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Organizations Keen to Register Puerto Rican Voters

Never have so many organizations been so keen to register Puerto Rican voters.

For partisan voices eager to tilt registration rolls in the critical swing state of Florida, there is gold in them there newly arrived Puerto Ricans. For the partisans who fear they may lose out, there is a race to convince Puerto Rican voters of the kinship between the two.

Florida “estimates that nearly 300,000 U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico fed to Florida after Hurricane María. Some will stay, register and vote. … If Florida turns as reliably blue as California and New York, Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, may never win another presidential election,” wrote Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal  last week.

All this is happening before many Puerto Ricans have settled into permanent residences. Before many have solicited permanent, not temporary, Florida identifications needed to register to vote, by the way. But most important, before the trauma of fleeing a hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico empty-handed is digested or properly dealt with.

Activists and organizations who really want to help Puerto Ricans should start with basic necessities. It may surprise people to learn that voting is not a basic need. In fact, there is no election until the August primaries, seven months away. Voting participation is a lot like concern for the environment: Once fundamental needs are addressed you can turn your gaze elsewhere. The Puerto Rican evacuees are far from reaching this goal. Plus, they are very much concerned about family back home.

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Gov. Rosselló: We’re Coming After You

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló addresses the capacity crowd at a town hall in Kissimmee to kick off mobilization of Puerto Rican voters. /Maria Padilla

KISSIMMEE – In a speech in the the heart of the nation’s Puerto Rican diaspora, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló vowed to sic Puerto Rican voters on political candidates who do not support the island’s hurricane reconstruction efforts after devastating losses inflicted by Hurricanes María and Irma.

Rosselló, who was joined at his first town hall meeting in Central Florida by Sen. Bill Nelson, Cong. Darren Soto, Florida Gov. Rick Scott  and Kissimmee Mayor José Alvarez, said his appearance before a 400-plus capacity crowd at Kissimmee’s civic center was more than an event.

“It is the start of an organization” to push and unify the stateside Puerto Rican population to register to vote and cast ballots not just in Florida, but also in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Ohio, among other states.

It was time, Rosselló said, to let elected officials know that “there are consequences” for voting against Puerto Rico’s interests, as Congress recently did in the federal tax reform that will make it costlier for companies to operate in Puerto Rico, dealing an economic blow to the island.

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Pied Piper of the Puerto Rican Diaspora?

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló threatened to lead the diaspora vote in the 2018 midterm elections. Here he leads a Christmas parranda down an Old San Juan street. / Rosselló-Facebook

The governor of Puerto Rico wants to be the Pied Piper of the Puerto Rican vote, leading the diaspora to the polls in 2018 if Congress doesn’t treat the island better under tax reform. Well, tax reform came and went and Governor Ricardo Rosselló may have to make good on his promise because the reform designates Puerto Rico as a foreign entity at considerable cost to the island economy.

“We are a significant voting bloc in the United States that perhaps hasn’t been organized well in the past,” said Rosselló in an article in Politico. “The diaspora, the Puerto Rican exodus, has always wanted to help Puerto Rico, it just hasn’t been crystal clear how they can do it. If we can establish that organization we can have plenty of influence.”

Rosselló is a little late to the political party, for everyone and her grandmother has been trying to corral the Puerto Rican vote, especially in Central Florida, with the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the state. And this has been the case for quite a while.

Something Laughable

That aside, there is something laughable about Puerto Rico’s failed ruling class, of which Rosselló is a legacy child for his father Pedro Rosselló was a two-term governor, promising to sew up the stateside Puerto Rican vote. The island’s ruling class has demonstrated beyond a doubt it has no clothes of any political stripes, having abandoned the largely poor people of Puerto Rico to fend for themselves in the worse natural disaster in modern Puerto Rico and U.S. history. In addition, it has shown no political accountability for the man-made disasters that erupted after the hurricanes struck.

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More Difficult Phase of Hurricane Relief Underway

The Hurricane María Disaster Relief Center at Orlando International Airport, seen in November, has helped thousands of Puerto Rican evacuees. /Maria Padilla

The 2018 new year will open a second, more difficult, phase of Hurricane María relief efforts for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, after the new arrivals center at Orlando International Airport closes its doors on December 29.

The shuttering of the facility – which has helped 34,000 mostly Puerto Ricans since it opened October 3, including at  Miami-Dade airport and Port Everglades – will leave Central Florida with two relief centers, one each in Osceola and Seminole counties. Orange County, which partnered with agencies at the airport, is opening a relief center before year’s end.

The assistance needed in the new year will be different from the aid first offered to evacuees, who are escaping unlivable conditions on the island – as of this writing, Puerto Rico has gone nearly 100 days without full electricity, the longest blackout in U.S. history. Orlando-area agencies have to grapple with efforts to help stabilize the lives of evacuees, by definition a thornier initiative, given the lack of available resources, most significantly affordable housing.

Stabilizing Lives

What happens when temporary housing vouchers expire for thousands of people living in motels mostly in Osceola and Orange? Will elected officials continue to point “that-a-way” toward who is responsible for stepping up to the plate? Will they join forces to tackle issues together?

The Hurricane María Disaster Relief Center, as the center is officially known, was an extraordinary move by gubernatorial executive order but it didn’t come with state dollars attached. Each agency has borne the cost of its involvement.

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