Esta página no está disponible en español.
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Quiñones Race To Be Canary In Political Mine
By Myriam Marquez
July 28, 2004
Sen. Bill Nelson swoops down from Washington to stump for his man. Off the candidate goes to Puerto Rico to raise chavitos for his campaign war chest to unseat the GOP incumbent. You would think Israel Mercado is running for president. In a way, he is.
Because this one state House district may be the canary in the political mine that could snuff out President Bush's chances of keeping Florida. Or it could chirp bye-bye-Kerry.
Mercado is the Democrats' best hope of unseating freshman state Rep. John Quiñones, whose district covers parts of Osceola and southeast Orange counties. The district is predominantly Democratic and Hispanic, with one in five independent voters. Republican John Q. orchestrated a crossover coup in 2002, winning support from Puerto Rican Democrats by playing up his island roots.
The district's numbers bode well for Mercado, a pastor and college instructor of Puerto Rican descent who graduated from the University of Central Florida. His passion for the community he grew up in is evident.
He's the Democrats' walking, talking, faith-based initiative. The party projects a 56 percent Democratic turnout in the district, with John Kerry leading Bush by 6 or 7 percentage points. Among Hispanics, Kerry rolls over Bush by even more. Presidential polls might spell trouble for Quiñones. It all depends on Q's ability to persuade voters that he's better positioned in a second term to deliver tangible results than a Democrat with no clout in a GOP-controlled Legislature.
The problem for Q. is that his voting record remains pro-GOP in a district that's pro-Democrat. He can't deliver the type of plum jobs that some voters, used to the pork-laden politics of the island or the Northeast, might have expected.
Mercado can rattle off vote after vote in which he thinks Quiñones has let down his district, particularly on education, a top priority for voters. Q. backed increasing college tuition and ignored a Democratic proposal to raise teachers' salaries to the national average, for instance.
"People are saying he's been voting party line," Mercado told me last week of Q.'s record. "He's representing the rich and special interests in a district that's predominantly middle-class and working-class. You have to go beyond the political rhetoric to see his voting record. It's horrendous."
Yet as a freshman, Q. got more for his district than anyone. He landed an enterprise zone for Osceola County and hopes to expand one to Orange County. (Good thing because Orange voters in the district gripe that Q. favors Osceola's needs over Orange's.) He's pushing for the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund to get a steady flow of state financing, and he says the lack of affordable health insurance "is a great concern."
On education, he points to his successful push to allow students to use their passing scores on college admissions tests, instead of the state-mandated FCAT to graduate high school, though few students who flunk the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test are able to pass more-rigorous college-entry exams.
"It's a very exciting moment in history," Q. told me recently. "Central Florida has become kind of the test market for politics."
It might be more excitement than he can take. Incumbency turns out to be a double-edged sword for Quiñones, and in this district, Bush might be more of an albatross around Q.'s neck than the political lifesaver each man needs to win.