Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico and Florida Politics

The dour stone-faced German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble made a joke in 2015.

“According to Bloomberg, Schaeuble said, “I offered my friend [US Treasury Secretary] Jack Lew these days that we could take Puerto Rico into the euro zone if the U.S. were willing to take Greece into the dollar union.”

Hahaha!  That’s so funny Wolfie!!  It’s a banker joke.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory defaulted in 2015 precipitating the largest default in municipal bond history by missing a $58 million payment; it made a partial payment of only $628,000.

All of this had echoes of Greece.

Puerto Rico has $74 billion in debt, equal to 100% of its GNP.   Puerto Rico has the population of Connecticut and an economy smaller than Nebraska’s. It also has more debt  than any U.S. state government except California, New York and Massachusetts. The debt, a result of financial mismanagement, Wall Street complicity and good intentions gone awry, has dramatically limited  the territory’s ability to rebuild after being destroyed by hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico was already struggling with its debt load when Hurricane Maria hit in September.  After President Donald Trump toured damaged sites on the island Oct. 3, he said of the debt “we’re going to have to wipe that out,” though his budget director said this shouldn’t be taken literally.  Just a few more loose words from a President who doesn’t know that the hell he’s talking about most of the time.

Both Greece and Puerto Rico are tied to a much large economy with which each shares a currency and both are in a form of death spiral, their economies shrinking as they struggle to raise ever more funds from their shrinking economies to pay the piper – err – bankers.

But Puerto Ricans have one thing the Greeks do not have – American citizenship.  As citizens they pay taxes but have no representation in Congress.  Puerto Rico is not a state and will not be one in my life time.  They have no Senators or Representatives and cannot vote in U.S. elections while resident in Puerto Rico.  What was that line about “No taxation without representation!?”

So Puerto Ricans are leaving the island in droves – and they’re coming to America.  Most of the young learned both Spanish and English in school and many already have family members here.

Some 200,000 have left, probably never to return, including 40,000 school age children.  Schools are being closed by the dozens as pupils failed to register and simply disappeared.

And the second most place where they have settled, after New York City is…….Orlando, Florida.  And they are changing the local politics here.

There are about a thousand new Puerto Rican families moving to Florida every month. They’re leaving behind the island’s troubled economy. As they are U.S. citizens, they can register to vote as soon as they arrive, and many of them are settling in central Florida, historically the swing region of a swing state.   There are now more than a million Puerto Ricans living here, mostly in Orlando and Tampa metro areas and they are the second largest Latino group in the state after the Cubans, concentrated in Miami.

Puerto Ricans have been migrating by the thousands to the area — part of the largest exodus from their island territory to the mainland since World War II. They currently make up about 10 percent of Central Florida’s population, and their numbers continue to grow.  The road to political victory in Florida is not just a metaphor, it’s a place: Interstate 4, the busy highway that cuts across the vote-heavy heart of the state from Tampa to Daytona Beach.

A Pew Research Center report released in August shows that Orange County alone was home to nearly 150,000 Puerto Ricans in 2010, up from 86,583 a decade earlier, out of a total population of 1.4 million. The surge pushed it to No. 3 in a ranking of U.S. counties according to Puerto Rican population; only Brooklyn and the Bronx ranked higher.

“The I-4 corridor is the key to winning Florida: Win the area and you win the election,” says Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, pointing out that roughly 45 percent of the state’s registered voters live in the Tampa and Orlando media markets.

Yet some Floridians, including politicians, are still trying to figure out how to talk about the newcomers. Because many Puerto Ricans work at Disney World, some ignorant Floridians dub them “Disney Ricans” or “Mickey Ricans,” labels they don’t find amusing.

And it didn’t go unnoticed when the chairman of the Orange County Republican Executive Committee, Lew Oliver, blamed the “Puerto Rican influx” for a decline in registered Republicans and called the island territory “semisocialist” and a “basket case” = as if America had nothing to do with Puerto Rico’s current economic condition. Under fire from various groups, Oliver issued an apology, saying his words were taken out of context.

The episode highlights the struggle the GOP faces in Central Florida, where more than 300,000 Puerto Ricans are concentrated in a region of 3 million to 4 million people. Though Republicans can still rely on the Cuban vote in South Florida, they’re falling behind in the vital I-4 corridor.

The change is part of a broader shift in the Hispanic politics of the Sunshine State. Historically, Cubans in the Miami area have been the majority of the state’s Hispanics and have leaned Republican. But that dominance is slowly eroding. Younger Cubans are increasingly turning Democratic, and the swelling Puerto Rican population seems to lean Democratic, too.

Puerto Ricans now number nearly 1 million statewide and represent 28 percent of Hispanic registered voters — closing in on a Cuban population of 1.3 million that comprises 32 percent of Hispanic voters.

With their sharply rising numbers, Puerto Rican voters could tip the balance of the Hispanic vote in the country’s third most populous state, a powerhouse battleground with 29 electoral votes.

In Central Florida their political impact has already been felt. In the 2016 election, Representative Darren Soto, a Democrat, became the first member of Congress of Puerto Rican descent elected from Florida when he won a Central Florida district with a large Puerto Rican population.

Mr. Soto said any significant shift in population in such a highly competitive state could have an enormous impact.

For decades the Cuban vote in Miami was a GOP bulwark. voting solidly Republican.  Candidates knew it was mandatory to stop in Versailles, the “world’s most famous” Cuban restaurant in Miami for coffee and kissing up, ensuring that America’s hostile relationship with Cuba would not change.

But times have changed.  The old timers are dying off and there is no longer any thought among young 3rd generation Miamians of returning to the old country – except maybe to buy a vacation condo.

The new Puerto Rican arrivals are smart, educated and mostly Democrats.  They are now an effective counter-weight to the heavily Cuban Republican vote.  One candidate for the House seat in District 6 (Palm Coast) lost a Republican primary last August 28 after taking the position that recent arrivals from Puerto Rico after the storm should not be permitted to vote.  Rather all efforts should be made to “get them back into their homes” on the island.

The Puerto Rican vote is now being heavily courted by both parties but Donald Trump doesn’t make it easy for the GOP to make inroads.

The November election should be quite interesting – a “democratic socialist” running against a Trump water carrier for Governor  and Democrat Bill Nelson in a tight race with our term limited Governor who, IMHO, should have gone to jail for Medicare fraud.  He was once CEO of Columbia/HCA about 2 decades ago when it was fined $1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare.  Scott resigned in 1997 less than four months after the federal investigation became public.  He claimed ignorance of the over-billing.

It’s how he became a billionaire.

.

from 1961

 

About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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5 Responses to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico and Florida Politics

  1. It’s shameful the way Trump organization has handled the disaster in Puerto Rico yet no one calls him out on it. We need to clean the swamp, those who have not already pleaded guilty to crimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. beetleypete says:

    All the way down, I was smiling, thinking of ‘West Side Story’. Then I came to your clip…
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. toritto says:

    Great minds think alike Pete. 🙂 Besties

    Like

  4. Frank, it’s quite an interesting development to watch unfold.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jfwknifton says:

    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

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