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.
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.
President Trump continues to make unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud during the 2016 presidential elections, this time calling for a major federal investigation into what most experts say is a nonexistent problem.
Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million to Hillary Clinton, the highest for any presidential candidate, but he won the Electoral College vote by a narrow margin.
If left unchecked, Trump’s allegations could undermine the nation’s electoral system as voters lose confidence in the voting process. In addition, it could prompt unnecessary actions, such as a repeal of motor voter laws that make it easier to register to vote and to unreasonable voter ID requirements. These and other measures would fall heavily on the Latino and African American voter communities.
But two well-respected Central Florida elections officials – Orange and Seminole Counties Supervisors of Elections Michael Ertel andBill Cowles – are speaking out against Trump’s debunked claims.
“Voter fraud is likely one of the least committed felonies in America,” wrote Ertel and Cowles in response to Trump’s assertions in a dual post published on Facebook. “Florida’s system, while not perfect, is among the best at ensuring voter trust.”
(Full disclosure: I have been a poll worker in Seminole County under Ertel and I also translate Seminole County ballot material.)
Here, in their own words, are Ertel’s and Cowles’ answer to Trump’s assertions.
“Long, but important post. President Trump has created quite the kerfuffle with today’s tweets concerning voter fraud. To be clear: voter fraud is likely one of the least committed felonies in America, and barring system-wide collusion, it is simply not the case that “millions voted illegally.” However, there are always political operatives who attempt to manipulate the process throughout, and to pretend it doesn’t exist at all, is to either be putting your head in the sand or to exercise an extreme naivete of the presence of dirty political tactics. There is good news: Florida’s system, while not perfect, is among the best at ensuring voter trust. We have hard-working, ethical supervisors of elections, and Seminole County is home to pollworkers and staff who together constitute America’s Finest Elections Team. Moreover, like with any crime, there are things which can be done at the state and local levels to decrease the likelihood of the crime being committed. From strong enforcement of existing laws, to realistic voter registration guidelines, to common sense photo ID laws with non-arduous provisions for those without an ID, to local election officials who are savvy enough to identify the potential threat areas and create procedures for eliminating or minimizing the threats, to community members contacting their elections administrators if they see anything they’re not comfortable with. Like with any endeavor, we can’t stop all bad actors from attempts, but we can work together to ensure their efforts are thwarted. An honest appraisal of the process is fair, and if done in a dignified, professional manner, could certainly bear positive results. Because after this new discussion, the trust in the democratic process of electing our republic’s leaders now hangs in the balance.”
The year 2016 is coming to an end with a bang on many fronts. Let’s turn to a few less obvious but newsy items that merit attention for their importance.
From the first news of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, a tug of war erupted between the LGBTQ and Latino communities over who would take the lead in speaking for the 49 victims, most of whom were Hispanic, many of them Puerto Rican.
The LGBTQ community won the struggle, as evidenced by the six-month anniversary of the shooting at the Orange County History Center, where the Hispanic component of the shooting was nearly absent.
As reported in Orlando Latino, the ceremony host “forgot” to acknowledge the Pulse victims. Not one of the survivors or family members was called to the podium. Not one. The host mentioned only in passing that the history center opened a display of the tributes to Pulse collected from around town.
Government and others have now also buried the grass roots efforts that took place in the Latino community to help survivors and families, where groups such as Somos Orlando offered – and continues to offer – mental health counseling to the affected community.
But the Hispanic community has not been totally forgotten. In an Orlando Sentinelpoll conducted before the six-month anniversary, 21 percent said Pulse was an attack of terrorism, an attack against gays and Hispanics (italics mine). That was up from 13 percent in June.
Full disclosure: I was named to the board of Somos Orlando but have resigned this month.
Central Florida has about 11 Latino elected officials as a result of the 2016 elections, including Darren Soto, the first Florida Puerto Rican in Congress. About five are a net gain, meaning a Hispanic did not previously hold the seat.
Here are the winners: Víctor Torres, former state representative to state senator, District 15; Bob Cortés, re-elected to House District 30; John Cortés, re-elected to House District 43; René Plasencia, re-elected to the State House but representing a new area: District 50; AmyMercado elected to House District 48 previously occupied by her father Víctor Torres; CarlosGuillermo Smith elected to District 49; Emily Bonilla elected to the Orange County Commission, District 5; Armando Ramirez, re-elected as Clerk of the Court of Osceola County; José Alvarez elected the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee; and Olga González, elected to Kissimmee City Commission Seat 1.
An important lesson about early voting in the presidential election: About 70 percent of all Florida votes were cast before election day but the latest analyses indicate there is no correlation between early voting and higher voter turnout.
Early voting simply changed the way people voted, which is important for organizers to keep in mind for future elections.
President Barack Obama will have deported more than 2.75 million undocumented immigrants by the time he leaves office in several weeks, the highest number of any president – and some presidents combined, earning Obama the moniker of “Deporter in Chief.”
Of those deported, 84 percent had criminal records. That leaves over 820,000 of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. If Trump delivers on his promise, there won’t be as many undocumented immigrants with criminal records to deport.
One of every five people or 20 percent enrolled in Obamacare lives in Florida, the highest percentage of any state. That’s over 1.3 million people, which is going to make it difficult for Washington to undo the Affordable Care Act without causing massive healthcare headaches for millions of people without other health care recourses.
There would be up to 800,000 more Obamacare customers in Florida if the state had expanded Medicaid, a key component of the health care act.
As of December 19, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services reports about, 6.4 million people had signed up for Obamacare for 2017, or about 2 million more than the year before, indicating that Obamacare has become more – not less – relevant.
Puerto Rico Financial Crisis
At year end, the new fiscal control board that’s poised to take over Puerto Rico in 2017 projected the island’s financial predicament is worse than had been reported, which was already pretty bad.
As reported in Orlando Latino, Puerto Rico’s projected 10-year deficit is $67 billion, or $10 billion higher than originally stated and nearly as much as the island and its public agencies owe bondholders.
Gov.-elect Ricky Rosselló must present a balanced budget, which would be a first in decades, requiring significant government cutbacks as well as deep reforms to keep the island economy from toppling completely.
Bottom line for Florida: The pain is likely to send more economic migrants to the Sunshine State, continuing a dramatic shift in the state’s Latino population. Puerto Ricans number over 1 million in Florida, compared with about 1.3 million Cubans, the state’s largest Latino group.
The final Zika numbers for Puerto Rico fell short of earlier predictions but are still alarming. The Puerto Rico Health Department reports nearly 36,000 islanders contracted mosquito-borne Zika, accounting for the lion’s share of locally transmitted cases under the U.S. flag.
Only 216 local cases were reported in the 50 states, with Florida making up 210 of those.
Zika can cause birth defects such as microcephaly in pregnant women. About 2,500 island women were infected in 2016, which is significantly below the 43,000 cases per year that were projected for Puerto Rico, as reported earlier in Orlando Latino.
Of those 2,500 cases only seven (7 ) resulted in infants with birth defects. The island has projected 1,000 fewer births this year due to Zika.
The nation woke up to a funeral for what could have been or should have been, a novena for the deceased, a rosario for the living whose souls must flicker on.
‘We should have all lit a candle yesterday,” my mom said, disappointed in the election results. My Latino friends will understand.
Friends and family have taken to social media to deliver a post-election outpouring of emotion, following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. It’s a day like only – and thankfully – a few others: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr.; the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers; Hurricane Charley, followed by Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004 in Florida.
You’ll never forget where you were and what you were doing when struck by the news or event.
“I will remember what today feels like for the rest of my life,” wrote a friend on Facebook.
Facebook and other social media have been an endless trail of tears, recriminations, even a fighting word or two among foes.
Following are some expressions of grief from the “Legacy” book of this election. The authors shall remain nameless.
Aching Hearts in America
“A mis hermanos y hermanas en Puerto Rico. Se los dije,” wrote one Facebook friend. “Los Estados Unidos está más racista que nunca.” (My brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, I told you so. The United States is more racist than ever.)
“Me duele el corazón ante la realidad de lo que puede ser!” wrote another. (My heart hurts as I face the reality of what could happen.)
A male friend wrote flatly, “I hate Florida.”
A female posted a prescription for getting through the day, starting with “1 dose of eating your feelings, preferably pizza…”
The economist Robert Reich penned this, “Waking up this morning in an altered universe, trying to avoid despair, as I’m sure many of you are.”
“It still doesn’t feel real, and you can see it on people’s faces everywhere,” wrote a journalist.
“I’m feeling overwhelmed reading everyone’s posts about waking up today and trying to make sense of it all,” wrote female friend.
Some people still longed for Bernie Sanders. “Democrats lost because the Democratic party could not ever fathom, resisted, hated having Bernie represent them.”
A Democratic operative stated, “Blasting ‘My President is Black‘ until further notice,” referring to the song by the rapper Young Jeezy that includes this line: “Just cause you got opinions, does that make you a politician?”
One friend posted a meme of the Statue of Liberty with her hands covering her face in shame. Another a meme of Trump grabbing Lady Liberty by the crotch.
And stating the obvious, “Over the course of the last 24 hours we have gone from exhaustion to exhilaration to despair.”
How Do I Tell the Kids?
But the most touching posts focused on the effect on children or how parents would explain the election results to their kids.
“Testing at my daughters school was canceled…kids too distraught,” wrote a mom.
“I rebuke the so called in-bound president for instilling fear in my kids,” stated a mom.
And finally, this: “How can I tell my daughter that if she is a nice person and works hard she will succeed????”
Watch for more election analysis on Orlando Latino.