Monthly Archives: May 2016

5 posts

Record Number of Latinos Running for Office

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The old Florida Statehouse building in Tallahassee. Many Latino political candidates aspire to state elected office. /Maria Padilla

A record number of Latinos are running for office this year, a sign of the continuing political awakening of the group whose numbers and voters in Central Florida have grown significantly in the past several years.

At least 42 Hispanics from as far north as Volusia and south as Osceola counties have signaled their intention to run for federal, state or local office in November, though that number could change after the June 24 final qualifying period. That’s the date the candidates have to submit the requisite number of voter signatures or pay to be on the ballot.

Still, it’s an encouraging number of Hispanic candidates. Orlando Latino has conducted a Latino political candidate overview during previous major election years and the number of Latinos aspiring to political office continues to grow. In the 2012, election cycle about 33 Hispanics ran for office, while in 2010, a gubernatorial election year, the figure was about 24.

It doesn’t mean that every Latino candidate is successful – far from it – but simply that more are stepping into the political arena. As a consequence, more are getting elected, boosted in part by more favorable voter demographics and electoral redistricting in certain areas.

For 2016, supervisor of elections data in Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties show that 42 Latinos are running for public office, some for the first time. Osceola County, alone, accounts for half the total or 21 candidates, a reflection of a much higher percentage of Latinos and Latino voters in the county.

For the first time in Osceola history,  there are more Hispanic registered voters (43 percent) than non-Hispanic white registered voters (42 percent), a trend that may have an impact at the ballot box.

Here’s Part I, Hispanic candidates in congressional and state races in Central Florida. Watch for Part II, which will cover local races.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor 

CONGRESS

District 9

Darren Soto (D)

Wanda Rentas (R)

The real race is between State Rep. Darren Soto and former congressional staffer Susannah Randolph. Both are Democrats who seek to eliminate the other in the August primary. The district leans Democrat,  so whoever wins in August likely will go on to win in November. Former Kissimmee City Commissioner Wanda Rentas is a long shot. Ricardo Rangel (D) was in this race but opted to run for his old Statehouse District 43 seat.

District 10

Fatima Rita Fahmy (D) vs. Val Demings (D), Geraldine Thompson (D)  and 2 others, including Bob Poe (D), who has considerable financial resources

Fatima Rita Fahmy, a Brazilian-born lawyer who grew up in Central Florida, has made the news by loudly alleging that the Democratic National Party unfairly favors former Orlando police chief Val Demings in the race, instead of maintaining neutrality. District 10 was redrawn in the recent electoral remapping and favors Democrats; Demings is considered the favorite to win.

FLORIDA SENATE  

Senate District 15 

Víctor Torres (D) vs. Peter Vivaldi (R) and 1 other

State Rep. Víctor Torres is running for Darren Soto’s old State Senate seat, potentially facing Peter Vivaldi, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014. But for the first time Torres faces a primary opponent in Bob Healy (D),  a funeral operator and a former member of the Osceola Expressway Authority. Torres twice campaigned unopposed for the Florida House; he is well known in the district and the demographics favor his move to the Senate.

FLORIDA HOUSE 

District 27 – Volusia

Zenaida Denizac (R) vs. “Abogado William” McBride (R)

Zenaida Denizac is a school teacher and a former Deltona city commissioner who is running for David Santiago’s old Statehouse seat as Santiago attempts to move up to Congress. In the August primary, she faces William McBride, a well-funded and well-known personal injury lawyer of Hispanic  descent who is a heavy advertiser in Spanish-language media. (Denizac is Puerto Rican.) McBride has been shopping for a seat for several years, running unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2006 and also unsuccessfully for Florida Senate in 2012. District 27, which includes Deltona, has more Democrats than Republicans but there’s no foretelling the outcome with McBride in the race.

District 28 – Seminole

Franklin Pérez (Lib.)

Franklin Pérez is a perennial candidate, popping up nearly each election cycle with unsuccessful results. Jason Brodeur (R) is the incumbent in this Seminole County district and soon will be term limited out of his seat. A Democrat and NPA candidates also are running, which means all four will be on the November ballot – unless some of the opposition doesn’t qualify.

District 30 – Orange and Seminole

Bob Cortés (R)

Bob Cortés won this tight race in 2014 against teacher and Democrat incumbent Karen Castor Dentel. It’s a battleground Statehouse seat that includes parts of Seminole and Orange counties. In 2014 Castor Dentel won Orange County 52 percent to 48 percent, but Longwood-based Cortés pulled through in heavily Republican Seminole. In addition, state GOP backers strongly supported Cortés. This year he faces Democrat Ryan Yadav, a criminal defense attorney.

District 43 – Osceola

John Cortés (D) vs. Ricardo Rangel (D)

John Cortés looked as if he would cruise to re-election until Ricardo Rangel, who Cortés soundly defeated in 2014 despite Rangel’s incumbent big-money advantage, transferred from the Congressional District 9 race. Rangel is looking for a do-over, while Cortés also faces another Democrat primary opponent, Sara Shaw, who is mayor pro team of Kissimmee. The real race is between Cortés and Shaw, with the voter demographics favoring Cortés.

District 48  – Orange

Amy Mercado (D)  vs. Alex Barrio (D)

Amy Mercado is campaigning for her stepdad Víctor Torres’ old Statehouse seat as Torres runs for State Senate District 15. If each wins, they likely would be the first father-daughter duo in the Florida Legislature. But first Mercado has to beat Alex Barrio, a lawyer and former legislative analyst, in the August primary. Gus Martínez (NPA), a homeless advocate and the faith representative on the Orange County Commission on Aging, is also running. The real race is between Mercado and Barrio, with odds on Mercado, an experienced campaigner (she ran Torres’ campaigns and knows the district).

District 49Orange 

Carlos Guillermo Smith (D)

Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is of Hispanic descent, has no Democratic opponent in this district race, which sweeps east Orange County including the University of Central Florida and was Republican René “Coach” Plasencia’s old seat until he chose to run in District 50. Smith has been politically active for years, serving as former chair of the Orange Democratic Executive Committee and senior advisor to Joe Saunders, who lost the seat in 2014. Smith’s Republican opponents Amber Mariano and Martin Collins face off in the August primary. Shea Silverman (NPA) is also in the race, but Smith is the odds-on favorite.

District 50 – Orange and Brevard 

René “Coach” Plasencia (R)

René “Coach” Plasencia currently is the representative of District 49, but as the district has become more Democrat  he decided to chase more favorable demographics in adjacent District 50, which includes southeast Orange and Brevard. He faces Republican George Collins, a college professor, in the August primary. In 2014, state Republicans bet heavily on Plasencia in District 49; he went on to beat incumbent Joe Saunders in a close race. The GOP groups are likely to back Plasencia again this year, making him the favorite in the race.

Watch for Part II covering local political races.

Who Is the Puerto Rican Migrant?

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Prof. Carlos Vargas-Ramos of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican migrant. /photo by Maria Padilla

More than 440,000 Puerto Ricans have left Puerto Rico since an economic recession hit the island in 2006 and which hasn’t relented.

As is well documented, Florida has become the No. 1 destination for migrants, boosting the Sunshine State’s Puerto Rican population to over 1 million – and growing.

But who is taking up residence in Florida and how does that migrant compare with the Puerto Rican who stays behind?

That was the subject of a presentation at the seventh annual Puerto Rican Summit in Orlando, where scores of Puerto Ricans gathered to hear academic and other experts discuss migration trends and the island’s fiscal crisis.

Profile of the Puerto Rican Migrant

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, professor at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies affiliated with Hunter College in New York (centropr.hunter.cuny.edu), sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican newcomer by the numbers:

• 31 PERCENT

Puerto Ricans who left the island since 2006 are concentrated in just eight Central Florida counties.

• 50-50

Gender split among migrants, a major difference compared with, say, Mexican immigration, which is mostly male. The Puerto Rican migrant wants to keep the family together, Vargas said.

• 61 PERCENT

Participate in the Florida labor force, versus just 40 percent on the island, a significant difference.

• 30 PERCENT

Migrants with Bachelor’s degrees versus 28 percent in Puerto Rico.

The island is hollowing out, Vargas said. “It is the middle section of Puerto Rican economy that is leaving,” he noted.

That leaves Puerto Rico with higher- and lower-income population groups but not enough taxpaying middle income-earning households. And it’s also creating a downward spiral in many towns, where deaths now outnumber births or migration.

Reshaping Central Florida

Conversely, the nearly 150,000 Puerto Ricans who have resettled in Florida since 2006 are reshaping the local economy and politics. (The figure doesn’t include record Puerto Rico migration in 2015, according to preliminary reports.)

For instance, Florida’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in March – a much lower 4.2 percent in Orange County – approaching what economists call “full employment.” That means people who want to work have jobs, leaving positions unfilled because there aren’t enough people to apply. Enter the Puerto Rican migrant.

In the political sphere, Hispanic voter registration means that for the first time more Hispanics are registered to vote in Osceola County than nonHispanic whites (43 percent vs. 41 percent, as of February), which may impact elections if Hispanics exercise their vote.

But according to Vargas, Puerto Ricans generally have lower election participation rates, “leaving votes on the table.”

The Puerto Rican Summit, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton at SeaWorld, is organized by Dynamic CDC, a Miami-based economic development group that seeks to “create a vision for a greater Puerto Rican community in the U.S.”

Summit founder Luis De Rosa and others drafted a letter directed to White House and congressional leaders urging action to stem the financial and demographic bleeding in Puerto Rico, which is carrying over $72 billion in debt it cannot repay.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Hispanics Now Largest Share of Osceola Voters

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The dramatic increase in the Hispanic population in Central Florida is significantly impacting  voter registration, with Latinos now accounting for the largest group of voters in Osceola County.

That would mean Osceola is behind only Miami-Dade in percentage of Hispanic voters in Florida, which is a major feat.

Hispanics total about 75,000 or 43 percent of Osceola voters, while non Hispanic whites comprise 72,000 or 41 percent as of February, according to the state Division of Elections. As recently as 2012, non Hispanic white voters outnumbered Hispanics in Osceola by about 10,000.

The flip in numbers is very likely due to the accelerated migration of Puerto Ricans to Osceola from the island and other states. Hispanic registered voters jumped 27 percent in the county from  2012 to  2016.

Between 2005 and 2014, the Puerto Rican population zoomed more than 82 percent to nearly 92,000 in Osceola. The county has the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the state as well.

Orange and Seminole also experienced dramatic boosts in Latino voters. Orange has seen its Hispanic voter numbers increase 21.5 percent, compared with 2012 while Seminole experienced a 17.6 percent expansion.

All of which is to say that the Hispanic boom is going to have an effect on the outcome of the November elections because Latinos make up a greater share of all Central Florida voters and they nearly always turn out in larger numbers during presidential election years, compared with nonresidential or midterm elections.

SNAPSHOT

County       Hispanics as Percent of All Voters

Osceola                 43%

Orange                   22%

Seminole              13%

Miami-Dade         56%

FLORIDA           15% 

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Donald Trump Thinks He ‘Won the Hispanics’

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Donald Trump said he “won the Hispanics” after the Indiana primary. / photo donaldjtrump.com

In Donald Trump‘s fact-challenged world, he “won the Hispanics,” he said after winning the Indiana presidential preference primary this week.

But now that he has cleared the Republican primary field, what chance does Trump really  have to win Hispanic votes in November’s general election?

It is going to be difícil or difficult.

Trump’s negative rating is 77 percent among Latinos, according to a national Gallup poll. In Florida, Hispanics are even more sour on the New York businessman, with 87 percent viewing Trump unfavorably, compared with 42 percent for Hillary Clinton.

So it seems Trump would have to do some serious fence mending and it would have to be a “huge” effort. Even so, he   still may not make it because most Hispanics lean Democrat and an increasing number are independent. Trump needs about 40 percent of the national Hispanic vote – to say nothing of the Latino vote in a swing state like Florida – to win the keys to the White House. And that’s a Republican Party estimate.

In his speech after  the Indiana primary, Trump said nothing – nada – about “building that big beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border which he has used as bait to attract an anti-immigrant vote. As if to wipe the slate clean.

But Hispanics remember. After all, Trump made disparaging remarks about Mexicans during his very first outing to announce his presidential candidacy.

Here in Florida, about 57 percent of the state’s foreign born are Latinos, according to the census. More than half of these are citizens and can cast a ballot in November.

News stories from the West Coast and other places state that Latino immigrants are  becoming citizens in order to vote this year. It’s a deja vu of the mid 1990s when California Gov. Pete Wilson launched a tirade against immigrants that effectively turned the state blue. California has elected only one Republican governor since then – Arnold Schwarzenegger.

No, Donald Trump hasn’t “won the Hispanics.” That’s a wall that even he may not be able to scale.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor