By Evelyn Perez-Verdia
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hispanics or Latinos. Most of us are known to be warm individuals, amicable and culturally engaging. We do not tend to be a society that is reluctant to open up to those who approach us. Quite the opposite. We are that weird family inviting you over to our house without hardly even knowing you and trying to make you drink one more tequila as we try to “enchilarte” (make you eat something spicy that you can’t handle) for our entertainment. At least that is how it is in our Mexican-Colombian household. Like we would say in Spanish: “Entre mas amigos, mejor.” Translated to English; “the more friends we have, the better it is for us”.
With our culture in mind, it is mind boggling how such a great political force is not being engaged by those in political power. There is no turning back my friends. You cannot wait six months before the 2016 or 2018 election to come knocking on our door. You cannot turn away the opportunity of having a debate in a national TV channel in Spanish. You need to get to know us, and allow us to know you. You need to gain our trust and tell us why we are so important to you, to our state and to this country.
Not engaging the Hispanic/Latino community
According to Latino Decisions, a leader in Latino political opinion research, in 2014, 55% of Latinos that were polled said they were not contacted by a campaign, political party or community organization in the final months before the election. The polls they have reported over the years document the consistently low rates of campaign engagement of Latinos/Hispanics eligible to vote.
In Florida, a state where the largest minority of registered voters is Hispanic, the 2014 gubernatorial candidate won by about 1 percentage point-a 61,000 vote difference. In 2012, Latino Decisions reported that 48 percent of registered Latinos voted nationwide. According to numbers shared by Miami Herald’s political reporter Marc Caputo, 64 percent (over 1 million) of registered Latinos voted in the 2012 Florida General Election. As stated by different analysts and even supervisors of elections, people go out to vote based on the inertia that the campaigns and the political parties place into the election. After having conversations with both Latino Democrats and Republicans around the state of Florida, here are some observations:
We do not know who to vote for
The domino effect in reference to Hispanics and politicos is that Hispanics do not get involved due to not knowing who to vote for. Also, according to those individuals who are engaging our community, many Latinos do not know what each political party represents. To their dismay, political parties and campaigns do not take the time to invest in them.
Wait for the “big honchos” to infiltrate the state
2016 is on its way and what seems to be the tendency for political parties and campaigns to do here in Florida is to wait for the national party team to bring in their “movers and shakers” in order for them to win Florida. Many do not know the community in Florida, they just see numbers. Every 4 years a new group of people come in and have to start practically from scratch trying to figure out how to reach our community. Those Hispanics/Latinos who know the community and who are from Florida are not included and their knowledge is underestimated.
We have so much power
There are approximately 1.9 million Hispanics registered to vote in Florida. Possibly even more Hispanics are voters as it is only optional to mark that you are Hispanic in voter registration applications. In addition, according to findings by the National Council of La Raza, there are approximately 800,000 eligible Latinos who are not registered to vote in Florida. Yes, we are not voting. However, you need to tap into this group that likes to be engaged and has the power to influence any election. If we look at the 2014 numbers for the 5 top counties with the highest amount of Hispanic registered voters in Florida, this is what I found out in reference to voter turnout using Book Closing numbers from July 27, 2014 which were not much different from the October Book Closing numbers:
All of these numbers are depressing to me as a Hispanic woman, but they don’t mean as much as the simple idea that from all the minority groups if any of them are changing the shape of the country, it is Hispanics. Daniel A. Smith, a political science professor of the University of Florida, said about 576,000 Hispanics cast ballots in the 2014 General Election out of the 1.9 million that are registered to vote in Florida according to the December 31 voter files provided by the Florida Division of Elections. Over 440,000 of them voted in the five largest Hispanic counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach County. This means that about 135,000 Hispanics voted in the rest of the state in 2014.
What I am curious about is that in Miami-Dade, the increase of Hispanics registered to vote was about 9,000 from July to the October Book Closing. The December 31 voters files state that approximately 200,000 more Hispanics were registered to vote in the 2014 General Election. However, the Florida Division of Elections October 2014 Book Closing numbers show that over 1.7 million Hispanics were registered for the November General Election. I am not understanding why the 200,000 Hispanics do not appear in the October Book Closing numbers. I need to look more into this and will let you know the reason why.
One of the factors is that the No Party Affiliation (independents) should become a very important target for both political parties in Florida as you do not know how they are going to sway. Take me for example. I am a Colombian-American woman with no party affiliation living in Broward County. I voted for both Republicans and Democrats. I voted for the person I thought would do the best job in the capacity they represented. And due to the fact that a political party does not mean much to many independent Hispanics, many probably vote just like me. I am your target.
There are some efforts being done. Much of what is not being accomplished is being blamed on budget. However, budget or no budget, the story of targeting Hispanics does not change. It is obvious that this is what is happening in Florida as you see that neither the Florida Democratic Party nor the Republican Party of Florida have a bilingual Communications Director focused on media in Spanish. I recently tweeted on Political Pasion that I believed that both parties need a bilingual Communications Director. I immediately was followed on Twitter by Florida Democratic Party Communications Director, Joshua Karp. For me, that shows he understands the importance of it. I actually believe there is enough demand for Joshua and Florida GOP Communications Director Susan Hepworth to add a bilingual communications director focused solely on media in Spanish.
In order for each party to improve their relationship with the Latino community they should have at least one Hispanic Liaison in the 5 largest areas of Latino registered voters and both parties should target NPAs. The Florida Democratic Party has only one Hispanic Liaison who is the articulate Mexican-American Mayra Macias for the entire state as you can see on their website: http://www.floridadems.org/our-party/party-staff . In The Republican Party of Florida, I do not see a Hispanic Liaison ever mentioned: http://www.rpof.org/about-us/rpof-staff/ although I know that there is a Tampa Bay representative for the Republican National Committee Latinos who is the social media savvy Colombian-American, Jonathan Torres.
Political parties and campaigns should not and cannot wait for the national machine to take over. It is time to take responsibility and not ignore the minority groups that represent our state. After a year with Political Pasion, I have had the honor to meet so many great Hispanic leaders in both parties. They speak the cultural language. Let them spice it up. Give them a chance and you will see the Hispanic voter turnout increase…guaranteed.
Former Democratic Florida Governor Reubin Askew said: “It has been said that government cannot solve all of society’s problems. In that, I could not agree more. But political leadership can provide a commitment to progress and it can, by its own success, restore confidence in what can be done by individuals.” Former Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush words could not have been wiser as he reminded Floridians in his first inaugural: “the best and brightest ideas do not come from the state capital, but from the untapped human capital that resides in our diverse communities.”
Don’t let the Latino domino effect take over. Spice it up!
*A sincere thank you to the Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach election offices, for promptly sharing with me information in reference to Hispanic voter turnout in the 2014 election.