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Orlando Sentinel

Hispanics Get Involved On Election Day

By Maria T. Padilla

November 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

While the elections still are fresh in everyone's minds, here are a few postcripts from the Hispanic edge:

Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderón: This nonaffiliated voter won a trifecta on Election Day. Calderón had been cagey about whom to endorse, then threw her weight behind Republican Govs. Jeb Bush and George Pataki of New York. Then she switched parties and endorsed Frank Lautenberg, who became U.S. senator from New Jersey. Meanwhile, ex-island Gov. Pedro Rosselló came out of hiding to back New York Democratic gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall.

Hispanic/Puerto Rican voters: Hispanic voter turnout in some Orange County precincts was far higher than for voters in general. For example, Ventura Elementary, 87 percent turnout; Azalea Park Elementary and Azalea Park United Methodist, 95 percent and 90 percent, respectively; Engelwood Elementary, 98 percent; Meadowoods Elementary and Meadowoods Middle, 84 percent and 88 percent, respectively. Calderón this year launched a drive to register voters in states with large Puerto Rican populations and pushed to get out the vote.

Black/Hispanic voter trends: Hispanics are becoming true swing voters, leaning in the political direction that suits their interests. As a result, the difference in voter behavior between blacks and Hispanics could not be greater. Most blacks voted for Democrat Bill McBride, while most Hispanics went for Jeb Bush. This split first was noted in 1999 during the state's One Florida/affirmative action debacle. Few Hispanics spoke out in favor of affirmative action. The two groups continue to show signs of distinct political interests.

Amendment to reduce class size: Many Hispanics favored reducing the number of students per class. Hispanics are the state's fastest-growing and youngest demographic group. Hispanics also have more children per family, compared with other groups, which means they have lots of children in school. It stands to reason that class size matters to Hispanics.

Gov. Jeb Bush: Jeb sprinted to the finish line with 60 percent of the Hispanic vote. That was to be expected in South Florida, where Cubans predominate. But not in Central Florida, where Puerto Ricans went for Al Gore in 2000. Jeb worked the Hispanic vote hard, and he started very early. He wrung endorsements from island mayors, who also campaigned for him in Central Florida. The Bush family also has close ties to Puerto Rico, where Jeb, in particular, once campaigned for his father for convention delegates. Overall, it appears that Republicans are succeeding at wooing non-Cuban Hispanic voters.

John Quiñones, State House District 49: He urged voters to "vote for the Puerto Rican," which apparently many did. After cruising to victory, he said voters now have to unite for the work ahead. Not so fast. After splitting the Hispanic community along the lines of nationality, it's Quiñones' responsibility to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Anthony Suárez, Senate District 19: He stood out as the lone local Republican who didn't sweep to victory on election night. Súarez ran a grass-roots campaign, but he was burdened with a change in political party and a past relationship with a former drug dealer from the witness-protection program that came to light in the Orlando Sentinel just two weeks before the election. He never responded to the article.

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