Here comes the next generation of Connecticut's GOP

When Art Linares Jr. of Westbrook gets sworn in as one of the state's new Republican senators in January, people might focus on his age. He's 24.

There's more, though, to Linares' incredible story of joining the state Senate, winning his first political race, at such a young age.

Linares can already lay claim to a lot of achievement.

He is a co-founder of Greenskies, a Middletown-based commercial solar energy company that recently went big-time with a $30 million contract to build solar systems for 27 Wal-Mart stores in Massachusetts.

Linares' successful Senate campaign was run by his 22-year-old brother and dozens of volunteers, many of them students from Westbrook High School, where Linares played on three varsity teams his senior year and was captain of each of the three teams he played on his junior year.

At 24, Sen.-elect Linares was the youngest person on his official campaign staff. Two other hard workers were college chums who moved to Connecticut for a few months and worked non-stop to help their former classmate get elected.

Linares finished the campaign with three pairs of dress shoes with big holes in the bottoms, from all the door-to-door campaigning. He plans to hang them in his Senate office.

Linares graduated from the Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa in Florida, where he majored in entrepreneurship, developing his own company as he earned a college degree.

Linares' opponent in November was his high school history teacher, Democratic state Rep. Jim Crawford.

"He's a great guy, a good teacher," Linares told me, when I met him last week for a chat about his surprise win. "We have different philosophies about government."

Linares doesn't have much experience in politics. But he interned last fall for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, spending four months in Washington as an unpaid staff member, delivering newspapers and coffee in the senator's office instead of running his own company back in Connecticut.

Someone in Washington told him if he wanted to run for office, he had to get on a ballot.

At first, he lost the Republican convention nomination for the 33rd District Senate seat. But after he announced he would primary, his opponent backed out and said Linares should be the candidate.

The unexpected retirement of the Democrat who had successfully held the seat, Sen. Eileen Daily, put it much more in reach for an unknown, young Republican.

It was not exactly by chance that Linares went to work for Rubio, since they both have Cuban roots.

Linares said he hopes to have his 90-year-old grandfather, who fled Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion during the Kennedy administration, come to his swearing-in ceremony.

Linares talks a lot about what an inspiration his family's hard work has been for him. His father, who was one of five sons and 8 years old when the family first settled in the United States, in a one-bedroom house in Newark, N.J., went on to become a successful businessman.

Linares' uncle was nominated to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2002. The young senator-elect for Connecticut said he was especially proud when he attended his uncle's confirmation hearings in Washington.

One of the things that struck me in meeting with Linares was not only his enthusiasm, but his tendency to lapse into what might seem like platitudes about work ethic and patriotism.

Maybe because of his youth, it seems surprisingly sincere, not just a politician's talking points.

"If you have a good idea and you work hard, you can achieve anything," is one of these truisms that Linares routinely throws out.

When Linares talks about this being the greatest country in the world, it seems like natural patriotism.

He also sounds sincere when he says he feels like "one of the luckiest people in the world" because he now gets to go to Hartford to help people.

And when he talks about young people getting involved in politics, it makes you consider whether he's on to something.

"There is a lot of talk about the next generation," he said. "I think we can be the best generation."

Let's hope he's right.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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