Central Florida this year may elect its first father-daughter duo to the Florida Legislature and they also would happen to be Latino, a sign of the growing politicization of Orlando-area Hispanics.
Amy Mercado got the ball rolling recently when she tossed her candidacy in the ring for Florida House District 48, potentially succeeding her stepdad Víctor Torres. In what looks like political dominoes falling, Torres is running for Senate District 15. He aims to replace Darren Soto, who is campaigning for Congress.
All are Democrats, and all the districts will be newly redrawn but remain favorable to Democrats following a contentious state redistricting battle.
“There was always the potential I would run,” said Mercado, 42. “I know the job and I know what it takes,” she added.
Mercado is no stranger to politics. She ran for state House unsuccessfully about five years ago, challenging then House Speaker Dean Cannon. She has managed each of Torres’ state House campaigns and did all the field work for Tiffany Moore Russell, elected Orange County Clerk of the Court in 2014. Moore Russell was the only local Democrat to win office that year.
The father-daughter political duo would be new to the region, potentially joining Panhandle Republican Dan Gaetz, who serves in the state Senate alongside his son Matt Gaetz in the House.
As of 2015, there were only 21 Hispanics in the Florida Legislature, according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), which tracks Hispanic political engagement and elected officials.
Of Florida’s 21, about five are from Central Florida, including Torres, Soto and John Cortés (Osceola), Bob Cortés (Orange-Seminole and no relation to John) and René Plasencia (Orange-Osceola). Nearly all were elected to their posts in the last two years and are running for second terms, underscoring growing Hispanic political activism in Central Florida.
Florida ranks fifth in the nation for Latino state elected officials, behind New York.
Political outcomes are hard to predict, but Mercado stands a very strong chance of being elected to replace her stepdad, whom she considers her dad, no “step” needed. First, District 48 is about 60 percent Hispanic, of which half are Puerto Rican, as are Mercado and Torres.
Plus, Torres was twice elected to the House without opposition, which is unusual but unfortunately not so rare in Florida. Mercado has no opposition at this time, but the qualifying deadline for candidate petitions is not until May.
Said Mercado: “I’m focused like I’m running against the president of the United States. We’re going to plan for it and focus. One thing I’ve learned in politics is nothing is guaranteed.”
˜˜María Padilla, Editor