Opinion: Andrew Gillum, born to make history

By Gustavo Azócar Alcalá (*)

Things are not going very well for Donald Trump. On November 6, the President of the United States will face his first electoral battle since his arrival at the White House in January 2017. According to nearly all surveys, Trump will lose the majority in the House of Representatives, and a significant number of seats in the Senate.

But that’s not all. Trump is about to lose a Republican electoral stronghold. The State of Florida, one of the most important electoral regions, controlled by Republicans since 1999, could be governed for the first time by an Afro-American: Andrew Gillum, a progressive Democrat who leads among likely voters in the Florida Governor’s election, is four points ahead of Republican competitor Ron DeSantis, who has the backing of the President.

Trump knows he will lose the governorship of Florida. This explains his shameless attack against Gillum, mayor of Florida’s capital city Tallahassee since 2014. DeSantis’ campaign team, using the same attack techniques as Trump, has said that Gillum is a “socialist” and has planted the rumor that if Gillum becomes governor, that he will convert Florida into a second Venezuela.

This is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in my life. Whoever says this definitely does not know Venezuela. The problem in Venezuela has nothing to do with socialism. In fact, in Venezuela there is no socialist government nor even anything resembling one. What there is, in Venezuela, is a gang of criminals, drug traffickers and corrupt military officers who took power in the wake of a coup d’état in 1992. These criminals who so badly govern my country are not socialists: they are killers, thieves, money launderers and cocaine traffickers who hide behind a supposed leftist ideology in order to commit their misdeeds.

Andrew Gillum is “a liberal Democrat in the classic sense, one of those who favors an active government to correct social ills”, according to Eduardo Gamarra, political scientist at Florida International University. I don’t envision Gillum expropriating businesses, taking over farms, closing businesses, jailing journalists, trafficking drugs, or laundering money. That’s what the “leaders” of Venezuela do. And that is not socialism.

I do not personally know Andrew Gillum. I would have liked to meet him. If I lived in Florida, without a doubt I would be working in his electoral campaign. I couldn’t, because among other things, over a year ago, the Trump administration decided to take away the US visa I have had for over 20 years which allowed me to study and obtain a doctorate at the George Washington University in 2013. Maybe this is what Ron DeSantis was trying to say when he spoke to his daughter in a television advertisement: “Build a wall.” The Republican candidate wanted his daughter to believe that any person who comes from the outside is not a good person.

Maybe some Republicans are bothered by the humble origin of Andrew Gillum, who was born to a poor family in Miami. Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee, is the son of a bus driver and a construction worker. He is the only candidate for governor who is not a millionaire. Is this background some kind of crime, or an obstacle for becoming governor at this point?

Gillum’s campaign is progressive. His governmental program was designed thinking about workers, the majority of whom are fed up with wages too low to live on, much less pay for medical coverage. Some Republicans accuse Gillum of being a socialist. But Gillum is no socialist. He’s a progressive, which is different. If we had a progressive government in Venezuela, it would be a different story. But in Venezuela, there is no socialism. There is something much worse: militarism with populism, with drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime.

Thousands of professional, honest, decent Venezuelans could not enter the US because they couldn’t get a visa. But in Florida there are numerous corrupt and wealthy ex-Venezuelan officials and revolutionaries who enriched themselves in the murderous regimes of Chávez and Maduro, and now enjoy the profits of their crimes. Republicans have attacked Maduro hard, but have said little about the corrupt government associates, the “boliburgueses” who stole from all Venezuelans and now live in Florida. This is a job which Andrew Gillum should take on.

To fight for the rights of people is not socialist. It is being fair. Florida has among the lowest wages in the US. In Florida, people are being exploited; among them, millions of undocumented people, many from Venezuela. They fled Venezuela to escape from a military dictatorship supported by the Castro brothers and also with the support of Vladimir Putin, who helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016.

A survey by the University of North Florida, released some days ago, says that Gillum, a 39-year-old afro-American, mayor of Tallahassee, backed by the Democratic Party, has 47% support from potential Florida voters. This is compared to 43% for former Navy attorney, ex-Iraq soldier, ex-Representative Ron DeSantis.

10 percent of likely voters still haven’t decided who they will vote for in the governorship elections on November 6, coinciding with the midterm elections. According to the UNF survey, Gillum has the support of 85% of Democratic possible voters, but also 11% of Republicans.

I have read and heard, from Venezuela, almost all of Andrew Gillum’s speeches. These are not the speeches of a socialist, much less a communist. I don’t know where Trump and DeSantis get this idea that Gillum is a “failed socialist”.

What is most likely is that they are saying it to try to get a few points for DeSantis and other Republican candidates. It’s the same strategy they have used to attack the moderate and independent Senator Bill Nelson who was recognized by the Venezuelan community for his support of Venezuelan democracy; and who has called for stronger measures against Maduro.

But for those who know the real situation in Venezuela, the “socialism” line is not going to work. Andrew Gillum represents an historic change for Florida. The Democratic Party has not governed this state since 1999. When I see Gillum on television or on social media, I see in him some traces of many other afro-Americans who were also born to make history. Gillum reminds me of Mohammed Ali and Jackie Robinson. He was nominated as a candidate for governor of Florida on the anniversary date of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

But he also reminds me of Ruby Nell Bridges Hall, born September 8, 1954 in Tylertown, Mississippi. She was the first afro-American girl to attend a “white” school in 1960. Ruby caused a break with history. Something very similar will happen when Gillum reaches the governorship of the state of Florida.

(*)  Gustavo Azócar Alcalá was the first Venezuelan journalist imprisoned during Hugo Chávez Frias’ communist revolution in Venezuela. He was jailed on March 6, 2006 for denouncing the corruption of Chávez collaborators. Azócar was imprisoned for a second time in 2010, for his work as an investigative journalist. He was held for 8 months in a jail for regular prisoners. He has written 8 books. His most recent work is titled: Will the US Invade Venezuela? (¿Invadirá EEUU a Venezuela?)

Campaigns and Political Parties Need to Spice it Up

Domino Effect English

 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.

Continue reading

Are You For Or Against Legalizing Medical Marihuana?

 By Evelyn Perez-Verdia

The finger puppet’s name is Señor Dedo Politico (Mr. Political Finger).  I created him to give a different view to politics.   I have many friends that hear me speak about politics and find it absolutely boring.  They tell me that they don’t like politics, they are immune to it, and sadly enough, they are the ones who also don’t vote when they are U.S. citizens and could.  I want to captivate them and make politics fun.  I want to remind those that dislike politics that voting allows you to have a voice.  The choice to legalize or not medical marihuana will be on the Florida voting ballot this upcoming General Election. This is my way of saying to those that do not vote that politics matters and we can have a say in it.

Sr. Dedo Politico Marihuana

 

 

Face-Off: The Hispanic Engagement Strategy for the Crist and Scott Campaigns

 

Left to right: Jaime Florez and Omar Khan

Left to right: Jaime Florez and Omar Khan

I have been writing often in reference to the 2014 Florida gubernatorial campaigns. Whichever campaign focuses heavily and strategically on the Hispanic vote, will be the winner of the 2014 Florida gubernatorial campaign.   I decided to contact the Crist and Scott campaign and ask them about their campaign’s current Hispanic engagement efforts.  Here is what they had to say:

This is what Jaime Florez, Hispanic Communications Director for the Rick Scott Campaign had to say about their Hispanic engagement:

“This week, Let’s Get to Work will be launching Oportunidad, its first Spanish language TV and digital ad. I cannot recall a previous gubernatorial campaign in Florida where Spanish paid media started this early. The initial $500,000 Spanish media buy, which launches Wednesday, is only the first of many to come that will share with Spanish-speaking Floridians Governor Rick Scott’s record and vision for our state. Still, paid advertisements are just one component of a comprehensive effort in engaging Hispanic voters throughout our state at every level, especially at the grassroots, with a sustained volunteer-to-voter contact.

We are very excited about the foundation we have laid over the last several months to get to this point. We have a Spanish communication shop providing daily information to the Spanish-language press. Our Hispanic Political Directors have been building a strong network of support within the Hispanic community’s elected officials, civic, faith-based and business leaders. The Spanish website www.rickscottporlaflorida.com will be going live tomorrow, giving voters the option to follow our campaign and receive updates in English or Spanish. On our social media sites, we’ve posted bilingual messages, encouraging followers to communicate in the language of their preference.

Much is said about “Hispanic Outreach” in politics and gauging a campaign’s commitment to secure the Hispanic vote by a set of benchmarks: How much is spent on Spanish paid media? Does the campaign have a Spanish press shop? Is there a Spanish website? Do they have a Hispanic political team? Going by the traditional political checklist, our campaign is months ahead of the Charlie Crist operation in putting into place and executing a campaign that is committed to earning the vote of each Hispanic in Florida. It’s noteworthy that if the Crist team has not been able to maintain an English speaking spokesperson, imagine how long it will take them to hire and keep a Spanish speaking spokesperson? All kidding aside, our campaign is not traditional. From the Governor to our volunteers, this campaign is committed to not just checking a list of benchmarks. We will implement the most robust “Hispanic Outreach” seen yet.

Florida’s diversity provides for a unique campaign approach that is more substantive and goes beyond traditional “outreach” but requires a more in- depth commitment and discipline to build an enlace with the Hispanic community. By continuing to execute this approach we will prove successful in November. More importantly, the ethnic richness of our state strengthens the focus of our campaign, which is ultimately about creating oportunidades for ALL Floridians.”

This is what Omar Khan, Campaign Manager for the Charlie Crist Campaign had to say about their Hispanic engagement:

“We are focused on building a campaign that looks like the people of Florida. One of our first senior staff hires is Hispanic, and we will certainly be communicating with voters through Hispanic media. And just today, we’ve launched www.CharlieCrist.com/Espanol to share Governor Crist’s vision with Florida’s Spanish-speaking community.

But more important than the process of the campaign is policy of the candidate. Governor Crist believes that our state’s diversity is its greatest strength. He believes that we can create more opportunities by lifting all boats: investing in making college more affordable, and putting a laser focus on making Florida the beacon for Latin American trade and tourism, which will create thousands of new job opportunities for small businesses. Governor Crist will create a Florida Trade and Development Representative whose job will be to open doors for Florida businesses to new markets – particularly Latin American – and who will answer directly to the Governor.

This is a significant departure from Governor Scott, who campaigned on bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida, has reduced opportunities for HIspanic students to get an affordable college education, and has made it much harder for people to vote. Charlie Crist believes everyone should be able to live the American Dream here in Florida.”

My thoughts?  If I could give two pieces of advice out to any campaign it is this:

1.  Make sure you are sending out press releases in Spanish to media en Español  and Hispanic community leaders.  Every press release you have in English should be in Spanish also.

2. Invest, invest, invest statewide in placing ads with local community papers in Spanish as they are the gatekeepers of the Hispanic community.  This is the paper that the community picks up to read.  Seeing your ad in these papers sends a message that says: “you matter to me”  Contact me if you would like my opinion on which ones I would use statewide.

Are All Florida Gubernatorial Campaigns Failing to Reach Out to Hispanics?

 

Rick Scott Paella

By Evelyn Perez-Verdia

It has been going so well lately for Governor Rick Scott.   As governor, he has finally started appearing in touch with the multicultural Hispanic community that represents Florida.  He stood with the Venezuelan community when they needed someone from the government to show that they cared about the current uproar in their country.  He appointed Cuban-American Carlos Lopez-Cantera as his Lieutenant Governor.  He went to a Paella festival in Miami.  He has stopped the voter purge that many say would affect Hispanics going to the polls.  We Hispanics might as well start calling him “Ricardito Eskot” for his savvy choices in reaching out to the Hispanic community–regardless if they are sincere or not.

Governor Scott has done everything right to attract Hispanics to his campaign. However, due to recent events, the opposition and media believe Scott is hiring people who do not understand the political landscape of Florida and the importance of being sensitive to Hispanic culture. I am referring to the recent incident of former co-finance chairman Mike Fernandez resigning for Rick Scott’s campaign due to his feeling a lack of connection to Hispanic outreach in the Scott campaign. Is the lack of connection towards Hispanics only being felt in Scott’s campaign? I believe it is larger than this, and if you sit down with each campaign and ask them to inform you of the amount of money that they will allocate toward Hispanic engagement and media during the campaign, you will come to the conclusion that even though they point their finger at Scott, sadly, there might be three fingers pointing back at them. How much is each gubernatorial campaign allocating toward Hispanic engagement and Hispanic directed media? Kindly I would like to ask them to show us the numbers. My next concern is the following: why is it so difficult to get in touch with the Scott and Crist campaign?

Continue reading

Should we continue sleeping?

sleeping giants

By Evelyn Perez-Verdia

There are more than a million and a half Hispanics registered to vote in Florida, accounting for 14% of the total registered voters.  However, this figure is likely low because there are many cases in which a person does not self-identify as a Hispanic.  I am a perfect example of this phenomenon.  Legally, I am not required to identify myself as Hispanic when registering to vote.  Taking into account the many people that might not identify as Hispanic for whatever reason, surely the number of voters rises to 16% or higher.

It is a fact that many of our elections are decided by a margin of 10% or less, making the Hispanic vote important enough to see it as a ‘sleeping giant’.  This population is a giant, being that it holds the power to sway an election, such as the upcoming Primary and General elections in fall 2014, when we will choose the next Florida Governor.

Should the Hispanic voters continue sleeping through these important moments?  What are we, as Hispanics doing in light of this reality?  Are we doing nothing at all, or perhaps we are only registering to vote because of the discount on our property taxes?   This is precisely what many of you are doing.  And this pleases the many people that do not want us to become citizens.  If we do become citizens, then they would revel in the fact we might choose not to participate in the process and marginalize ourselves. Or perhaps, they might realize many of us might vote without knowing any of the candidates well, or without having any real reasons to vote for them.  But the reasons are critical.  These candidates will be the ones representing you, making laws that impact everything from your childrens’ education to the amount of taxes you will be paying.  They will be those making decisions impacting the businesses that are at the heart of our economy, and the institutions that are crucial to our health care system.  They will be voting on our immigrations laws…they will decide everything!

While some would like to dissuade you from voting and say that you’re simply a drop of water in an ocean of people, that’s simply not true.  Wake up to the reality that you have the strength to unite with many around you until eventually becoming a sea of change!  Those who prefer you to stay outside of the system would prefer you to not understand how the government functions.  It is better for some this way, because then they do not need to feel accountable to you.

Many advisors to politicians analyze how strong the Hispanic vote is in their area before deciding whether or not to support the laws that the community are passionate about.  The fewer the Hispanic votes, the easier it is for many political strategists and directors to ignore these issues.  Many times, the lack of a large vote from the Hispanic community means that there is little investment in Hispanic media, making awareness of the campaigns even less than the usual.  Continue reading