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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

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

Election Spurs Yard Signs Feud

Feuding yard signs: Clinton-Kaine (left) and Fight Tax Disease. In a surprise development, the Clinton signs predominate in my neighborhood. / Maria Padilla

The lawns in my neighborhood have sprouted about seven Hillary Clinton yard signs.

Is it a harbinger of things to come on November 8? Is it an I-dare-you-put-up-a-Trump-sign moment? Is it a stand-your-ground event stating “Enough!” Is it a not-so-secret symbol of Democrat solidarity?

The political pendulum in my voting precinct swings both ways, just like the I-4 corridor that plays a big role in making Florida a purple state, that makes Florida a coveted state. Because as Florida goes with its 29 Electoral College votes, so goes the election.

Which is why I hit “pause” when the Clinton signs came out.

Swing Precinct

In 2008, my precinct voted 52 percent for Barack Obama, according to the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections. But I saw few Obama yard signs that year, certainly not seven. Four years later, in 2012, the precinct turned a ripe red, voting 57 percent for Mitt Romney. Another 1.4 percent supported Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is on this year’s ballot as well. There were more Romney signs and only one o two Obama sign that year.

Recently, when a Clinton sign popped up around the corner from me, a neighbor put up a red, tea partyish  “Fight Tax Disease” sign, driving a stake in the yard-sign feud. The elderly gent periodically puts up and takes down the sign, according to his cantankerous moods. (Oct. 16 update: 8 Clinton signs vs. 2 for Trump.)

On my route to work, there is a house in a different neighborhood that does the same with a blue Trump-Pence yard sign. Trump in big white letters; Pence in tinier ones.  It was the first Trump yard sign I spotted this election season, and I have been following it ever since.

Sometimes I see it in the morning on my way to work; sometimes it’s gone by sundown. Sometimes I see it on the evening route home; sometimes it’s gone by sun-up. One day, the sign multiplied by two.

Family Feud

I imagine there is an election feud going on in the house. Somebody is for Donald Trump, somebody is not. “I’m putting up the sign.” “No, you’re not!”

There are probably many households like the one I imagine, given that nonHispanic white males are all in for Trump – 61 percent lean Republican while 32 percent support Democrats, states a recent Pew Research center poll. NonHispanic white women, meanwhile, are more divided, 47 percent affiliate as Republican versus 46 percent who identify as Democrat, according to the same Pew poll. The numbers flip dramatically by generation, with Millennials all in with Democrats.

In my own backyard, I know some of the neighbors who have Clinton yard signs. They are quiet, thoughtful Democrats living in a leafy suburb filled with mostly quiet, thoughtful Republicans in a county where the GOP predominates and there are no term limits. As someone noted recently, “Seminole is Republican but it’s not bat crazy.” We shall see.

At community gatherings neighbors living side by side do not talk politics – for the most part. Everybody is polite. Nobody wants to upset the live oak leaf cart.

But here’s what I think went down: Some of my Democrat neighbors got together– yes, a conspiracy! More likely, they bumped into each other during a morning or evening walk along the shady cul de sacs, a popular activity here. And they agreed to throw down the yard signs together, as one, to create crowd safety.


By being the firsts to put up yard signs, they sprayed insecticide on the grass, signaling, “Go ahead, put up a Trump sign, if you dare.”

More important, they seem to be stating that something has gone terribly wrong in this presidential election campaign. But here, in this subdivision of quiet streets and lovely lawns, “Do not bring the lawn pest in here.”

˜˜ Maria Padilla, Editor

Early Voting Turnout Is Just 4 Percent

yo vote

Early voting turnout is 4 percent in the August 30 primaries, a figure that was mirrored in the three-county area, according to the Florida Division of Elections’  figures released August 28.

The numbers are bound to increase once all primary votes are cast – either early, by mail or in person. Total turnout in the 2012 primary elections – also a presidential election year – was 20.5 percent, still considered low.

The final day of early voting is Sunday, August 28, until 7 p.m..

For the early vote end of day Saturday, August 27, elections data show that 494,925  cast ballots across Florida, about 49 percent Republican and 44 percent Democrat.

In Orange 4 percent of Democrat voters turned out to vote in the primaries, while the figure was even lower – 3.3 percent – for Republicans.

In Osceola thus far, 3.8 percent of Democrat voters have cast a ballot and 4 percent of Republicans.

Seminole turnout has been higher, with 5.4 percent Republican versus 4.2 percent for Democrats.

Tuesday, August 30, is the final day for voting the Florida primaries either in person or by mail.

Here’s the  breakdown for early voting in the three-county area:


Democrats     13,736  (59 percent of total early vote)

Republicans    7,011 (30 percent)

NPAs                  2,192 (9 percent)

Total           23,093


Democrats      3,003 (57 percent)

Republicans    1,821 (34 percent)

NPAs                  421 (8 percent)

Total            5,290


Republicans   5,841 (55 percent)

Democrats    3,870   (36 percent)

NPAs                875    (8 percent)

Total            10,721

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor