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Florida's Political Class Holds Its Breath Awaiting Influx from Democrat-Heavy Puerto Rico

October 1, 2017 - 6:00am

The humanitarian crisis and relief efforts are in full swing in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. As the scope of the damage and the rebuilding of the island's infrastructure becomes more evident, one result of the disaster is the influx of residents from the island territory expected on the United States mainland, and in Florida in particular.

Looking forward, this could have wide-reaching effects on the political landscape, both in Florida and nationally.

In particular the decimation of the island’s power grid means the outlook is bleak for a quick recovery, and long-term restoration is certainly facing residents. A large number of Puerto Ricans are already eyeing the prospect of moving to the U.S. mainland for better opportunity and some semblance of returning to a normal life. On the other hand, this is nothing new. For years, as Puerto Rico has fallen deeper in debt, an increasing number of its citizens chose to move north to the States. The surge there has been a flow of citizens from the territory as it has been mired in an economic debt crisis, and the surge from the storm devastation will expand this flight.

So, how much will this impact things politically? It's a tough answer, with ever-fluctuating numbers and unknown results. One thing most are anticipating is a general benefit for Democrats. Puerto Ricans are a majority-Democrat voting demographic historically. Although they cannot vote in presidential elections, once they establish residency in one of the 50 states, their ability to enter the voting rolls is a smooth process. The turnout last year during the Puerto Rican primaries -- when they can vote -- was nearly 58,000 for Democrats versus nearly 37,000 for Republican candidates.

Florida is the expected landing pad for many of the transplants, and there is already a voting record to look over that does not deliver firm expectations. It has been estimated that the number of Puerto Ricans transplanted to Florida since 2012 is in the 200,000 range, pushing the residency totals in the state to over one million. This influx was expected to be enough of an edge last November to give Hillary the victory in Florida, but Trump took the state’s delegates.

The political alignment of the new Puerto Rican arrivals is only assumed; the reality of their voting is still not cemented. Politico explained one reason Hillary’s assured Florida victory did not materialize: There is a tendency for many of the new arrivals to register as Independent -- perhaps because they are fleeing an area enduring economic hardship at the hands of their elected officials.

Political observers are keeping an eye on how Puerto Rican voters could change the scenery in the Florida Legislature. Some have speculated the influx of new voters -- assuming they are largely Democratic -- could have a drastic "flip" effect, particularly in the Senate but possibly the House as well. This too will depend on unknown variables. 

One area expected to see a large increase from Puerto Rico is Central Florida, particularly the Orlando region, where a large enclave of Puerto Ricans exists. However, Orange County and Osceola County are already deeply Democratic areas. The net gain in Tallahassee may be mitigated by that incumbency.

Certainly Republican operative Rick Wilson thinks Hurricane Maria could be a game changer favoring Democrats in Florida. “If you put an influx of 100,000 Puerto Ricans who vote Democratic eight times out of 10 in the Orlando area, there you go,” Wilson told The Washington Post.  “Nobody can afford a big change in the registration pattern or a change in the voting pattern that offsets Florida’s narrowness. You could end up with a big advantage for Democrats in 2018 if they play it right. The Puerto Ricans would be coming here because they feel like Donald Trump left them high and dry. That won’t fade away. … It could be a very, very big deal.”

Since the Democratic windfall is not a foregone conclusion, many politicians -- Marco Rubio, for one -- are focused on championing the island's relief efforts, looking to gain the new voters' favor. Rubio, embraced at least by island conservatives, was among the first politicians to visit following Maria. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has visited and brought supplies, a move likely inspired by his probable campaign for governor. 

Gov. Rick Scott has toured areas of the island, and Sen. Bill Nelson talks of making a trip to the stricken island during meetings with Puerto Rican groups in Orlando. Both men are expected to run against each other for Nelson’s seat. 

However, the biggest influence on the future votes of transplanted residents will probably rest with President Donald Trump. 

His quality of relief efforts, and the perception of those covered through the media, will likely be the biggest indicator on which way those arrivals approach the ballots in the coming years.

Brad Slager is a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer who wrote this piece exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.


Wow... really? There is no difference between Americans coming over from New Jersey or Puerto Rico. They are American, period. Americans for decades have enjoyed going to Puerto Rico on their cruises and mini vacations. I don't have Puerto Rican family, as I am not Puerto Rican. I have offered supplies and what I could to my friends who have received family who fled this week. I am disgusted to be a Floridian today. These comments are insanely ridiculous. Stay classy FL.

How about focus on the state budget. 50% of the PR population is Medicaid qualified. As US citizens in Florida they can claim benefits. We are not budgetarily prepared for increase in Medicaid cost, we will be in trouble. This is not just a change cultural, it is a costs for which we are not ready

Good point Anonymous. How about all the kids that will show up here after the mass influx? Most of them won't speak English. But they will all be in school. They will all qualify for free food. And they will need special teachers to try and get them up to speed. And special language teaches. And more bus traffic. Ad infinitum. Who do you think will pick up this tab? Most of these people will immediately be on the dole. A chaotic, expensive mess we don't need and can't afford.

It is the ridiculous political idiots that think about this crap when there is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions going on in Puerto Rico. This is exactly the reason that political divisiveness exists in the first place., idiots placing party politics over humanity and doing the right thing for people...

Hey there Truth...In case you hadn't noticed, there are humanitarian crisis' in lots of places. How much did you donate? How many Puerto Ricans you plan on taking into your home? Where is the communist Bill Gates? Granted he did not turn into a communist till he got rich. Puerto Rico could stand a billion. This is the country that allowed Gates to get rich. Maybe Bill could foot the tab for building the island a real power grid, something the Social Democrats that looted the place ignored. The president just outlined his sane immigration policy. You have to speak English. You have to have a skill or job. And no welfare for at least 5 years. The Puerto Ricans fail on every count. Before running your mouth about grown up issues, you ever think that maybe our "slow" response is due to it being an island a long way from here with no existing power grid PRIOR to the storm? And a third world country road system? I think the president has moved as quickly as humanly possible. If there is a delay, it could be that Janet Yellen is busy in the basement printing more money. Heck, when your credit card statement totals 20 TRILLION dollars, what a few billion more? Not like it will ever be paid. If it were not for their technical connection to America Puerto Rico would rival Haiti as the poorest country in the hemisphere.

There's ALWAYS a "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions" going on somewhere on the globe: But the United States CAN'T possibly save them all (and shouldn't even pretend we can... Because those "saved" souls (like ALL THE REST) couldn't care less if America perishes under the weight of DEBT). (AND, Puerto Rico [to add insult to injury] REJECTED statehood VIOLENTLY in 1947, and haven't paid a dime in Federal taxes since... So their "free pass" is hereby reminded because they've already "bled" American Taxpayers for over 70 years...and THAT debt "has come due"... so why should we rebuild all their hovels (despite what Geraldo Rivera [formerly known as Gerry Rivers when he grew up in Massapequa, Long Island, New York] thinks)? ? ?

Should read: '...their "free pass" is hereby RESCINDED...

I approach this in a different light, with NO KNOWLEDGE to back it up! I'm "hoping" to see many of our Puerto Ricans come to this country, and be OPEN for discussion on LEFT vs. RIGHT. Think of it as an "opportunity" to get the People Interested in how American Government REALLY works, rather than "sitting out" the Intellectual part of learning WHY there are two parties, and the LEFT is Communism, while those with insight will be able to SEE why "smaller Government" means BETTER Government. I may be naive - but I live in HOPE.

Hey TampaGuy, meet all the Puerto Ricans you'd like at your nearest welfare office, yelling "gimmee,gimmee"!

It is just disgraceful that Democrats (and 'leftist politicians') can happily feed on tragedy just to "develop" divisive Democrat votes in Florida ! FLORIDA residents are beginning to consider relocating from the quickly developing "little Haiti" south Florida, and taking their wealth with them, and leave the burgeoning illiteracy situation behind... (it has become far too easy for a government...ANY GOVERNMENT... to "trash" a town, city, State or continental area of this Republic in the name of "tragedy reclamation & relocation" from every other imaginable location on this planet: That's not "brotherhood",..that's "piracy"!)

you got that right.

"GOOD GRIEF"!... I think I just inadvertently described Obama's entire Presidency..!

Predictable. Since the Social Democrats took over the island they have divvied up their time between looting the place and giving the place away. They promised everyone free stuff and, of course, were elected. Somalia has more money, Nigeria had a better power grid. Power grids not being something they spent money on. They have been flocking to Orlando for years. As US citizens they immediately get benefits. The way benefits work, the more kids you have the more benefits you get. They all have a bunch of kids. Buddy Dwyer, an elite pondscum democrat will offer them counseling sessions on how to adapt. Heck, they already know when the mail comes. They don't speak English and they can't do much. Exactly who we don't want. I have long suspected that many years of living in his mothers damp basement full of mold has rotted Jerry's brain. As for Anna Gomez. Maybe you are right and they won't come to Florida. The race goes not always to the swift, nor the battle to the mighty. But that's the way to bet. Response slow? Well, it is an island a long way from here. You need a big boat. After t Obama disaster, we are short of big boats. We are still dealing with Harvey and Irma. We are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Problems with Rocket Man and Iran. FEMA 25 billion in debt prior to the storms. And we are 20 TRILLION in debt. They are as incapable of governing themselves as Baltimore, St. Louis or Newark.

So just what do you propose? Who are "they", and who are "we"?

Puerto Rico should have been its own nation years ago. They get all the benefits of citizenship in the US while they get to give the uS the middle finger. free the PR

People can dream, can't they? Why would incoming Puerto Ricans necessarily choose Florida? There is a much larger Puerto Rican Community in New York. Why would they necessarily choose the Democrats? I imagine Puerto Rico gets news other than the Clinton News network and MSNBC. But ... dreams are made of things like these...

While traditionally New York has been the preferred destination, Florida ranks second in transplants from the island. Areas of Florida have been seeing a definite spike in arrivals during the current migration of the past few years. The Orlando area has become a very large Puerto Rican resident region. As for them choosing Dems, that has largely been the voting history. As I pointed out, while they have voted Dem on the island they also see the problems they are facing under that leadership. This leads to a significant Independent block once they register in mainland areas.

PRs are not the repub only problem as Trump takes the party down the low road path I bet the 37% that voted republican most won't next election and many other repubs, independents are going to leave, at least the decent ones....................It's time to go with those that have proven they make a good economy, are fiscally conservatives and either balanced or drastically cut the deficit, democrats.................... Now Trump's tax plan cut's his taxes by 40%, hardly the rich won't get cuts he says while many lower, middle class, especially those with children, get screwed.....Not to mention greatly increasing the National debt to give the tax cuts to the rich. What's up with that? ..................... But that is what campaigning on hate, division gets you and now will kill your party.

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