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Fortuño Latest Member to Start His Own PAC

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner may not have a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. But like an increasing number of his colleagues, Del. Luis Fortuño (R) has launched a political action committee.

Fortuño’s leadership PAC, dubbed L.U.I.S. — Leading Us In Success — raised more than $50,000 on Thursday night at a Washington, D.C., event sponsored by the international law firm Reed Smith. Individuals affiliated with businesses with operations in Puerto Rico were the primary donors.

Fortuño, the first Republican to represent Puerto Rico in the House in more than a century, plans to use the PAC to funnel money to GOP colleagues in competitive districts as well as to pay for his political travel.

“I have a four-year term as opposed to my colleagues, and I have pledged to work as hard as I can to retain our majority in November 2006,” Fortuño said. “Being a Hispanic, a Puerto Rican and a Republican, certainly I believe I can be helpful in a number of places.”

While seeking a first term in 2004, Fortuño campaigned in central Florida for President Bush and now-Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).

In 2006, the GOP is hoping that the Resident Commissioner can be even more active.

“There is no question that there are districts where the Resident Commissioner can do a lot to help our candidates,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ed Patru.

Fortuño is already slated to stump on behalf of two Keystone State freshmen.

On Aug. 30, he will appear in Allentown, Pa., for Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.). In October, he will campaign in Bucks County for Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

He is also planning on making the most of Puerto Rico’s warm weather and exotic location. His PAC is hosting a golf fundraiser at a resort outside of San Juan during the weekend of Nov. 8-11.

Fortuño thinks Congress has an obligation to allow Puerto Rico to vote for a non-territorial future. The Resident Commissioner, who personally supports statehood, thinks Puerto Ricans should be allowed to choose among three options: statehood, independence and “some sort of associated independence.” Any tentative decision reached by Puerto Rico would be subject to approval by the president and a simple majority in Congress.

“I believe there should be a process by which American citizens in Puerto Rico” can “elect amongst options that are permanent and non-territorial in nature,” Fortuño said. “It was never intended for a territory to remain as such for 107 years as we have.”

When Fortuño was elected in 2004, he became the first Republican to serve as Resident Commissioner since Federico Degetau held the post from 1901 to 1904.

There are two major political parties in Puerto Rico that generally divide over the issue of statehood — the Popular Democrats and the New Progressives, which Fortuño belongs to. But Resident Commissioners then decide whether to caucus in Congress with Democrats or Republicans.

One powerful island Democrat who divides with Fortuño on U.S. political issues is not begrudging the creation of Fortuño’s PAC because he sees it as helpful to Puerto Rico’s fight for self-determination and equal funding for federal programs.

“Obviously, as a Democrat I don’t particularly care for him using the money to strengthen the Republican majority in Congress,” said Kenneth McClintock, the president of Puerto Rico’s Senate and a member of the Democratic National Committee. “But as a Puerto Rican and a Hispanic … the donations that he may be able to make … will certainly advance Puerto Rico’s agenda.”

Although he does not have a vote on the floor, Fortuño co-sponsors bills and votes in committee. The 44-year-old lawyer, who got his start in politics stuffing envelopes for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign while he was an undergraduate at Georgetown University, has been a faithful advocate of tax cuts in Congress.

He is the co-sponsor of a measure to do away with the estate tax, and he is pushing for a lower tax on Puerto Rican manufacturing.

Stephen Moore, an op-ed writer for The Wall Street Journal who used to head the anti-tax Club for Growth, opposes statehood for Puerto Rico for cultural, linguistic and historical reasons. Nonetheless, he sees Fortuño as vital to the GOP’s efforts to make inroads among the growing Latino population.

“Luis is probably the most important newly elected Member of the House in 2004 in terms of the future of the Republican Party,” Moore said. “I always say to Luis that you are the future face of the Republican Party.”

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