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PowerPlayer: Sandy Riojas

Monday, September 03, 2012


This week’s PowerPlayer is Sandy Riojas, a member of the Rhode Island Latino PAC and board member for Operation Clean Government. Ms. Riojas was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv about the future for Latino leaders in the state and government transparency.

1) You're a member of the Rhode Island Latino PAC. Over the last decade, the community has elected Council and General Assembly members and then in 2010 Angel Taveras became Mayor of Providence. Is 2014 the year we see a Latino win a statewide office? Any thoughts on who might be a strong candidate?

Honestly, it’s still early to tell although people are speculating and talking about 2014. The Latino leadership of Mayor Angel Taveras and State Senator Juan Pichardo has the support from the Latino community and other communities. They would be poised to make a strategic run if the political climate in the state is right. Both Mayor Taveras and Senator Pichardo are Latino politicians who advocate and work on issues that affect all Rhode Islanders.

Right now, Latinos are focusing on voter turnout and listening to all candidates to see if there is a genuine interest in Latino issues. Most importantly, we’re cultivating and encouraging our new young

Latino leaders like James Diossa, Sabina Matos, Carlos Tobon, Sandra Cano, Suzy Alba, and others. They are part of the new demographic and political landscape that is taking shape in Rhode Island. We are in the process of broadening our base of Latino political leadership.

2) You’re a board member for Operation Clean Government. What does Rhode Island have to do to promote a more transparent government?

Where do I start? The bottom line is Rhode Islanders determine whether or not we hold our state government accountable. Civic engagement is the first step to promote transparency in government. While we need good information websites, better technology, “watchdog” groups, and elected officials who will advocate for open government, we need more Rhode Islanders to be engaged.

I wish more Rhode Islanders would take an interest in what is happening in their local, state, and federal government. The new technology tools can help with transparency but they can’t change the human nature of corruption. You need an engaged electorate who is willing to take notice. I’ve been working with a group of Latino ministers because we realize that civic engagement whether from new citizens or those born here is what all Rhode Islanders need.

3) You recently disaffiliated from the Republican Party. Tell us about why you made that decision.

I’m a fifth-generation Latina with moderate conservative views. Coming from a family of both Democrats and Republicans, I’d hoped to promote Latinos among Republicans and promote Republicans among Latinos. However, the extreme shift to the right along with the rise in nativism is not a welcome sign to Latinos. The talk on illegal immigration in the GOP debates left me in dismay. While I do not advocate for open borders or for another amnesty, I do advocate for respect when talking about any Latinos or other minorities.

While all Latinos care about the economy as much as the next voter, how Republicans deliver that message to Latinos is as important. I was glad to see the diverse coalition of speakers at the GOP convention but that diversity needs to be reflected in the audience of delegates.

I was fortunate to make good friends in the GOP. We don’t agree on all issues but we have a mutual respect for each other.

Quick Hitters

Role Models: First, my strong and always opinionated paternal grandmother. I’d also cite Hillary R. Clinton, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Favorite Restaurant: Restaurants owned by women and minorities. You experience various restaraunts while helping out women and minority business owners.

Best Beach: My preferred ocean view is Newport’s Cliff Walk.

Best Books You've Read in the Last Year:

New Read- American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by John Meacham

Reread Again: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Reread Again: The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Advice for the Next Sandy Riojas: First, be willing to work with various people to accomplish a goal. You often need different alliances to get a job done. Second, don’t stereotype or assume. Listen to both sides of the issues so you can better understand why people side certain ways on polarizing or controversial issues.

Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.


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