Puerto Ricans voters are key in the Sunshine State
With less than a month before the elections, battleground states are becoming more defined and it is clear how important Florida is in this upcoming electoral contest. That’s why it was big news this week that the governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez Garced (R), endorsed the reelection of President Trump in an attempt to boost his chances in the Sunshine State.
All politics is local. Certain areas of Central and South Florida are as local to a Puerto Rico governor as any town on the island. According to reports by the Pew Research Center, 20 percent of eligible voters in Florida are Latino and of those, 31 percent identified as Puerto Rican. So, for people who are not familiar with Puerto Rican politics, this endorsement sounds important — but is it? Let’s put it in context.
First, Vázquez Garced was the attorney general for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) until his forced resignation last year. Second, she is an accidental governor, not elected. Third, her enthusiasm for the president has not delivered tangible results, just more promises. Fourth, because of the power sharing structure — imposed by federal law — between the governor, legislature and the Fiscal Oversight Management Board, over $1 billion of Medicaid funding has been jeopardized. Fifth, she was defeated in the primary for governor and will not be on the ballot this November.
President Trump received an endorsement of an unelected official who is on her way out. This does not project the image of a winner. Let’s take a look at these.
Vázquez Garced is the current leader in Puerto Rico, but under the strangest of circumstances. Up until the summer of 2019 she served then-Gov. Rosselló as his AG. Following peaceful protests in Puerto Rico over government corruption and the lack of progress in the recovery of 2017 Hurricane María, Rosselló was forced to step down.
Vázquez Garced was in line to succeed as governor, but it was the Secretary of State nominee, Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in as governor instead. The confusion about who had the legitimate right to become governor was decided by Puerto Rico Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to reestablish the constitutional rule of law and remove the unconstitutional governor. Under all these conditions, she became an accidental governor.
Even though Vázquez Garced is the legitimate governor of Puerto Rico, she was not popularly elected, hence any endorsement value must be taken with that in mind. She is a caretaker. Her support of the president has not yielded an expedient release of federal disaster funds for the island. It also did not help safeguarding the hard fought Medicaid funding. Puerto Ricans in Florida see President Trump’s efforts as insufficient.
Puerto Ricans who live in Florida know that Vázquez Garced lost her statehood party’s primary against Pierluisi, a supporter of former Vice President Joe Biden. The candidate for governor from the Commonwealth party, Charlie Delgado, is also a Biden supporter. According to the latest polling, one of these candidates will be the next governor.
Vázquez Garced endorsement is relevant for only one important reason: it values the importance of the Puerto Rican vote in the states. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College states that the Puerto Rican population living in Florida is over 1 million. In 2018 alone, according to a U.S. Census report, over 130,000 Puerto Ricans moved to the mainland U.S., one third moved to Florida.
Puerto Ricans who are now Florida residents have become an important voting bloc that can sway this election at local, state and federal levels. They can be the disruptors of the historical political blocs in Florida. Every vote counts.
The governor’s endorsement will not sway Puerto Rican voters. Candidates in this election better start walking the talk, now. Their position on COVID-19, health care, jobs and a good education is what motivates people to vote. This voting bloc can make officials pay attention to the issues important to them, their family, their community and, yes, Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio and those living in other states have the power to impact elections today.
Max J. Trujillo is president of MJTPOLICY LLC, a strategic policy and government relations consulting firm. He is a former senior policy advisor for Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.).
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