Weighing In: The Florida Hispanic Approach of Democrats and Republicans

Donkey and Elephant on scalesBy Evelyn Perez-Verdia

There is just a 66,000 vote difference between Crist and Scott in the 2014 Florida Gubernatorial Race.  With over 1,700,000 registered voters in Florida, I still stand my ground that the Hispanic Vote could have selected the governor of this race.  I am anxious to get the recap totals from election offices around Florida in reference to the Hispanic vote.

Charlie Crist and the Hispanic Vote

One of the reasons the Crist campaign lost is due to the lack of initiative with Hispanics and the Spanish language media until too late in the game.  Once Annette Taddeo, former Chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party became the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor on July 17, 2014 things dramatically changed within the campaign.  Before Taddeo arrived, the media en Español all over the state complained that they were not able to get in touch with anyone from the Crist camp.

Crist was losing the Hispanic Vote.  Annette Taddeo knew the importance of this and a week later they had hired Sheyla Asencios as Hispanic Communications Director for Crist.   A little after that, there were so many inquiries that they had to hire another woman named Gricel Gonzalez to handle Spanish language media in South Florida.  You constantly heard Annette sending the message, being on interviews, on commercials, on the radio, in print and in both languages.  On one occasion she had to deal with individuals from the opposite party calling her a prostitute and telling her to go back from the country she came from when she was with her 8 year old daughter at a rally.  In the same rally, she was the better person as she hugged Carlos Lopez-Cantera.  She was a force to be reckoned with.  It was the strength that the party needed and that I believe made a difference in the closeness of voter turnout between Crist and Scott.  If the same plan would have taken place as soon as Crist announced his run for governor in November 2013, he would possibly be Florida’s next governor.  On the other hand, Rick Scott began his Hispanic agenda appointing Carlos Lopez-Cantera as Lieutenant Governor in the beginning of January and the campaign officially hired Hispanic Communications director, Jaime Florez in March.

From the silence received from the Crist campaign for almost 8 months, there was not much interest in reaching Hispanics before Annette Taddeo arrived. She ran as if she was running for governor herself.  She was the face of the candidate in Spanish.  Democrats may need to take into account that it is not only about starting early; it is about engaging the Hispanic voter.  My understanding is that Alex Sink who ran for governor on behalf of Democrats in 2010 hired a woman named Conchita Cruz as her Communications Director early in the race.  However, the force was not the same.  Sink did not have a Hispanic woman or man by her side and on the ticket to be her voice in Spanish.  Sink had Rod Smith.  The way I see it, Annette Taddeo’s talent goes beyond Florida and if I were making the calls, I would place her as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee.  Being truly bilingual is something that many Hispanic Democrats do not have.

The Inclusion of Hispanics in the Florida Republican Party

As we know, the Florida Republican Party has much experience in including Hispanics in their party.  As the Florida Democratic Party still fears to place a Hispanic in a leadership role within their party, the Republican Party has no fear in preparing young Hispanics to run for office. The Republican Party had already elected the first Hispanic Governor of Florida, Bob Martinez in 1987 as the Florida Democratic Party either fears or does not think it is important to place a Hispanic in a leadership role within their party.   It is not rocket science, Hispanics are the largest minority of registered voters in Florida.  They are passionate about politics, they just need help understanding it.

The Koch Brothers Get It

The Libre Initiative is a great example of the Republicans going to work.  It is being funded by the Koch Brothers and they are in Florida assisting the Hispanic community and making sure they know that it is the Republican Party who is doing this effort.  We also saw how in Orange County two less well-funded Hispanic Republican candidates won a race against two Democratic Anglo Saxons and incumbents who were very well funded.  This says so much.

The LEAD Task Force

When you have one person focusing on Hispanic outreach in the state of Florida for the Florida Democratic Party vs. five people doing the same for the Florida Republican Party of Florida, you know that a need is not being met.  My interest is that Hispanics are not taken for granted and are not ignored, regardless of party affiliation. There is much to learn from the Republican Party of Florida in this sense, and if Florida Democrats continue to go with the same people and the same ideas, please do not expect to win a race for Governor of Florida any time soon.

For this reason, when I saw that Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant and Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson created a Task Force to talk about where they are going, it was important to me that it had a better representation of the Hispanic community and the “doers”. I did not understand why the majority of the people invited were the same people who have always been part of the party.  Isn’t doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results the very definition of insanity?  I asked Chairwoman Tant to include two Hispanic leaders on this task force.  Chairwoman Tant responded and she will be including one on the Task Force.   To know more about that, you can read Maria Padilla’s story here: Democrats to Add Hispanic Caucus Leader to Task Force

Moving forward

So, in order to move ahead, Democratic political operatives need to stop blaming this race on the fact that the opposition had too much money as Steve Schale has commented or that there needs to be a change in the Constitution in order to make the Florida gubernatorial race the same year as the presidential election as Kevin Cate has suggested.  Reuben Askew, Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles are clear examples that the party does not need all the money in the world to win.  Maybe it is time to go back to the drawing board and start walking Florida again.  Focus on core actions, not words.  The Florida communities are people, not numbers.  There is a way to win.  However, you will need to include the “doers” and stop going to the same people for fresh ideas.  It is time to build coalitions, it is time to include the youth and it is time to place minorities in high positions within the party.  Once you have done this, you can now compete with the machine the Republican Party has created.

3 thoughts on “Weighing In: The Florida Hispanic Approach of Democrats and Republicans

  1. Evelyn, this is your best column yet. Hopefully, in two or four years you will have the opportunity to chronicle what the Democrats did right in order to achieve victory.

  2. What Hispanics in Florida, indeed, throughout the United States must learn is this. Despite the fact that we come from many countries, with very different histories, cultures, cuisines, accents and experiences, despite the fact that we arrive here under different circumstances and on different ships, we’re all in the same boat now. Hispanics lack the connective tissue of the Jewish and Black communities which bring them together despite their differences. For those communities, temples and churches from the unification force. Hispanics worship in many different ways, keeping that same form of connective tissue from forming. Until we learn to come together based on a shared agenda — that is not partisan but responsive to the needs of Hispanics — until we then devote ourselves to never miss an election and to support a shared agenda, Hispanics will never get the recognition that our numbers deserve. There is no such thing as the Hispanic “community.” Such a thing, at least outside of Dade County in Florida, has never been created. There are Hispanics, we are a diverse people tied together by a native language, which is helpful. But we’ve yet to link ourselves to a common purpose which is unfortunate. Hispanics are capable of forming the community we need to be to succeed in a political and economic sense. We simply haven’t done it. Yet.

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