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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

Half of Florida Has Already Voted

Half of Florida has voted, but mail-in ballots continue to pour in and Election Day is still to come.

Half of Florida has voted, according the the latest figures by the state Division of Elections.

One of every three Florida voters or 30 percent cast an early ballot or nearly 4 million people, while another 20 percent have voted by mail  thus far. Mail-in ballots continue to flow in as, the deadline to receive these votes is 5 p.m. on Election Day.

The Division of Election figures include the two-week early voting period, ended Sunday, November 6.

The breakdown by political party indicates Democrats dominated early voting with 1.6 million votes statewide, while Republicans tallied 1.4 million early votes. 

In vote by mail, the Republicans have so far amassed a little over 1 million votes, while Democrats aren’t far behind with 980,427 votes.

NPA or no party affiliated voters are leaving a big mark and may very well decide the elections. About  800,000 voted early and another 500,000 have voted by mail, for a total of 1.2 million votes.

How the Tri-County Area Voted

Here’s a look at how Central Florida voted early county by county:


Early vote

Rep.  71,308

Dem. 118,242

NPA   60,251

TOTAL   255,112


Early vote

Rep. 15, 566

Dem. 30,479

NPA 16,063

TOTAL 63,256 


Early vote 

Rep. 42, 991

Dem. 38,942

NPA 24,760

TOTAL 109,269 

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Early Voting Is Breaking Records

Voters chat outside the Hoffner Avenue library early voting site in Orange County while others wait in line to cast their ballots. /Maria Padilla

Early voting is breaking records in Florida. And we still have one day to go.

“Seminole County already has more votes cast than were cast in the much-remembered 2000 presidential election.  Amazing,” stated Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel in a voting update.

Sign outside Hoffner library early voting site. However, voters said the line was moving fast. /Maria Padilla 

As of Saturday morning, nearly 6 million people voted in all of Florida, or roughly 46 percent of registered voters, according to the state Division of Elections. The early vote is expanding and is ahead of mail-in ballots by almost 1 million.

Early Voting Split

Democrats and Republicans are about evenly split among early voters statewide. However,  no party affiliation or NPA – 626,000 votes thus far – is pulling the early vote numbers ahead of mail-in ballots.

As for political parties, Orange and Osceola counties favor Democrat voters in terms of registration and voting.

Meanwhile, in Republican-leaning Seminole, Democrats are drawing closer to the GOP  in numbers. But NPA voters likely will decide the outcome of many Seminole races.

Seminole Turning Purple?

Rollins College professor and political analyst Rick Fogelsong stated earlier this week, “Seminole County is turning purple,” meaning it may turn into a swing-vote county.

In the Orlando area, the early vote is shaping up as follows :


Early – 202,240, Democrats are about 47 percent, Republicans 29 percent, NPA  23 percent

Mail – 139,166; Democrats are about 45 percent, Republicans 33 percent, NPA 20 percent


Voter participation rate: 48 percent 


Early – 50,332; Democrats are about 49 percent, Republicans 26 percent, NPA  24 percent

Mail – 40,108; Democrats are about 46 percent, Republicans 29 percent, NPA 23 percent 


Voter participation rate: NA


Early – 89,120; Republicans are 40 percent, Democrats 36 percent, NPA 22 percent

Mail – 56,140;  Republicans are about 45 percent, Democrats are 34 percent, NPA 45 percent


Voter participation rate: 50 percent

Visit Orlando Latino on Monday for the final early-vote tally. Remember, mail-in voting continues through Election Day.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Caravanas Cruise Orlando in Search of Voters

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

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