Darren Soto

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Fresh Faces Win Central Florida Congressional Races

State Rep. Darren Soto is the first Puerto Rican from Florida to be elected to Congress.

Central Florida will send a number of fresh faces to Congress come January. All are Democrats.

They include State Rep. Darren Soto, who will represent Congressional District 9 and is the first Puerto Rican from Florida to head to Congress, a symbol of the growing Puerto Rican electorate. In addition, former Orlando police chief Val Demings will head Congressional District 10 and newcomer Stephanie Murphy pulled a major upset in Congressional District 7.

It is the most diverse congressional delegation that Central Florida has ever seen – thanks to the Fair Districts constitutional amendment championed by the League of Women Voters and others and that took years of litigation to implement.

Once in place, it changed the gerrymandered district lines away from Republicans to more fairly represent Democrats in those areas.

The Biggest Upset

Stephanie Murphy

The biggest coup belonged to Stephanie Murphy, who won District 7 held by 12-term Republican Cong. John Mica, who complained of millions of dollars of “outside money” being poured into the district to defeat him. Certainly that is true; over $4 million was spent on behalf of Murphy.

But the redrawn district also picked up parts of Orange and Volusia counties, ending Mica’s 22 years of landslide GOP victories. In fact, Mica won Seminole County with 52 percent of the vote, but lost Orange County by about 20,000 votes.

As surprising and just as revealing, Donald Trump won “reliably red” Seminole by just 3,654 votes or 1.6 percentage points.

As political analyst Rick Fogelsong repeated earlier and on Election Night, “Seminole County is turning purple.”

Local Races

In state races:

Víctor Torres and Amy Mercado.

State Rep. Víctor Torres (D) won State Senate District 15, previously held by Soto and which covers Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties.

• Amy Mercado (D) was the victor in State House District 48 in Orange County. Mercado and Torres are the first father-daughter and Hispanic team to go to Tallahassee.

• John Cortés (D) was re-elected to State House District 43, representing Osceola County.

• Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) will head up State House District 49, which covers Orange County.

• Bob Cortés (R) retained State House District 30, which includes parts of Orange and Seminole.

• René Plasencia (R) captured State House District 50, covering Brevard and Orange counties.

Orange County

Emily Bonilla

Emily Bonilla also pulled a surprise 57 percent upset against incumbent Ted Edwards for a seat on the Orange County Commission, District 5.  Edwards was weakened by his support of a massive housing development east of the Econlockhatchee River, for years considered the line in the sand for protecting east Orange County’s fragile ecosystem.

Bonilla becomes the first Latina – and Puerto Rican – since Mildred Fernández to be on the Orange County Commission. Fernández was convicted on charges of illegal campaign contributions in 2012 and was sent to state prison. She cannot run for public office again.

Osceola County

José Alvarez

For the first time, Kissimmee’s fast-growing Hispanic population elected a Latino to be its mayor. José Alvarez earned a resounding victory over Art Otero, 63 percent vs. 37 percent, ending a very  contentious campaign that centered on whether Puerto Ricans would elect Cuban-American Alvarez over Puerto Rican Otero. They opted for Alvarez.

And despite being trailed by controversy early in his tenure as Osceola County Clerk of the Court, Armando Ramirez won re-election with 62 percent of the vote.

Watch Orlando Latino for more 2016 elections coverage.  

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Good Primary Elections for Latinos

Soto and Cortes
It was a good primary election for John Cortés (l) and Darren Soto, shown campaigning together in Kissimmee before the election. / Soto-Facebook

It was a good primary elections for many Hispanic candidates in Central Florida. From Osceola to Seminole counties,  Hispanic candidates established “firsts” for the Latino community in a sign that the Florida Supreme Court-imposed congressional redistricting evened the political playing field.

Florida voter turnout of nearly 24 percent also was good, higher than the 21 percent recorded in 2012, also a presidential election year. However, Central Florida  turnout was lower than the state average. Seminole came closest with a 22.6 percent primary turnout, followed by Osceola (20.8 percent). In an unusual move, Orange County trailed both with an 18 percent turnout.

No details yet on the Hispanic voter turnout, which often is low for primary and mid-term elections.

Here’s an analysis of how Hispanic candidates fared.

U.S. Senate

Republican incumbent Marco Rubio won handily against millionaire Carlos Beruff, a Donald Trump acolyte, proving that there is only one Donald Trump and imitators need not apply.  Rubio deserves mention as well because he is seriously courting Central Florida Latinos – he celebrated his win in Puerto Rican-heavy Osceola. Many  Puerto Ricans are turned off by Rubio’s vote against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, his on-again, off-again immigration reform and flip flopping on Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis. But Rubio needs to win the I-4 corridor in November.

Finally tally: Rubio won by 74 percent in Orange and 71 percent in Osceola, two Democratic counties – well ahead of Beruff as well as the man who would be his Democratic rival Cong. Alan Grayson, who in turn lost the primary to Patrick Murphy.  Grayson proved unpopular even on his home turf.

Congressional District 9

State Sen. Darren Soto was the big winner in a crowded Democratic field that included Dena Minning Grayson, wife of current Cong. Grayson; as well as Grayson’s former district director Susannah Randolph. However, Dena Grayson and Randolph appeared to cancel each other out, opening the way for Soto, who was financially competitive and campaigned hard among Latinos.

Interesting aside, a big loser is Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer, the first Latina and Puerto Rican on the County Commission who endorsed Randolph over Soto. Janer didn’t prove to have any coattails for Randolph to ride.

Soto is nearly assured a win in November against Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in a district drawn to favor Democrats, potentially becoming the first Puerto Rican from Florida to go to Congress.

Final tally: Soto won 44 percent of the vote in Osceola – about double that of Grayson and Randolph – and 38 percent in Orange, or five points ahead of Randolph and 15 points ahead of Grayson.

A note about Val Demings, the resounding winner (57 percent) of the Democratic primary in Congressional District 10. This redrawn district contains about an equal ratio of black (25 percent) and Hispanics ( 21 percent). It bears watching for Latinos as well.


State Senate District 15-State House District 48

Father-daughter team of State. Rep. Víctor Torres and Amy Mercado won their respective primary races for State Senate District 15 (includes parts of Orange and Osceola) and State House District 48 (Orange), respectively. A November win, which is likely in these two Democratic districts, would make the duo the first father-daughter legislators in Florida.

Final tally: Torres won 67.7 percent of Orange and 56 percent of Osceola, while Mercado earned 60 percent in Orange.

State House District 43

Meanwhile, John Cortés easily held onto State House District 43 against the man who once held the seat, Ricardo Rangel, despite old allegations of a domestic dispute between Cortés and his daughter. This proves that Cortés’s overwhelming win over Rangel in 2014 was no fluke. Osceola doesn’t like Rangel. Cortés is a likely shoo-in in November in this Democratic district.

Final tally: Cortés 42 percent, Rangel 29 percent.

Osceola Clerk

Incumbent Armando Ramírez managed to hold onto to the Osceola Clerk of the Court, despite some stumbles and bad publicity early in his term, including charges of nepotism and the firing of employees, proving that either Ramirez has righted his ship or Osceola likes Ramírez.

Final tally: Ramirez 42.4 percent vs. 37 percent for John Overstreet.

Kissimmee Mayor

The battle for who will be the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee spilled into the November election, as Kissimmee Commissioners José Alvarez and Art Otero head for a runoff. This guarantees an already ugly battle will get more vicious. Otero is attempting to disqualify Alvarez from the race and reminds voters that he is the Puerto Rican candidate. Alvarez is Cuban-American.

Final tally:  Alvarez 45.7 percent, Otero 41.6 percent.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Slow Going in Early Voting

ya voté
Early voting is going slowly thus far, but voters have until Saturday, August 27, to vote in any early voting center in their county.

With just days to go before the August 30 primary elections, the early voting is going very slowly for all political parties.

As of Friday morning, just 351,488 early voters had cast ballots across the state of Florida, with Republicans slightly ahead (170,102) of Democrats (155,758) according to the Florida Division of Elections.

However, in Orange and Osceola counties early voting favors Democrats, as does the vote by mail. Then again, Orange and Osceola are predominantly Democrat, while  Seminole is mostly Republican.

Early voting in Florida ends Saturday, August 27, and voters do not appear to be taking advantage of the one of two ways to cast ballots ahead of election day in Florida – the other being vote by mail – placing the onus on election day turnout.

Many races likely will be decided in the primaries, not in the November election. For example, in Kissimmee the winner of the mayoral race is the city’s next mayor –and  the winner will be the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee. The race  essentially comes down to City Commissioner José Alvarez and former commissioner Art Otero.

In addition, the race for Congressional District 9, which covers parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk counties, and leans Democrat and Hispanic, also is highly likely to be decided in the August primary among State Sen. Darren Soto, Susannah Randolph, Dena Minning Grayson and Valleri Crabtree. A social media dispute has broken out between the Grayson and Randolph camps, creating more uncertainty in that race. (Randolph is Grayson’s former district director.)

Three-County Area

In the three-county area, Democrats in Orange and Osceola appear to be voting early in greater numbers than Republicans.

In Orange, about twice as many Democrats (10,390) as Republicans (5,145) have voted early. In Osceola, 56 percent of all early voters are Democrats (2,070) versus Republicans (1,279).

Meanwhile, in Seminole, where Republicans dominate, 55 percent of early voters are Republicans, compared with 36 percent who are Democrat.

early voting graph



Those who don’t affiliate with any political party or NPA voters often determine the outcome of general elections, but they cannot vote in political party primaries, accounting for their low numbers.  NPA voters, however, can vote on the constitutional amendment on solar energy and certain local nonpartisan races.

Only 1,582 NPA voters have cast ballots in Orange, while only 288 have done so in Osceola and 536 in Seminole. In all of Florida, 21,814 NPA voters have gone to the polls, just 6 percent of all early  voters, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Vote by Mail

Voting by mail is a more popular alternative among all voters, with over 1 million Floridians having voted by mail thus far. Republicans have cast 525,000 mail ballots versus 408,049 for Democrats. The remainder are “other” and NPA voters.

At the local level, mail ballots favor Democrats, with 21,092 having voted by mail In Orange versus 18,008 Republicans. In Osceola,  Democrats have cast 7,976 mail ballots, compared with 5,876 for Republicans.

In Seminole, nearly 12,400 Republicans have voted by mail versus 7,140 Democrats.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Political Hits Keep Coming

Randolph - Soto
Susannah Randolph and State Sen. Darren Soto, Democratic rivals for Congressional District 9.

The political hits just keep on coming.  It seems that Susannah Randolph’s campaign for Congressional  District 9 is imploding with bad publicity. Then the data dump of Florida Democratic  Party documents is chock-a- block with unsavory details about some local Democrats.

First, to Susannah Randolph, who in the last month is scoring  0-4, a development that in large part benefits her Democratic rival State Sen. Darren Soto.

This week, a former Randolph mentee Holly Fussell issued a thunderclap against Randolph heard across Central Florida. In a Facebook post,  Fussell accused Randolph of “being no champion of women” – as her campaign states – because Randolph was not supportive of Fussell’s allegations of sexual harassment from an unknown assailant while under Randolph’s tutelage. Fussell urged her followers not to vote for Randolph.

No word yet from Randolph.

In addition, Randolph earlier got it embarrassingly wrong about Soto and the 43 Days Initiative legislation to extend the reporting time for sexual assaults, approved by the Legislature. He co-sponsored the bill; she stated in a mailer that he opposed it. Victims’ rights advocate Danielle Sullivan later did a promo for Soto.

Then the Orlando Sentinel endorsed Soto, saying in part that Randolph is too partisan and wouldn’t do well in Congress.

Congressional District 9, which leans Democrat and is 40 percent or more Hispanic, is being hotly contested by four Democrats – Soto, Randolph,  Dena Minning Grayson and Valleri Crabtree – who face off in the August 30 primary. The Democratic winner very likely will be the next representative in Congress.

The seat currently is held by Alan Grayson, who is running for the U. S. Senate against fellow Democrat Patrick Murphy.

And finally, Florida Democratic Party data that was hacked earlier was made public this week.

It includes internal profiles of Randolph, Bob Poe and his investor relationship with Grayson, as well as Geraldine Thompson’s dubious financial dealings.

Poe and Thompson are Democratic rivals for Congressional District 10, which is over 20 percent Latino.

The info, which is not necessarily new, is likely to make oppo fodder.

–Maria Padilla, Editor