Concepción challenges Gutiérrez for congressional seat
Héctor Concepción says his attempt to knock U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., out of office with a campaign focused on "job creation, education reform and security" is having an impact.
"For the first time in 16 years, Gutiérrez is spending a lot of money on his campaign in an attempt to keep his job," the pro-statehood Republican said. "This shows that our message is being heard, and I'm very proud of that."
Born in Vega Baja, but raised in Chicago, the 42-year-old businessman says Illinois' 4th Congressional District is growing tired of its veteran but underperforming representative, and is ready for someone who is ready to work for his district. Concepción believes his conservative political philosophy and focus on limited government, and incentives for small businesses to spark job creation, will resonate there.
"Gutiérrez loves to be on television, but you don't see him working here in the 4th district. People are ready for a change," Concepción said.
Concepción talked to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS in anticipation of his visit to the island this week, as he prepared to meet with local statehood leaders to drum up support for his candidacy and his effort to unseat the Illinois congressman.
To support his criticism of Gutiérrez, he pointed out immigration reform, which the Chicago congressman has championed for years, but with little concrete results to show for it.
A recent event sponsored by Gutiérrez turned President Barack Obama's "Dream Act into a nightmare," when 20,000 students, many waiting in line all night, showed up to apply for visas and only 1,500 received applications, Concepción said.
"It was a political stunt, another desperate [attempt] to get the Hispanic vote," Concepción said. "This was a big media fiasco that showed a guy who isn't prepared to do his job and has no record of doing anything within his congressional district."
Concepción said he backs a plan to grant five-year work visas for current undocumented residents, after which time they could choose to push for permanent residency or return back home. The plan would be complemented by increased security at U.S. borders.
"This will create an economic boom [in the U.S.]. We have 15 million immigrants here, and they could be contributing to the nation and paying taxes," he said. "We are wasting an incredible opportunity."
Concepción points to the previous amnesty granted to 10 million immigrants in 1986 by former President Ronald Reagan in arguing that the Republican Party has a "track record" on immigration reform. And he slammed Gutiérrez for "criticizing his own party and everybody else, but then not doing anything" on the issue.
Setting a path for legalization of the 14 million illegal residents in the U.S. would also boost tax revenue and help support the federal government's fiscal strength, Concepción said.
ABUSING POWER AGAINST PUERTO RICO, IGNORING ECONOMIC PROBLEMS AT HOME
Concepción also accused Gutiérrez of "abusing his power in Congress against the 3.5 million citizens of Puerto Rico," through his frequent speeches on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives criticizing the Fortuño administration for its handling of University of Puerto Rico protests and plans to build a natural gas pipeline, and his frequent opposition to status initiatives.
He also urged island residents to tell family members in Chicago to vote, noting there are 330,000 Puerto Ricans living there, but that many don't vote. He attributed the apathy to the "failures" of Gutiérrez, saying the veteran congressman's "broken record of campaign promises" over the years has rarely been followed through with concrete action.
While Gutiérrez focuses on criticizing island initiatives, Chicago high-school graduates are underperforming in colleges, and city economic woes are having an impact on residents and leading to more crime, Concepción said.
"Drive along Grant Avenue and you will see miles and miles of empty buildings, former steel springs, mattress factories and candy warehouses," he said.
Concepción wants an education reform to heighten standards in Chicago public schools and to introduce more science and technical training in classrooms. He also said his district's location near O'Hare Airport and underutilized industrial infrastructure could be made productive again, creating "thousands of jobs."
Concepción sympathizes with the so-called Tea Party movement to bring government spending under control, describing himself as a Reagan Republican who believes in small government and a sober public fiscal policy with big government support for small business and manufacturing.
"We need to create a safe haven for businesses in the 4th Congressional District by lowering taxes and providing incentives to small businesses," he said, saying an 800-square-foot business pays $18,000 a year in taxes. "That is a crime. Government is too big. The smaller government is, the more jobs we can create."
A 'STATEHOOD NOW' MOVEMENT
With the U.S. Constitution the law of the land, the U.S. dollar the official currency, and the benefits of U.S.-government protections and programs, Puerto Rico is already a state, for all intents and purposes, said Concepción, who is also the head of Unión Estadista, a nonprofit group that educates people about the benefits of statehood.
The only problem is that it has limited benefits, and Puerto Ricans living on the island are treated as second-class citizens, Concepción argues.
While he supports plans for a status plebiscite, and "anything else that pushes the issue forward," he said the time has come for Puerto Ricans to more actively seek statehood through protests, and consistent pressure on Congress and the U.S. executive branch.
"We have to demand our rights and declare the state of Puerto Rico as soon as possible," he said. "The women's movement demanded their rights, and so did the African-Americans. So why not Puerto Rico?"