Over the past 40 years, it is obvious that the demographics of Florida has changed. Gone are the days that the north Florida Cracker controlled the votes. Now the process is more democratic and everyone has a say.
Or do they?
In June, I attended the Florida Democratic Party delegate convention. While both whites and African-Americans were well represented, what was shocking was the lack of Hispanic participation during the entire delegate selection convention. Every now and then, I would see someone who was Hispanic walk down the hall. But there is no doubt about it, the representation of Hispanics in the Florida Democratic Party does not represent either their population in Florida or their composition of the registered voters in Florida. Florida Democrats purely have a diversity problem.
The place where this diversity problem is easily pointed out is in Osceola County. According to the 2010 Census, Hispanics make up 43.2% of the population while non-Hispanic whites make up 40.0%. Yet, if someone were to go to an Osceola County DEC meeting, white members make up an overwhelming majority of the meetings. Some of these members have been with the DEC for a number of years. But when someone looks for either black or Hispanic representation, there is very little, if any.
In a discussion with Stacy McCland, the current candidate for Senate District 21 and St. Cloud native, she stated that much of the problems dealing with diversity in the party has to do with the Hispanics themselves and not the lack of outreach by the DEC. During our conversation, Mrs. McCland told me that the Hispanic Democratic Club of Osceola only comes around when asking for money but does nothing else. One incident that she shared regarded ticket sales to an event that the Hispanic Democratic Club was holding. According to McCland, she said that Hispanics would come to the event and ask for money for the tickets, but then would eventually cancel the event, but would ask if they could keep the money. The Hispanic Club then sponsored another event and asked for new money for those tickets. Many in the Osceola DEC thought that their old ticket purchase should work as a rain check for the tickets to the new event, according to Mrs. McCland.
Mrs. McCland stated that there isn’t much trust between the Democratic Hispanic Club and the members of the Osceola County DEC. The incident mentioned shows that is probably the case. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any effort whatsoever by the Osceola County DEC to make their organization more diverse. Instead of being an organization of inclusion, it seems to be a “good ole boy” network that has kept old Florida alive while trying to hold on to the last bit of power before the Hispanics outnumber them in the DEC.
While their commitment to Democratic candidates is strong and cannot be questioned, the lack of Hispanic involvement raises serious questions. This might explain why the Republican Party of Osceola County has fielded more Hispanic candidates over the past 10 years than the Democratic Party of Osceola. Also, with Mrs. McCland making her intentions known that she is considering running for Florida House District 42 in either 2014 against Mike Horner or in 2016 against possible candidate Fred Hawkins, Jr, Mrs. McCland will need as much Hispanic support as possible.
Now let’s skip two counties to the north, where in Seminole County the opposite is true. First, let’s look at the demographics. 82.4% of Seminole County is white while only 11.2% is Hispanic and 9.5% are black. Even with Seminole County being a fairly white county, especially for Central Florida, the Seminole County DEC has worked to bring in both blacks and Hispanics into their organization. While there is no real need to do this since the white population is very high, the SemDems do it anyway.
So what makes these two counties different for the Democratic Party? Osceola County is only becoming more Democratic because of demographic changes in the Hispanic population. Seminole County is becoming more Democratic because of the work of the Seminole County Democratic Party. The difference between the two is staggering. This explains why the Seminole County DEC is becoming highly respected throughout the State of Florida.
If Democrats in certain counties don’t start taking their increasing Hispanic population seriously, our Party might lose these voters out to either the Republicans or as NPAs. Let’s look at Orange County for example. Less than half of the Hispanics are registered as Democrats, hovering around 47% for the last 10 years. With Hispanic voter registration in that time more than doubling, one would assume that Democratic registration numbers among Hispanics would increase. This hasn’t been the case. This trend is, more than likely, happening in neighboring Osceola County as well.
In 1960, the African-American vote was split between both the Democratic and Republican Party. According to Theodore White in his book Making of the President 1960, African-American voters overnight switched from being split to solidly Democratic when Senator John F. Kennedy bailed Martin Luther King, Jr. out of jail. This one act completely changed the voting patterns for African-American since. One of the reasons why this might have been the case is because their was a lack of commitment by any party to connect to the African-American voters. Once the opportunity arose for one of the two parties to make their choice, Senator Kennedy stood up to the plate. Since then, not only have African-Americans been solid Democratic voters, but the Democratic Party in general was able to get rid of its racist past and forge a new path toward a future of equality.
This transformation has also happened on the local level here in Florida. Even after the the 1960s and 1970s, Cuban voters were not solidly Republican. Let’s take a look at one of the most prominent Cuban political families, the Diaz-Balart’s. Lincoln Diaz-Balart ran as a Democrat for Florida House in 1982. His brother, Mario, was also a Democrat until 1985. During this time, Ronald Reagan strongly supported the ideas of crushing the Communists throughout the world. This message rubbed off on Cuban-Americans and overnight many of them changed their voter registration from Democrat to Republican, just like the Diaz-Balarts. The Cuban areas of Miami went from being split as far as voter registration to becoming solidly Republican. This also explains why Cubans are highly pro-Ronald Reagan, arguably more so than pro-Reagan white voters.
If Democrats in Florida aren’t careful, the same can happen with a more diverse Hispanic vote yet again. Cuban voters are already Republican (though they are trending Democratic), but the Puerto Rican voters are still up in the air. Yes, they vote Democratic now, but what if a Ronald Reagan situation comes up? Would Democrats have enough of a connection with that community to make sure they stay Democratic? As of right now, I am not entirely sure. If Seminole County is a model for the future, then yes. If Osceola County is the model, then no.
Democrats shouldn’t take the Hispanic vote for granted. Yet, we do.