La Mesa Boricua:
Talking Points Memo
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La Mesa, a coalition of Florida community advocates, wants you to be informed as to how our people are having an impact.
We are guided by Five Bold Steps to action: create a physical presence in every county with a large Puerto Rican community, increase political representation, develop a common issues platform for our community, control our narrative and develop leadership. Our goal is to build power for Puerto Ricans and Latinos in the state of Florida.
We’ll update you on the latest happenings catching our attention in the state and beyond, with a focus on how boricuas are making a mark.
Here’s an update for the past few weeks.
In this issue
Hearings on whether to grant statehood to Puerto Rico will almost certainly occur in 2021, according to the Democrat in the House of Representatives that oversees legislation on the topic.
Congressman Raul Grijalva, who will remain Chair of the House committee with jurisdiction over the island, said he will open the discussion in 2021 about the results of the November 3rd plebiscite, in which 52% of Puerto Rico’s voters backed the idea of turning the island into a U.S.
Uniquely, and something that Grijalva acknowledged, the issue of turning Puerto Rico into a state is likely to split strictly along partisan lines in D.C. for the first time.
While admitting Puerto Rico as a state of the union has long been written into the platform Republicans adopt every four years, in practice, the GOP has been adamant to obstruct such a possibility. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described a push to grant Puerto Rico statehood, which he expects will come with two new Dem Senators as “full-bore socialism”.
President Donald Trump has similarly pushed away the idea of granting statehood to Puerto Rico, and his administration refused to certify the referendum that was just undertaken.
Democrats in the House, particularly those in the Florida Congressional delegation, have been the strongest proponents of statehood for Puerto Rico among federal lawmakers. As the issue has become more partisan
- The issue of how to resolve or modify Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States is more complicated now than ever. Luckily for those who care about Puerto Rico, this election cycle is giving us hope after President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a plan that goes beyond just focusing on that question, and looks to address the economic ills and injustices that face the island first
- The actions by Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump on addressing statehood for Puerto Rico, which run counter to what they were promising two years ago, show what we already knew. The promises of Republicans as they relate to Puerto Rico are meaningless.
- Puerto Ricans are not pawns in a political consultant’s political chess. Biden’s actions and words shows he clearly understands that and is treating us with respect. But other Democratic leaders and pundits who seemingly have only discovered Puerto Rico as a miracle solution that will increase their power in the U.S. Senate should check themselves.
Massive, historic gains in turnout.
That’s the biggest takeaway of the election we just witnessed, where people of color, and especially Latinos, exercised their right to vote in an unprecedented manner. 20.9 million Latinos voted in this election, according to projections from Bloomberg News, give or take a few hundred thousand. That’s an astounding increase of 65% from the 12.7 million who voted in the last election, which was itself a record for Latinos.
Most national exit polling shows Trump performed better with Hispanic voters by about 3 points when compared to 2016, garnering around 32 percent of the vote this year when compared to 29 percent four years ago. But because the massive growth of the total Latino electorate far exceeded any slight shift towards Trump, the gap between Republican votes and Democratic votes coming from our communities grew by millions. By one calculation, 7.1 million more Latinos voted for Biden than they did for Trump, handily besting results from 2016, when it is estimated 4.7 million more Latinos voted for Hillary Clinton than they did for Trump.
Unfortunately, some ill-informed and perhaps bigoted political commentators have played up the slight percentage shift towards Trump, without putting it in context, playing up to some of the most offensive tropes against Latinos.
- Latinos voted. In huge numbers. Everywhere. In huge margins for Biden, except for a few cases.
- Gains by Trump with Latinos were overwhelmingly concentrated in South Florida and South Texas. In South Florida, Republican messaging that smeared all Democrats as socialists was seemingly effective in getting Cuban-Americans who had been Never-Trumpers in 2016 to pull the lever for the President. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the GOP continued on gains it’s been eking out from rural, culturally conservative Hispanic-majority counties since 2012.
- Puerto Ricans across the board supported Biden over Trump by a 7 to 3 margin.
- Explanations that suggest “machismo” or some kind of cultural affinity for authoritarian leaders as the reason why some Latino voters supported Trump are frankly offensive.
- There is much work to be done. Better research and not just better messaging but better relationships with leaders in the Latino community, including Latino evangelicals, who make up the largest group of Latino swing voters, is key moving forward.
The November 3rd elections in Puerto Rico delivered an unclear message as to whom voters in the island trust to handle political power there, with a mixed bag of winners and no clear mandate for anyone. Further complicating results: the discovery of 200 boxes with uncounted ballots a week after the election, which caused outrage and further planted mistrust in the island’s political system.
The election comes after what had been a wave election in 2016 for the pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresista, which four years ago captured the governor’s mansion, won the island’s non-voting seat in Congress, both chambers of the local legislature, and most mayoral bids throughout Puerto Rico.
Analysts expected the PNP to suffer deep setbacks after four years of widely panned mismanagement and turmoil, including street protests that forced the governor elected in 2016 to resign over scandalous, crude leaked chat messages. Some pollsters had also predicted the rise of viable third parties, with newcomer Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana generating excitement amongst millennials on its anti-corruption platform and conservative Proyecto Dignidad doing the same with a slice of the island’s Evangelical voters.
Those predictions both did and did not come to pass. In an election that saw the lowest levels of voter participation in 120 years (55.4% of all registered voters), the PNP retained the biggest prizes on Election Day. That party’s candidate narrowly won the Governor’s mansion by the smallest percentage in Puerto Rico’s electoral history (33 percent), in what became a four-way race. A referendum asking Puerto Ricans, again, if they supported becoming a state of the Union saw “Yes” voters notch a decisive victory, 53 to 47. The mayoralty of San Juan, the island’s largest and most important city, was very narrowly won by the PNP candidate.
Yet the opposition PPD had a wave election further down ballot, winning large pluralities in both chambers of the Legislature that guarantee Puerto Rico will face a divided territorial government for the next four years. The PPD also won back a slate of mayoral offices, particularly in the Southern cities and towns where voters were unhappy with the performance by local elected officials in response to the earthquakes earlier this year.
The third parties also gained, although perhaps underperforming some of the most optimistic expectations. Altogether, MVC, PD and the long-standing Partido Independentista obtained a combined 35 percent of the vote for their respective gubernatorial candidates, and elected 7 members to the Legislature (out of 81). While that surge depressed the number of votes for the main two parties, it did not establish any of the other three parties as credible standalone contenders for Puerto Rico’s highest office.
- The trust in Puerto Rico’s political institutions is at a multi-generational low, as seen by the historically low participation and lack of accountability in the vote-counting process.
- Overall, results were mixed, showing voters (at least those who showed up) willing to vote for candidates across traditional ideological lines. They did not deliver anyone a mandate. The same voters who supported statehood by 53 percent supported the pro-statehood candidate for governor by only 33 percent. In an island where Donald Trump remains deeply unpopular, the Republican non-voting delegate to Congress won re-election in a landslide. Places like the town of Vieques, which voted resoundingly against statehood, elected a pro-statehood mayor, with the opposite dynamic happening in the city of Ponce.
- Some results are both ground-breaking and saw the erratic nature of politics in the island. An independent candidate who had been denied the opportunity to compete in his party’s primary won a write-in bid for mayor in the mid-size town of Guánica, a first in Puerto Rican politics. The pro-independence gubernatorial candidate received nearly 14 percent of the vote, over three times the percentage his party normally receives. And at the same time the island’s social conservatives showed their strength supporting the newly found Proyecto Dignidad, four out LGBT candidates were elected to various offices.
Puerto Rican demographers are mapping a somewhat shocking drop in the birth rate this year, which they are attributing to the shocks of the novel coronavirus and the other dire emergencies that have shaken the island over the past three years.
Public health experts in Puerto Rico expect 17,000 new births there this year, a year-on-year reduction of about 20%. The unprecedented trend threatens demographics and the economy.
Experts say the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated a birth problem that is not new to the island. Positive population growth in Puerto Rico peaked in the middle of the last century with nearly 85,000 births a year. The number of births started taking a nosedive in 2006. The situation deteriorated dramatically from 2016, when deaths began exceeding births.
Demographers attribute the trend to low economic opportunity as well as a related trend that’s causing a population drain – migration to the continental United States. Many people of the who leave the island do so precisely at peak reproductive age.
But the year-on-year drop seen in 2020 was not expected.
By contrast to the 3.2 million Puerto Ricans that live in Puerto Rico, according to estimates, the Puerto Rican population living in the continental United States amounts to over 5.8 million people.
- The multiple crisis we have seen Puerto Rico experience over the past few years have had a sustained and lasting effect. Media attention might be elsewhere, but the aftershocks remain.
- Negative trends are seeing an unfortunate synergy as it relates to the depopulation of Puerto Rico. Our youngest and many of our most productive members of society are leaving the island, feeding into a downward spiral.
- We cannot forget where we have been, and the greatness we can aspire to again.
In the most heavily contested election in American history, Puerto Rican and Latino champions for our community earned a number of key spots in Central Florida.
While the biggest race of the night did not go our way statewide, largely due to South Florida, Central Florida delivered a strong show of support to progressive leaders committed to our communities.
Latinos notched countywide wins in Osceola, where Marcos Lopez becomes Sheriff, and Orange, where Amy Mercado was elected Property Appraiser. Olga Gonzalez became the first Puerto Rican woman to win as mayor of Kissimmee. A champion of our community, Monique Worrell, clinched the final step in her race for State Attorney, for the 9th Judicial Circuit covering both Orange and Osceola.
In the state house, Senator Victor Torres and community champion Anna Eskamani were re-elected. Daisy Morales took up the seat vacated by Amy Mercado. At the federal level, boricua Darren Soto and strong ally Stephanie Murphy won re-election of their Orlando-area districts.
Turnout within the Hispanic community in every I-4 county (Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Volusia, Polk, Osceola and Hillsborough) was up. In all those counties except Osceola, those voters trended more towards progressive candidates when compared to 2016.
Elsewhere in Florida the results were more mixed. Alexandria Ayala clinched her seat for the School Board in Palm Beach, become the first Latina and the youngest person to serve in that capacity. Dolores Guzman fell short in a long-shot bid for a state rep seat centered in Volusia County, and Eliseo Santana fell short of being elected Sheriff in Pinellas County, after making a previously sleepy race against an incumbent into an exciting match.
But even those who didn’t win energized new bases, turned out new voters, and broke barriers for our community.
- “We are building power because our time is now.”
- “Decisive wins against entrenched, Establishment and incumbent candidates demonstrate we are able to build electoral coalitions and challenge the status quo. While the best is yet to come, we are at a level of political maturity in Florida way beyond what we could have dreamed of attaining a decade ago.”
- “Countywide victories across various parts of the state show Puerto Rican candidates, and those who support our agenda, are no longer relegated to gerrymandered or provincial Puerto Rican-majority seats.”
Our people in the media
Father Jose Rodriguez
“Por su parte, el vicario José Rodríguez de la Iglesia Episcopal Jesús de Nazaret se juntó con la Federación Hispana para apoyar a los votantes que llegaron a su iglesia que se convirtió en el precinto 306 en el condado de Orange. Rodríguez dice que el voto no solamente afecta a la comunidad, pero las familias y seres queridos de todo.”
“La participación de la comunidad puertorriqueña de Florida en estas elecciones demuestra el valor que tiene invertir en el alcance comunitario y en el desarrollo de liderazgo boricua para educar sobre los procesos electorales y movilizar a nuestra gente. Independientemente del partido por el cual fuimos a las urnas, nos hicimos sentir y seguiremos haciéndonos sentir en futuras elecciones.”