Respeta Mi Gente Coalition: Investment and Representation Matter

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 28, 2018

ORLANDO, FL — The Respeta Mi Gente coalition responded today to post-midterm reports and analysis on the turnout and influence the Puerto Rican vote had on the 2018 midterm elections in the state of Florida.

“In the race to spin and declare victory among Puerto Rican voters, recent reports have promoted misguided narratives on the impact these voters had in Florida’s statewide elections. Let us be clear, the Respeta Mi Gente coalition is proud to have played a significant part in breaking decades-long records for Puerto Rican and Hispanic voter turnout in Central Florida.” said Marcos Vilar, President and Executive Director of Alianza for Progress. “Not only were voter registration numbers up, but midterm turnout was up in all the counties our coalition targeted for voter engagement, including Orange, Osceola, Volusia, Hillsborough, Polk and Seminole counties, all high density Puerto Rican communities.

“At the local level, there is no doubt that Puerto Rican voters showed up, electing a record number of local officials of Puerto Rican descent, many of whom ran as Democratic or nonpartisan candidates and built on the success of the Puerto Rican vote at the local level in 2016.”

For example:

  • Johanna Lopez won and became the first Latina/Puerto Rican to sit on the School Board in Orange County and Maribel Cordero defeated her Republican opponent to flip the County Commission from Republican to Democratic Control for the first time in decades, with a historic three Latinas now occupying 3 out of 7 Commission seats.

  • Darren Soto, Florida’s first and only Puerto Rican Congressman, was re-elected to Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

  • Puerto Rican Felix Ortiz won an open seat for Kissimmee City Commissioner against tech entrepreneur Andrew Jeng.

  • Four Puerto Rican Democrats were elected to first terms to local office in Volusia County.

  • Viviana Janer was re-elected to the Osceola County Commission with a 71% to 29% margin over former City Commissioner and Puerto Rican GOP candidate Wanda Rentas.

  • Finally, Republican Bob Cortes was soundly defeated in House District 30, while every single Puerto Rican Democratic incumbent in Central Florida won re-election.

A preliminary look at the most heavily Puerto Rican precincts in Osceola County (precincts 200 - 400) shows that voters in those communities voted 69%-30% for Democratic candidate Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate race and 72%-26% for Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race.

Vilar continued: “Once the full data for the 2018 general election in Florida is available, we are confident that it will show that Puerto Ricans were a key factor in the statewide races being as close as they were. The aggressive work our Respeta Mi Gente partners generated in mobilizing Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in Central Florida made a huge difference in narrowing the participation gap between Puerto Rican voters and other groups. Preliminary data from early vote and vote by mail indicates a much larger voter share than 2014.

“When critics attempt to blame Puerto Rican voters for statewide electoral results, they need to remember the community is not blindly partisan. Puerto Rican voters do not act electorally as a monolithic group, but rather respond to investment and meaningful outreach that is responsive to their needs. All available electoral data demonstrate the continuing growth of the community’s political power and the election-defining return on investment that campaigns get for their outreach. If a narrow slice of this voting block was enough to make the difference in the Statewide results, perhaps Democratic Candidates should consider spending more resources and attention to win over this voter block.

“We hope all campaigns and political parties understand the importance of making those long-term investments and ensuring Florida Puerto Ricans are represented, not just in their campaigns, but in their subsequent policy and staffing decisions as elected officials.”

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About Respeta Mi Gente

Respeta Mi Gente is a campaign to build political power among the growing share of Puerto Rican voters in Florida and leverage it, together with the vote of the greater Latino population, to address the community’s priorities on the Island and on the mainland in the 2018 midterm elections.

Kara Watkins