Republican Sen. Rick Scott recently declared himself “the voice of Puerto Rico in the Senate,” after pushing for an additional $600 million in aid for the island in the form of food stamp funds.
“Puerto Rico’s success is America’s success and Puerto Rico’s recovery is America’s recovery,” he said.
Puerto Rico’s delegate in Congress Jenniffer González was thrilled by Scott’s declaration. “As governor, Sen. Scott was there when Puerto Rico needed it most — and he has already proven that he will be a voice for Puerto Rico in the Senate.”
The former governor of Florida sure knows how to ingratiate himself with the state’s Puerto Rican community, one that is expanding daily and whose 1 million-plus population may surpass the Cuban-American community in 2020, experts predict.
Did I mention that 2020 is a presidential election year and that Scott, as well as fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, have to deliver Florida for Donald Trump? Well, there you have it.
Most Puerto Rican voters cast ballots for former Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in the 2018 midterm election, about 60 percent – 40 percent. But Scott proved that he didn’t need a majority of Puerto Rican votes to grab Nelson’s seat, but rather just enough to put him over the top.
He cleverly courted Puerto Ricans after Hurricane María walloped the island, visiting the island seven or more times (even as I write Scott is headed to Puerto Rico for two days), sending Florida personnel to help with recovery efforts, opening welcome centers in Central and South Florida and lifting regulations that would ease Puerto Ricans’ transition into the workforce. (Orlando State Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna V. Eskamani are pushing Gov. Ron DeSantis to ease more professional certifications.)
Many Puerto Ricans never forgot Scott’s support, showing their appreciation by boosting Scott’s candidacy. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Scott outspent Nelson by tens of millions of his own dollars, generating about 10,000 more votes than Nelson to win the election. Without a doubt, many Puerto Ricans fell within that margin of victory.
Elected officials on the island also hedged their bets, splitting their support for Scott’s senatorial bid. González backed Scott while Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his dad former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, both affiliated with the Democratic Party, stood by Nelson.
Scott also is actively courting Venezuelans whose country is in political and economic turmoil that has forced 1 million to flee to bordering Colombia. (More on Venezuela in an upcoming column.) He has blamed socialism for Venezuela’s collapse, criticizing Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but omitting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest member of Congress who identifies as a Democratic Socialist, which is not the same as Socialist, and who happens to be Puerto Rican.
The freshman U.S. senator also is voicing support for immigrants, reversing his earlier position on a permanent status for Dreamers. Thus, if you add the Cuban vote, which still is reliably Republican despite the more Democrat and independent views of younger Cubans, you’ve got a quadfecta: Cubans and just enough Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans and immigrants to keep Florida red.
“I’m happy to count on a companion in the Senate who will make Puerto Rico a priority,” Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner González said.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor