight the many voices in the Republican Party and showcase those who have taken leadership roles at both the state and national levels.