Monthly Archives: October 2016

7 posts

Harnessing the Power of Newly Arrived Puerto Ricans

mb-informa-folded
The voter guide is aimed at encouraging Puerto Rican voter participation and helping newly arrived Puerto Ricans understand the Florida ballot. /Maria Padilla

How to harness the potential electoral power of newly arrived Puerto Ricans, whose American citizenship permits them to arrive by plane today and vote tomorrow?

That’s the principal question asked today, as Florida experiences an unprecedented migration of Puerto Ricans to the state. The voter participation of Puerto Ricans lags that of other voter groups, posing a dilemma for activists, community organizations and political candidates.

Misión Boricua, a community-based non-profit, may have tapped into a potential solution: a voter-focused, non partisan and bilingual guide Misión Boricua Informa in time for the November elections and aimed at encouraging Puerto Ricans to vote. The guide helps newcomers understand the differences between voting here and there.

(Full disclosure: I was the editor of Misión Boricua Informa.)

The move indicates that the push to get Puerto Ricans to vote has taken a new turn, a new tact in Central Florida. Lower Puerto Rican voter participation has long been a conundrum in Central Florida. Why do 78 percent of Puerto Ricans vote on the island but not here? (That number, by the way, is declining. More about that below.)

Interested Voters

It is not for lack of interest.

A recent poll of Puerto Ricans by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive organization, showed that 85 percent of stateside-born Puerto Ricans indicated they planned to vote, versus 82 percent among island-born. Not a great statistical difference.

What’s more, a higher percentage of island born (87 percent) said the 2016 elections mattered a lot versus stateside-born Puerto Ricans (81 percent), according to the poll of 500 Puerto Ricans, which had a 4.4 percent margin of error. A bit more of a significant difference.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund financed the Misión Boricua Informa newspaper project.

Generational Disparities

Of the Puerto Rico-born, most (56 percent) said they had voted in Puerto Rico. However, the poll revealed wide generational disparities that get to the crux of the issue.

Of those under age 40, only 38 percent had voted on the island, compared with 62 percent of those over 40.

Younger poll participants also found it easier to register and vote in Florida (74 percent) versus those over age 40 (41 percent).

Voter apathy among younger Puerto Ricans may be impacting Central Florida electoral participation since the current historical migration from Puerto Rico is made up of younger, working- and voting-age Puerto Ricans.

Conversely, older Puerto Ricans who find it difficult to register and vote in Florida also may be impacting Puerto Rican voter turnout.

Voter apathy or turnoff is a growing concern in Puerto Rico, where voter participation has steadily declined since 1984, according to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission.

Puerto Rico’s lowest voter participation rate – 48 percent – was recorded in 1900, shortly after the United States took over the island. The highest  – 93 percent – occurred in 1920. In 1984, the voter participation rate was 89 percent, but it has fallen each year since, reaching 78 percent in 2012, the island’s last general election.

Puerto Rico Voter Participation

1900 – 48 percent

1920 – 93 percent

1984 – 89 percent

2012 – 78 percent

Newly arrived Puerto Ricans

It’s possible that lagging voter participation and voter registration-ballot difficulty or accessibility among the Puerto Rico-born population may exacerbate existing lower voter turnout among Central Florida Puerto Ricans as a new generation of migrants deplanes on our doorstep.

That is what Misión Boricua Informa, a voter-focused, non partisan and bilingual newspaper, aims to address.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Caravanas Cruise Orlando in Search of Voters

caravana
This is the fourth caravana of the general election season, with one more to go the Saturday before the November elections./Maria Padilla

Puerto Rican caravanas – the get-out-the-vote staple of Puerto Rico elections –cruised Orlando streets  to generate voter enthusiasm in Central Florida.

Iniciativa Acción Puertorriqueña, together with Misión Boricua, Que Vote Mi Gente, Organize Now and others – all progressive leaning groups – drew 50 or more cars to the parking lot of the shuttered and decaying Kmart in the heart of Azalea Park to kick off its fourth caravana of the general election season.

With Puerto Rican flags and #BoricuaVota banners flapping in the breeze, the vehicles lined up by the Kmart curb before heading out to cruise the streets of southeast Orlando and Orange County, where many Puerto Ricans reside.

Five Caravanas

“The last caravana is next Saturday,” November 5, right before the November 8 elections in an as-yet-to- be-determined location, explained Jimmy Torres Vélez of Iniciativa Acción Puertorriqueña and the SEIU labor union. Three caravans already have tooted their horns in Buenaventura Lakes and Poinciana in Osceola County, and in Hunters Creek in Orange County.

All are aimed at revving up the crowd with traditional Puerto Rican bomba y plena music and scaring away voter apathy, a specter that haunts the organizations. The caravana routes are all in heavy Latino  areas, the focus of intense get-out-the-vote efforts.

In fact, Osceola has the highest voter turnout thus far among “the top five black and brown counties in the state,” according to Stephanie Porta, executive director of Organize Now, who added the data were from the VAN voter database system.

Organize Now is taking nothing for granted. Porta commented that since July her group has knocked on 1 million doors in eight mostly Hispanic counties in Florida.

Puerto Ricans Under a Microscope

vamos4pr
The Vamos4PR workshop preceded the caravana and focused jobs, education, health care and housing. /Maria Padilla

Puerto Ricans in Florida have come under a microscope as their numbers soar – over 1 million in the state – and organizations realize they are ripe for the picking and organizing.

Earlier in the day, Vamos4PR conducted a workshop attended by more than 100 people at the Centro Borinqueño in Orlando aimed not just at voter turnout but what happens after the ballots are cast and counted.

Vamos4PR wants to harness the potential power of the Puerto Rican population to influence the outcome of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt crisis negotiations.

“We have to turn this crisis into an opportunity,” said Shirley Aldebol, vice president of SEIU 32BJ of New York, the driving force of the 30 coalition partners of Vamos4PR Florida.

Compared with Florida, a right-to-work state, Puerto Rico has higher labor activism – from teachers to  hotel workers. And decades-long links with stateside labor unions.

“Puerto Rican participation in the labor movement generally has been more intensive and consistent,” wrote Eddie González and Lois Gray in a Cornell University study, titled “Puerto Ricans, Politics, and Labor Activism” in the 20th century.

Filling a Vacuum

The influx of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to Florida has shocked Puerto Ricans already here with stories of hunger, homelessness and deprivation. It has lit a fire under this and local labor coalitions to fill the vacuum of what is perceived as a lack of official local government response.

“I lost everything,” said Kaisha Toledo, originally of Hatillo, Puerto Rico. “I have $283,000 of student debt and it terrorizes me,” she added, explaining that she accumulated the debt while studying for a Ph.D in Puerto Rico, where she worked as a mental health counselor. But she cannot practice in Florida and is desperately looking for a solution.

Blue for Life

In fact, many professional Puerto Ricans – teachers, for instance– say it’s difficult to navigate the state’s licensing procedures, which seem bent  on keeping people out than letting newcomers in.

If Vamos4PR Florida and other organizations succeed in drawing the disaffected Puerto Rican migrant to their movements, it’s a good bet the newcomers will be progressive for life, potentially turning the now purple state of Florida a deep shade of blue.

That ought to have Florida Republicans seeing red for years to come.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

The Puerto Rican Voter Has Arrived in Florida

Puerto Rican lady w. flag
The Puerto Rican voter has arrived in Florida, as journalists and Pacs begin to cover and embrace the demographic shift in Hispanic voters. /Maria Padilla

The Puerto Rican voter has arrived in Florida. It’s not too early to declare it so.

The national and international media have come around to the fact that Puerto Ricans in Florida likely hold the key to the 2016 elections. Serious Pac money is being invested in the Central Florida Puerto Rican voter this election cycle.

As a journalist who has spent nearly 20 years in Orlando reporting, writing and documenting the comings and goings of Puerto Ricans, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Florida is a politically fluid state in large measure because more and more Puerto Ricans are choosing the state as their home. The Puerto Rican population jumped 100 percent since 2000,  according to census reports, and they are concentrated in Central Florida, the political swing part of the state. Central Florida is the swing part of the state because Puerto Ricans can be swing voters. It’s fair to say that one doesn’t exist without the other.

Puerto Ricans put the purple into Florida.

Counterweight

They are providing an important counterweight to the heavy Cuban-Republican vote in South Florida. However, even that is changing as more recent immigrants and younger Cubans break away from the political traditions of an older exile generation.

In the last month, reporters from the United Kingdom, Iceland and Montreal, Canada – to name a few –  have touched down in Central Florida to profile specifically the Puerto Rican voter. That would not have happened earlier.

Years ago, journalists visited Central Florida – if they visited at all – to ask about Cuban voters, indicating they didn’t know what was happening here. They had not done their homework. They didn’t understand that census data show that Puerto Ricans make up half of the Orlando area’s Hispanic population.

Word Is Out

That’s over. Word has gotten out.

Puerto Ricans are here in very large numbers – over 1 million in Florida, a state that will soon surpass New York in Puerto Rican population. That is saying a lot, considering that New York for decades has been the historical stateside center of Puerto Rican people.

As significantly, only four percentage points separate the ratio of Cuban to Puerto Rican voters among  Hispanic voters – 31 percent to 27 percent, according to Pew Research.

If this were a poll, the difference would fall within the margin of error.

In fact, Osceola County, the heart of the Puerto Rican community, now has more Hispanic registered voters than non-Hispanic white voters, according to data from the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections and as Orlando Latino reported earlier.

84 Percent Expect to Vote

In a Center for American Progress Action Fund poll of Puerto Ricans released this month – a rare poll to focus exclusively on Puerto Ricans in Florida – about 84 percent said they “definitely” planned to vote in the election, a number that approximates voter turnout in Puerto Rico but which thus far has eluded Florida.

The Center for American Progress Action is a progressive-leaning organization that has taken a keen interest in the Puerto Rican voter. It is plunking down serious funding into a number of local initiatives, including the Que Vote Mi Gente voter mobilization effort.

Other projects are underway in the two weeks left to the November 8 elections. But more about that later.

Today, it suffices to say the Puerto Rican voter has arrived in Florida.  Finally. 

Election Spurs Yard Signs Feud

clinton-tax-4
Feuding yard signs: Clinton-Kaine (left) and Fight Tax Disease. In a surprise development, the Clinton signs predominate in my neighborhood. / Maria Padilla

The lawns in my neighborhood have sprouted about seven Hillary Clinton yard signs.

Is it a harbinger of things to come on November 8? Is it an I-dare-you-put-up-a-Trump-sign moment? Is it a stand-your-ground event stating “Enough!” Is it a not-so-secret symbol of Democrat solidarity?

The political pendulum in my voting precinct swings both ways, just like the I-4 corridor that plays a big role in making Florida a purple state, that makes Florida a coveted state. Because as Florida goes with its 29 Electoral College votes, so goes the election.

Which is why I hit “pause” when the Clinton signs came out.

Swing Precinct

In 2008, my precinct voted 52 percent for Barack Obama, according to the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections. But I saw few Obama yard signs that year, certainly not seven. Four years later, in 2012, the precinct turned a ripe red, voting 57 percent for Mitt Romney. Another 1.4 percent supported Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is on this year’s ballot as well. There were more Romney signs and only one o two Obama sign that year.

Recently, when a Clinton sign popped up around the corner from me, a neighbor put up a red, tea partyish  “Fight Tax Disease” sign, driving a stake in the yard-sign feud. The elderly gent periodically puts up and takes down the sign, according to his cantankerous moods. (Oct. 16 update: 8 Clinton signs vs. 2 for Trump.)

On my route to work, there is a house in a different neighborhood that does the same with a blue Trump-Pence yard sign. Trump in big white letters; Pence in tinier ones.  It was the first Trump yard sign I spotted this election season, and I have been following it ever since.

Sometimes I see it in the morning on my way to work; sometimes it’s gone by sundown. Sometimes I see it on the evening route home; sometimes it’s gone by sun-up. One day, the sign multiplied by two.

Family Feud

I imagine there is an election feud going on in the house. Somebody is for Donald Trump, somebody is not. “I’m putting up the sign.” “No, you’re not!”

There are probably many households like the one I imagine, given that nonHispanic white males are all in for Trump – 61 percent lean Republican while 32 percent support Democrats, states a recent Pew Research center poll. NonHispanic white women, meanwhile, are more divided, 47 percent affiliate as Republican versus 46 percent who identify as Democrat, according to the same Pew poll. The numbers flip dramatically by generation, with Millennials all in with Democrats.

In my own backyard, I know some of the neighbors who have Clinton yard signs. They are quiet, thoughtful Democrats living in a leafy suburb filled with mostly quiet, thoughtful Republicans in a county where the GOP predominates and there are no term limits. As someone noted recently, “Seminole is Republican but it’s not bat crazy.” We shall see.

At community gatherings neighbors living side by side do not talk politics – for the most part. Everybody is polite. Nobody wants to upset the live oak leaf cart.

But here’s what I think went down: Some of my Democrat neighbors got together– yes, a conspiracy! More likely, they bumped into each other during a morning or evening walk along the shady cul de sacs, a popular activity here. And they agreed to throw down the yard signs together, as one, to create crowd safety.

Insecticide

By being the firsts to put up yard signs, they sprayed insecticide on the grass, signaling, “Go ahead, put up a Trump sign, if you dare.”

More important, they seem to be stating that something has gone terribly wrong in this presidential election campaign. But here, in this subdivision of quiet streets and lovely lawns, “Do not bring the lawn pest in here.”

˜˜ Maria Padilla, Editor