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?)

Thought Provoker: Jim Cason, Mayor of Coral Gables, Florida

It is a pleasure to have Mayor Jim Cason as a “Thought Provoker” on Political Pasión.  These “Thought Provokers” are individuals (or a group) that make a difference in our community and challenge us to do the same.

Script translated into English:

Evelyn Perez-Verdia: “This is Evelyn Perez-Verdia with Political Pasion and here we are with Mayor Jim Cason of Coral Gables.  First of all,  congratulations on your most recent win as mayor of Coral Gables.”

Mayor Cason:  “Thank  you.  Three elections in four years.”

Evelyn Perez-Verdia: “Wow, incredible.  We are here Mayor Cason to talk about something that is important to us.  Could you share with us why it is important for Hispanics to go out and vote?”

Mayor Cason: “I would say that in many places in Latin America–I have lived in 15 countries and the opportunity to vote is not presented for various reasons.  In Cuba you can not vote because their is no voting.  Other countries can not vote due to poverty or  due to their system in which the people can not vote freely or their vote is stolen.  That is why it is important for people who have the opportunity to vote, to do so.   Political power comes from voting and politicians are going to hear those who vote.  So, if people do not vote, they are not going to influence the decisions of the government.”

Evelyn Perez-Verdia:  “What do you think the Hispanic lacks so that he or she goes out to vote?”

Mayor Cason: “Here in the United States?”

Evelyn Perez-Verdia: “Yes.”

Mayor Cason: “I believe that here the elderly vote more than the youth.  In the case of Coral Gables, a great part of the residents are Cuban-Americans who left their country in ’61 and they recognize the importance of the vote, they have passion and want to express their points of view.  The youth, not only Hispanics but all of those of the same nature do not vote.  They come out in presidential elections and come out in November.  Yet in local elections for an example, very few vote.   They do not see how it influences their life and what happens in a city, yet they are incorrect.  Everyone should vote, especially the youth. Sometimes things go well and they don’t feel it is necessary to vote.  It is always necessary to vote. Here in Coral Gables, twenty-five percent vote in the elections, on a good day. Twenty-five percent of the voters that are registered.”

Evelyn Perez-Verdia:  “Wow.  Well to finalize, could you give a message to the youth about the importance of going out to vote and why it is important.”

Mayor Cason:  “If the youth have a vision of how their country and their community should be, it is not going to happen by them waiting on a miracle.  It will need to happen through a political process.  If they do not vote we are not going to know what they want, we are just going to assume–and what they want is not going to happen.”

Evelyn Perez-Verdia: “Exactly. Thank you very much, Mayor.”

Mayor Cason: “You are welcome.”

The Political Power of Mr. 305

PitbullBy Evelyn Perez-Verdia

I sometimes drive through Little Havana, which in my view is one of the most enchanting neighborhoods in Miami to go through during the night.  You look inside one barber shop, and all the men are getting their hair cut as they are covered with smocks with the Cuban flag.  Men are playing dominos in a park surrounded by murals.

There was once a little boy who lived in this neighborhood and who possibly every day took a glimpse east toward a powerful downtown Miami while he had nothing in his pockets.  Born in 1981, the little boy grew up in the midst of drugs, neglect, and corruption in the ghetto known as “la Pequeña Habana”.  At 3 he could recite the poems of Jose Marti, Cuba’s national hero.  He grew up in rough circumstances, in a time where so many had so much dislike for the influx of Hispanics that had arrived to Florida.  What is so amazing is that those same conditions were what gave him the power to overcome fear and try to take all of his pain out through the spoken-word known as rapping.

That little boy was named Armando Christian Perez, the son of Cuban expatriates, born from a Peter Pan Mother and a Mariel Boat Father.  Destiny picked Armando, a powerful man now known to the world as Pitbull to overcome it all and become the skin and bones of the “American Dream”.

Pitbull and Politics

Pitbull started getting a name for himself, stopped dealing drugs and started building a relationship with his father that ended short due to a cancer diagnosis.  His father passed away in 2006.  According to an article from MTV: “From then, his father’s memory and his Cuban pride fueled Pit’s career. That year, Pitbull and a host of artists recorded a Spanish version of the U.S. national anthem which even caught the radar of President George W. Bush and allowed Pit to speak out on behalf of Latino immigrants.”

In 2012 Pitbull appeared at an Obama Rally where he gave a speech sharing the fact that it does not matter what color of skin we have, we must be united and moved forward.  See video here: Pitbulls speech at Obama event, source EFE:

In 2014, Pitbull tweeted a picture of him to his 19.3 million followers at a fundraiser for Florida Governor Rick Scott a week before Scott’s re-election campaign for Governor.  Pitbull wrote: “Proud to meet and discuss Florida’s future with Governor @scottforflorida LG @lopezcantera and Rep @ErikFresenFL

Focusing on the Unknown

Now, due to not showing his affiliation to one party, Republican and Democrats are going crazy trying to figure out who Pitbull is going to support in 2016.  With presidential elections coming around the corner, the influence of the Hispanic vote is key in winning the White House.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 2012 presidential election, more Hispanics voted in Florida than in any other state in the nation.  Latinos came out to vote by 62%, while the average Hispanic turnout for the rest of the United States was 49%. Florida Hispanics even beat California where the turnout was 48.5% and Texas where it was 38.8%…all states with high Electoral College votes.

Danny Alvarez, a Republican and former Tampa Bay Political Director for the Rick Scott Florida Gubernatorial Campaign, thinks that the targeting of Pitbull as a surrogate is genius. “Whoever thought of it should get a big pat on the back. We are not in the day and age where one message fits all and Pitbull appeals to a very broad range of targets that we are trying to reach as far as politics and government is concerned.”

Fighting for NPAs

So, the question is, if both parties are fighting for Pitbull who is registered as ‘No Party Affiliation’ according to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections, shouldn’t both political parties fight for NPA’s in the same manner?  In Florida there are approximately 600,000 NPA Hispanics registered to vote—a little less than Democrats and more than Republicans. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 51% of Hispanics identify as NPA in the United States.  However, once they are questioned further, their leanings show that most affiliate with the Democratic Party (52%) and this is consistent across generations.  However, 23% identify with the Republican Party and Hispanics with longer connections to the United States are more likely to be Republicans.

In politics, there is a division of thought on how important NPA’s are to an election. There are two schools of thought, one which believes that they are important and the other who thinks the opposite. Some Hispanic organizations are encouraging Hispanics to register as NPA since they believe that this will be the only way that political parties will not take Hispanic voters for granted.  According to Dr. Daniel Smith, professor of political science at the University of Florida, more Hispanic youth are now registering as NPA.  However he is not convinced that being NPA is the way to go when we live in a nation with a two-party system. When asked about Pitbull being NPA he states: “People in politics are not targeting Pitbull because he is NPA, they are targeting him because he is Pitbull.”

However, others think that Pitbull being NPA is a great example of why the Hispanic independent vote should not be taken for granted:

Angelette Aviles, a Republican and former political consultant thinks that both parties need to focus their energy on NPA’s. “What is so odd is that political parties do not tend to target NPAs until 3 months before the General Election.  One reason is because they consider them a waste of time being that they cannot vote in the Primary Election.” However, she believes that it is important to target them way before the Primaries.  “Like my husband, I see many Hispanics are in the middle when it comes to issues.  One day their main concerns are based on fiscal issues but the next it could be about education, or for some they may vote on a candidate who can better relate to minorities.”  Angelette’s husband recently changed his party affiliation to NPA.

Luisana Gonzalez is a 24 year old Venezuelan-American who lives in Weston, Florida and who holds a degree in International Relations from Florida State University.  Luisana is registered NPA and believes political parties should not forget about people like her. “NPA’s are more objective in their decisions.  I vote on the leader and their vision, I focus on the candidate’s policies and who the leader is, and not based on the stereotype placed by a political party,” she says.

Looking a little deeper

Most individuals interviewed all came to the same conclusion: whoever gets Pitbull, gets a great portion of the Hispanic youth vote.

However, Christian Leon, a Democrat and Political Creative Strategist says that this mentality from the parties is too general:  “Hispanics are so diverse and you are trying to find something that unites them. Everyone’s is gravitating to Pitbull because he is the common denominator that they believe all Latinos know. It shows the hunger of the parties. It also shows the lack of knowledge or leadership of the community.  What leaders are they going to turn to that appeal to Hispanics?  What person can most Hispanics relate to except for maybe the pope? If Pitbull wants to be neutral, the best thing he can do for the Latino community is write a song encouraging Latinos to vote.”

More than being neutral, it seems Pitbull has a bigger responsibility at hand.  Being an example to Hispanics, by not only talking the talk, but walking the walk.  According to his voting records, he registered to vote 5 months after turning 18.  However, from his voting history starting in 2008, the only election he has voted in is the 2008 General Election and Presidential Preferential Primary.

Maybe the next step for Pitbull is to teach the Latinos who hold our future that Politicos need to fight for their vote just as they are fighting for his.  The step is to vote himself and possibly go back to the campaign that changed the mentality of so many Hispanics living in Miami in the 80’s: “Vota para que te respeten” which means in English: Vote so that you are respected.

However, I think Pitbull knows that it is in his power to do much more than this.  He has proved he wants to see change focusing on a group of Hispanics and other minorities that we tend to forget about and who will be unstoppable in years to come.  His students at his charter middle and high school Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM), which he helped build in the same little neighborhood (Little Havana) where he lived and lacked what these children have now gained: An avenue to not get involved in drugs, receive attention, and be given the tools to become individuals that will be the leaders of tomorrow.  He needs to start voting and teach these kids the importance of voting.

The moment of truth

Republicans and Democrats should not only be fighting for Pitbull’s approval, they both should be focusing on all Hispanics and especially NPA’s or what we call political independents.

Armando Perez’ name represents Latinos who could sway either way.  The name Pitbull represents the power of Latinos and the power that we can have in politics, if we become vocal and vote.  2016 is on its way. Make a wise choice Mr. Worldwide. Like C.S. Lewis said: “There are far far better things than any we leave behind.” It’s time to start voting.  All politico eyes on you—keeping the rapping aside.

The Hispanic Vote: The Largest Minority Voting Bloc in Florida

Hispanic family outside home

By Evelyn Perez-Verdia

The most recent voter registration numbers as of July 28, 2014 show that there are 1,705,985 Hispanics registered to vote in Florida in the upcoming elections. 14% of the 11, 807,507 Florida registered voters are Hispanic, making us the largest minority voting bloc in Florida.  We surpassed the African American vote in Florida by 100,000.  However, our numbers are possibly higher due to the fact that the voter registration applications did not start including the term Hispanic until after 1995 on the voting registration application.  In addition, to this day, it is optional to place if you are Hispanic or not.

The five largest counties with registered Hispanics are:

 710,446 in Miami Dade County

190,322 in Broward County

153,387 in Orange County

113,380 in Hillsborough County

81,641 in Palm Beach County

This makes South Florida the most populous area of Hispanic voters in Florida.  In addition, we see why the Hispanic vote is the swing vote for the upcoming 2014 elections.

466,778 Hispanics are Republicans, 652,784 are Democrats and 558,707 have No Party Affiliation. There are only 20,831 registered as Independents.  Due to the differences in cultural, political and social beliefs, it is very difficult to know how Hispanics are going to sway.  The Hispanic vote is one of the few votes that campaigns will need to fight for.

You may ask; why such a large amount of No Party Affiliation?  My theory?  When I was spokeswoman at the Supervisor of Elections office in Broward County, the Voter Education and Outreach team would go to the Naturalization ceremonies to register new citizens.  Many new citizens did not know what it meant to be a Republican or Democrat, so they opted to place No Party Affiliation when they registered.  We live in a society where many Hispanics do not understand the beliefs of the two strongest parties that exist in the United States.  Another theory is that those Hispanics, who do understand the political parties, are tired of promises, pandering and punishment and have changed their affiliation from a specific party to focusing on what a person has to give as a candidate.  Hispanics, even when they are associated with a certain party, vote for the person and not the party.  Although many may not understand what their political views are, they do get brownie points for being charismatic, Hispanic and for being verbal in regards to the issues that matter to Hispanics.  Others just want a candidate that stands up for his or her beliefs.

Continue reading

July 4th should mean something to us all

Business man with USA flag t-shirtBy Evelyn Perez-Verdia

This July 4th many Hispanics are ready to show their passion and love for their country.  They are ready to cry as they sing the national anthem.  However, their tears will not be shed for the Independence of America.  Instead, they will be showing their passion, their love for the Game of futbol (or as Americans call it, soccer).  Especially Colombians who will all be dressed in the colors of their flag and will be celebrating that they have advanced to the final eight teams for the first time in Colombia’s World Cup history.  On July 4th they will be playing against Brazil.  Colombia will proudly stand for the national anthem and sing the words that they have memorized since childhood.

So much passion exists in Hispanics and yet, so little passion when it comes to the politics of the United States. When the World Cup starts some Hispanics even take vacation time to see the games.  However, they do not take the time to go and vote here in the United States.  When talking to Hispanics many say it is because they do not feel connected to this new place they have decided to live in, but not a place that they can call home.

July 4th is a day that we as Hispanics might take as a reason to have a party.  However, as Hispanics we should always remember that we are in a land where immigrants of many places shed their blood so that we could have the liberty to pursue our own happiness.  Men and women who have  fought so that our children could have a better future and could have the right to vote.

We should also remember not to take this country for granted.  It is difficult for me to see as a Hispanic how many Hispanics live in this country and have absolutely no connection with what it means to be part of this country.  They are here for the opportunities, but their hearts stay in their homeland.  This is one of the sad reasons why sometimes Americans dislike us so much.  Because they feel that many Hispanics have no respect for the country we live in.  We show no interest in participating in the process.  It is our responsibility to change the way Americans view us.  It is time as Hispanics to make a decision: Are you an American or are you someone from your country just living in America?

The moment we understand that we are not betraying our country of birth by being an American, will be the day that we will create a sense of love for America.  It is time to have a sense of love for the American flag that has embraced us.

On this July 4th, the Independence Day of the United States, we must remember to be grateful for the opportunity to be part of this beautiful country.  This day, as Hispanics, let’s remember that our hearts are big enough to love two countries, and have some space for soccer too.

Tips On Winning The Hispanic Vote

By Evelyn Perez-Verdia

Tip: if running a statewide campaign, 15% of your media budget should be focused on Hispanic media outlets. We are 15% or more of the vote. Remember to not only invest in TV, but also print and radio. Do not forget about our local community papers in Spanish–they are the gatekeepers to the Hispanic community. I also mention some other things to keep in mind for the upcoming election season.

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

 

 

Political Pasión Interviews Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez Re: Voting

Yoani Sanchez talks about the importance of voting. In reference to voting, Yoani says that indifference and apathy is leaving in the hands of others what is our responsibility. Sometimes the people who are in power are not the people that we may want in politics. However, the problem is if we all close the door to our house and decide to not to cast a vote, what happens is the same people continue to occupy the same positions. The most important point she made was to please vote, as there are many people like her that live in a country (Cuba) where her vote does not count. Video in Spanish.

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