Hawaiian lawmaker seeking to be state’s first Latino rep gets Hispanic Caucus endorsement

The campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Tuesday endorsed Patrick Branco, a Hawaii state lawmaker who’s looking to become the first Latino from the state elected to Congress.

The endorsement from Bold PAC comes as Branco is running in a three-way Democratic primary against former state Sen. Jill Tokuda and Honolulu City Councilman Tommy Waters.

“Whether as a Diplomat in the US Foreign Service or as a State Representative, Patrick has dedicated his life to serving Hawai’i and our country. In Congress, Patrick will help bring down Hawai’i’s ever-rising cost of living by bringing good paying jobs to the state, and secure the federal support needed to strengthen Hawai’i’s rural areas and agricultural sector,” said Bold PAC Chair Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) in a statement.

Bold PAC’s endorsement could bring donors and endorsements for Branco, as well as some political clout as the organization has aggressively — and so far successfully — backed its endorsees against other Democrats this cycle.

Bold PAC is coming off a morale-boosting win in Oregon, where it pushed state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D) across the finish line for a House nomination against a candidate who received more than $13 million in outside support, including from the top House Democratic super PAC.

The August primary among Branco, Tokuda and Waters will decide who gets the party’s nomination for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Kai Kahele (D). Both of Hawaii’s congressional districts are safe Democratic seats.

Kahele, who after only one term in Congress quit to run for governor, was at times criticized for being unwilling to make the long trek from Hawaii to establish a lasting presence in Washington.

In a recent interview with The Hill, Branco said Hawaii needs long-term representatives in Washington who are willing to build seniority.

“Whoever gets this seat needs to make sure they are committed to stay there for the long term and bring the resources Hawaii needs to develop,” he said.

Branco added he would rely on his experience traveling long hours as a foreign service officer to acclimate to the difficult lifestyle of representing Hawaii a continent away.

Branco said Hawaii needs long-term representation particularly to move forward large infrastructure projects, a major challenge for a 1,500 mile-long archipelago.

But Hawaii’s geography offers unique opportunities in renewable energy, he said, pointing to it as one industry that could help replace the state’s shrinking agriculture.

Branco, a descendant of Puerto Rican migrants to Hawaii on both sides, also has native Hawaiian, Filipino and Chinese roots.

He told The Hill he grew up very in touch with his Hawaiian roots, but through the foreign service he improved his Spanish and reconnected with his Hispanic side.

And Branco said he would look forward to working in Congress to modernize Puerto Rico’s territorial status.

“As a Puerto Rican but also a native Hawaiian, I have a unique perspective on this,” he said. “When Hawaii was a territory, we were treated as second-class citizens.”

“We need to make sure that all natural-born citizens are given the same rights,” he added.

Congress is currently considering a bill to address Puerto Rico’s status, giving Puerto Ricans a choice to vote among statehood, independence or independence followed by free association with the United States.

But time is short for the ambitious status bill to pass, meaning the issue will likely be punted to future congresses, where Branco hopes to engage on the issue.

“Honestly, Puerto Rico should decide for themselves, that’s the beauty of America, but I wouldn’t be opposed to statehood, I would welcome it in fact. In the end Puerto Rico should have the right to self determination,” said Branco.