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Orlando Sentinel

Hispanics Fight To Control Their Political Future

By Maria Padilla

October 24, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

In the past few weeks, several political developments affecting Hispanics have received scant attention but could turn out to be important.

One is the defection of Joe Perez, vice mayor of Deltona, from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. The other concerns redistricting in the city of Orlando, which re-established city voting districts.

First, let's tackle Perez, a long-time Republican who switched parties at a time when the GOP thinks it can grab a chunk of the Hispanic vote. Perez's decision is important because he's one of only two Hispanics left in elected office in this region, and he has set his eyes on higher office.

Perez, a candidate for mayor of Deltona, thinks the GOP is out of sync with Hispanics, the fastest growing group in the region and state.

Perez's disenchantment is rooted mostly in GOP policies, which do not accommodate his point of view. He's against school vouchers and the elimination of the Board of Regents. Perez is for affirmative-action programs, portions of which Gov. Jeb Bush dismantled. "I hated to be hypocritical about supporting these issues," he said.

But it's unclear whether the Democratic Party is an improvement.

Some Hispanic Democrats who have run for office, such as Daris Guevara of Osceola County, didn't get the kind of financial backing from the Democrats they had hoped. Guevara's campaign chest was empty in the beginning, middle and end of her Osceola County Commission campaign last year.

Nonetheless, Orange County Democrats recently gave Perez a big welcome with a fund-raiser.

Being a Democrat likely might help Perez in one major way, and that's political demographics. More than half the Hispanics in this region are Puerto Rican, as is Perez. Puerto Ricans tend to vote Democrat.

If demographics help determine political destiny, then Perez also changed parties to grab the increasing number of votes on the other side of the ballot.

On the Orlando front, there appeared to be no we're-all-in-this-together phase in the redistricting process. Everyone came out firing at the same time. It's miraculous that some folks are still standing -- such as Ernest Page -- but perhaps not for long.

Hispanics came out no better than in the 1990 redistricting, which is surprising considering the large increase in the population. Southeast Orlando, known as District 2, still retains the largest chunk of Hispanics -- about 40 percent. But some Hispanics wanted more, perhaps 1 to 2 percentage points more, to "guarantee" a Hispanic seat.

That philosophy, however, collided with the current trend away from "majority-minority" districts, based on some U.S. Supreme Court cases.

In addition, some advocates for Hispanics were disappointed that there weren't enough large-scale businesses in District 2, which includes Orlando Executive Airport. Businesses are needed to help with campaign contributions.

None of this is as upsetting as what comes next, though. The City Council allowed City Commissioner Betty Wyman, now in her third term representing the southeast, to retain a portion of her original district.

To accommodate Wyman, that part of District 2 jogs south, then west, then north to embrace Dover Estates. In concrete terms that's called gerrymandering. But in politics, it's known as a favor.

And favors often materialize when the rest of us are too distracted to pay attention.


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