Despite wishes of Romney's camp, controversy shadows Barreto


Like most Las Vegas visitors, former Small Business Administration head Hector Barreto brings his baggage with him as he attempts to increase support for Republican Mitt Romney from Nevada Hispanics.

But that's not newsworthy, Team Romney assures me.

Barreto, whose tenure at the SBA during the George W. Bush administration was widely criticized and described as controversial, on Sept. 5 joined Romney's youngest son, Craig Romney, and Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho in addresses before the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors and Hispanics in Politics groups. Barreto is the co-chair of Juntos Con Romney, the former Massachusetts governor's Hispanic steering committee.

Barreto's SBA experience is touted by the Team Romney, but not the controversies associated with his time in office. The campaign's Nevada communications director, Mason Harrison, gave me a good scolding after I posted a short blog item noting the irony of Barreto's role with the campaign.

"It was nothing more than, like, a rehash of something that happened in 2006," Harrison said. "He's quite proud of his record as the longest-serving (administrator) of the SBA. … He's also had a lot of successes. It felt like quite a pot shot."

Harrison said Team Romney embraces Barreto's experience and is grateful for his support on the campaign trail. So what's the problem with mentioning that Barreto's time at the SBA was also controversial?

Let me venture a guess:

Barreto resigned in 2006 after it was reported that he had allowed millions of government loans intended to assist victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to go to businesses that didn't qualify. Some of the loans landed thousands of miles from ground zero. They were distributed to businesses as varied as "a South Dakota radio station, a Virgin Islands perfume shop, a Utah dog boutique and more than 100 Dunkin' Donuts and Subway sandwich shops," The Associated Press reported in September 2005.

Recipients of the loans didn't know the money they received was intended to help the 9/11 victims, and it all reflected poorly on Barreto's office and the administration of President George W. Bush. Barreto was also criticized for the SBA's slow response in 2005 to assist small businesses damaged during the Gulf Coast hurricane season.

Although a congressional ally lauded Barreto for having "learned to do more with less," opposition Democrats capitalized on the SBA chief's questionable competence and self-inflicted wounds. Sen. John Kerry was one of many to ring Barreto's bell: "In the last five years, we have seen the complete and utter abandonment of our small businesses courtesy of the Bush administration. It's time for a change."

Just 40 in July 2001 when he was unanimously confirmed as SBA administrator, today Barreto's resume lists him as president and CEO of Barreto Inc. of Irvine, Calif. Under strengths: "Recognized national and international leader-strong manager, accomplished public speaker, extensive media experience, nationwide network, successful fundraiser, bilingual, bi-cultural, numerous awards."

Barreto once told U.S. News in a brief 2005 profile, "Business is in my blood; it's in my bones."

He was gone from the SBA less than a year later.

Polls indicate Mitt Romney has an uphill battle to win the votes of Latinos in the Silver State, where in recent years Democrats have made substantial inroads though Nevada's Gov. Brian Sandoval is a Hispanic Republican.

While Harrison asserts the news statute of limitations has run out on Barreto's tenure at the SBA, what is timely is Romney's effort to help skeptical Republicans forget the unpopular Bush years as he attempts to increase support from Hispanic voters.

That's a sound strategy.

You decide whether Barreto is the right guy to deliver that message.

Have an item for Bard of the Boulevard? Email comments and contributions to Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith

 

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