Monthly Archives: April 2016

9 posts

Grayson, Jolly Debate Politely over Senate Seat

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Congressmen Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and (right) David Jolly, R-Seminole during the Florida Open Debate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio. /photo Maria Padilla

It was a mostly civil affair between Congressmen Alan Grayson (D-Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties) and David Jolly (R-Pinellas County) during this week’s U.S. Senate campaign debate in Orlando hosted by the Open Debate Coalition and live streamed on the Web.

None of the bare knuckles brawl seen in the presidential campaign. The two congressmen discussed policy differences without finger-pointing or raised voices. Grayson, known for his sharp tongue, was on his best behavior, minus a few turns of phrases, such as “We have a name for killing a person … but no name for killing a planet”  and “African Americans were once considered three-fifths of a human being. The first African American president gets only seven-eighths of a term.”

Jolly, best known for calling on Congress members to stop personally soliciting campaign donations, stated that jihad and Iran were a greater threat to the U.S. in response to a question about climate change. Grayson appeared to stare in disbelief as Jolly changed the subject. Jolly also gave an “incorrect” reply on a question about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, stating Garland should get an up or down vote (but he would vote against). Lt. Gov. Carlos López Cantera, also vying for the Senate seat, later criticized Jolly, saying it demonstrated Jolly’s unwillingness to stand up to President Barack Obama.

The debate was missing a few key players, notably Patrick Murphy (D-South Florida), Grayson’s rival for the Democratic nomination, and López Cantera. Had all four been on the debate stage, the dynamic might have been scrappier.

The 75-minute debate, moderated by Cenk Uyghur of the progressive The Young Turks and Benny Johnson of the conservative Independent Journal Review, was held at the WMFE-TV studios at the University of Central Florida. Florida Open Debate fielded 900 questions from the public posted a week or two earlier on its Website which readers then scored in order of importance. Over 410,000 people voted and the top 30 questions were chosen for the debate, although time didn’t allow for all 30.

(Full disclosure: I was invited to “ask” a reader’s question during the debate. The question came from Samantha Moran of Pembroke, Mass., who asked “Do you support defunding or defending Planned Parenthood? The question was ranked 28 in Florida and 30 nationally.)

The “open debate” format  proved that debates do not have to be controlled by political parties or print and broadcast media. In addition, the public can be trusted to generate substantive questions. In addition to the Supreme Court nomination and climate change questions, readers also asked about campaign financing, the banking system, abortion, Planned Parenthood, Social Security and minimum wage, among others.

But noticeably absent were Florida-related questions and, specifically Latino issues in a state where one of every four people is Hispanic. No questions on the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations or the debt crisis in Puerto Rico – the two feeders of Florida’s largest Hispanic groups, which likely will have a big impact on the 2016 elections.

Asked later about their views on the Puerto Rico crisis – the island may default on over $400 million in debt next week. It is carrying a total of $72 billion in debt –Jolly replied that federal bankruptcy laws ought to be extended to the island as they “apply to other states,” adding that he didn’t want the largest  bondholders to be bailed out because “they knew [buying the debt] was a risk.” He added that Republicans and Democrats in Congress were far apart on a potential compromise.

As a Central Florida congressman, Grayson’s stance on Puerto Rico is more well known: Extend Medicaid to Puerto Rico; eliminate the Jones Act that governs shipping between the U.S. and Puerto Rico and makes the island uncompetitive; and end the bankruptcy law discrimination.

Congress removed Puerto Rico from federal bankruptcy laws in the 1980s.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Democrats Driven to Distraction in District 9

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Democratic Congressional District 9 candidates Susannah Randolph and Darren Soto. /official campaign photos

A decade-old college comedy skit landed congressional District 9 candidate Darren Soto in an embarrassing position last week as his Democrat primary opponent Susannah Randolph seized the information, sending it to her supporters.

The story, reported by Gawker and picked up by Politico, refers to a comedy-music skit rap titled “2-Luv” that talks about Soto’s male organ – this must be the election season for this topic – and having sexual relations with a drunk woman, a subject of many college campus disputes and even federal regulations regarding non-consensual campus sex.

““As you may have heard by now, Senator Darren Soto wrote a disgusting and sexually explicit song during his time as a law student,” states Randolph, a former congressional staffer who has focused her campaign on women and gender equity. “The song depicted non-consensual sexual acts.”

State Senator Soto released a statement admitting that he penned the words but has moved on. “As a college student over a decade ago I did write a song for a comic skit among a co-ed comedy troupe that was in poor taste. But, the fact is that in public life I have been a responsible, consistent and effective advocate for women,” he said. “I led the fight to double the statute of limitations for victims of sexual violence and against the regressive 24 hour waiting period bill that would have diluted a woman’s right to choose. In Congress, I’ll do even more by fighting for pay equity and against Republican efforts to cut health care and defund Planned Parenthood.”

A number of Soto’s female supporters, including his wife Amanda Soto, chimed in, a move reminiscent of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal in which prominent women defended Clinton’s sexual dalliances, citing his pro-women policies.

“As a proud pro-choice woman, I can tell you that Darren is second to no one when it comes to standing up for our rights,” wrote Amanda. “Darren gets it.  He knows that there is work to be done when it comes to securing a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work, to making her own health care decisions, and on so many other fronts.”

Other prominent Orlando Hispanics defended Soto on social media, including local activist Zoraida Ríos-Andino and Vivian Rodríguez, president of the Hispanic Democratic Caucus of Florida.

Soto and Randolph are running neck-and-neck in District 9, with the candidates generating similar financial support – raising about $162,000 each in the first quarter ended March – and compiling political endorsements.

Soto and Randolph aside, however, sexual politics appear to be making the Democratic campaign rounds lately, as Latina actress Rosario Dawson also invoked Monica Lewinsky while stumping for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Delaware. “We are literally under attack — not just for supporting the other candidate,” Dawson said. “I’m with Monica Lewinsky on this. Bullying is bad.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Rico Debt Crisis Enters Critical Phase

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A cruise ship passes through San Juan Bay. Puerto Rico’s finances have become unmoored. / PR Tourism Co.

Puerto Rico’s debt situation reaches a critical point May 1, the date a $425 million debt payment comes due.  Of course, the island – already spending about one third of its budget to pay debt, at great cost to government services – has no money. It has $72 billion in debt and an economy that will be in recession for 10 years come May, a trend quickly becoming known as “the lost decade.”

Congress has proposed a plan that calls for a financial oversight board, controlled mainly by outsiders, to which Puerto Rico objects, although it looks likely to remain part of the bill since trust between Washington and San Juan has seriously eroded. There are other parts of the bill that Puerto Rico finds objectionable, such as a two-tiered minimum wage (a mostly Republican idea that voters are beginning to see enacted elsewhere, such as Democratic New York).

In recent days the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times each have editorialized in favor of a more tempered proposal, one not so influenced by the hedge funds that bought Puerto Rico bonds at big discount late in the game and are looking for a big payday. Neither newspaper, however, would do away with the financial control board, which would be similar to the one Washington, D.C. labored under for several years. Each paper considers the debt restructuring provision of the bill too lengthy and onerous.

Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans living stateside have been lobbying for extension of federal bankruptcy laws to Puerto Rico that would be applicable to certain heavily-indebted agencies (not the entire island, as has been misrepresented).

This is where the Florida connection comes in.

The WSJ warned in its editorial, titled “Puerto Rico on the Brink”: “Republicans can do nothing, watch Puerto Rico default and slide into a deep recession while Democrats exploit the issue. Adiós to Florida’s 29 electoral votes and Marco Rubio ’s Senate seat.” About 1 million Puerto Ricans reside in Florida, nearly rivaling the Cuban population.

Cue the NY Times (“Only Congress Can Rescue Puerto Rico”): “If Congress does not act now, Puerto Rico’s financial crisis could drag on for years. The island’s government would have to cut more public services, and more of the island’s 3.5 million people would seek a better life on the mainland.” Over  112,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the states from the island in the first 10 months of 2015.

Stay tuned.

˜˜María Padilla, Editor

Double-Digit Increase in Puerto Ricans

Palm trees

More than 112,000 Puerto Ricans left the island in the first 10 months of 2015, an all-time record reported in Orlando Latino earlier this week. The next question is, how does this affect Central Florida? And the answer is, it’s too soon to quantify.

Recent figures don’t indicate where Puerto Ricans’ guagua aérea landed, but it’s well documented that Central Florida is the major destination for islanders who buy the one-way ticket looking to escape the island’s sputtering economic engine damaged by 10-year old recession and a fiscal crisis caused by $72 billion in debt.

But it’s a good moment to crunch the latest census numbers dating to 2014 to sketch the impact of the Puerto Rican flight to the tri-county area of Orange, Osceola and Seminole thus far compared with 2005.

                    2005              2014     Percentage Increase      

Orange         115,341             173,669                   50.5%

Osceola         50,334               91,804                    82.4%

Seminole       27,087*              37,731                  39.3%*

*Seminole figures are for 2014 and 2009, the earliest year available.
Source: census.gov

Puerto Ricans comprise 15 percent of the tri-county area, but in Osceola the figure is significantly higher, more like 30 percent, the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in all of Florida. (The state draws Puerto Ricans from other states as well.)

In 2015,  Florida’s Puerto Rican population soared to over 1 million and today Puerto Ricans nearly rival the number of Cubans in the Sunshine State, thanks to the guaguas aérea that land in Orlando International Airport  each day.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor