TAMPA — Some voters are disturbed by the state of the economy and the rising cost of living. Others believe education, health care, and immigration should be top issues for the next governor.
But one thing is for sure: Candidates and traditional parties can’t count on Latinos to vote as a bloc.
The midterm elections are not the exception.
Latinos in Florida make up the second-largest group of voters. According to the Florida Division of Elections, there are 2.6 million, accounting for 17% of the state’s total (14.5 million). In Hillsborough County, Hispanic registered voters make up 175,455; Pasco, 48,576; Pinellas, 40,191; and Hernando, 15,921.
Nationwide there are about 34 million Latinos eligible to vote, up almost 5 million from 2018, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. The expansion of the Latino electorate makes up about 14% of all the eligible voters in 2022.
Latinos around the region spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about who they are likely to pick on Election Day as Florida’s next governor.
Zoila Lahera, 32, of Tampa, a lawyer who considers herself a Democrat, said Florida needs a governor who prioritizes people’s rights, wellbeing, and financial stability. And to Lahera, in the gubernatorial race, that means voting for Charlie Crist, the Democrat challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis as he seeks a second term.
“We need a governor whose focus is on protecting Floridians and addressing those issues affecting Florida residents,” said Lahera. “Governor DeSantis hasn’t done so; he’s spending hundreds of thousands of Florida’s taxpayer dollars to relocate migrants from Texas to Massachusetts, while Floridians struggle with rising housing costs and inflation.”
Lahera fled the island of Cuba with her parents as a child and was granted asylum as a political refugee. She said the state government needs a change and not authoritarian policies.
“What should be important, especially to Latino voters, many of whom have fled authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, is that they came from places that stripped them of their rights,” Lahera said. In the context of women’s rights, she said, DeSantis is “hyper-focused on stripping away women’s rights.”
Christian Salinas, 47, born in Lima, Peru, usually votes Democratic. But, as a restaurant owner and local entrepreneur, he said it’s time to act and change. In other words: He’s dissatisfied.
“I think there should be a stronger plan to help business owners so they can increase their sales and create more jobs,” said Salinas, who lives in Lutz with his wife and two kids, ages 13 and 3.
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Salinas said he prays for better opportunities and a pathway to help immigrants and their families fix their legal status. He thinks Republicans might do a better job solving these problems.
“There are many people ready to work and to revalidate their studies,” he said. “It’s time to provide an adequate solution for them.”
Sonia Velasquez, 64, a Honduran community leader in Spring Hill, said that she chatted with her best friends and members of her community to share ideas about candidates who might meet her expectations.
“It’s a difficult situation because the federal government made a lot of promises,” she said. “But the important thing is that we make our voices heard.”
Velasquez said she would support Karla Hernandez-Mats, the daughter of Honduran immigrants. Hernandez-Mats is running for lieutenant governor as Crist’s running mate.
“I think we have to give her our vote because she is going to be an authority that is going to work in favor of a definitive solution for Hondurans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans, among many others, who have temporary status,” Velasquez said.
Cuban American Danet Rodriguez, 30, said partisan ties will not necessarily secure her vote. But for the gubernatorial race, she’s planning to support DeSantis. Why? She worries about jobs and education, the state of the economy and democracy.
“We must be more consistent with the future of our society,” said Rodriguez, a wife and mother of two children, 7 and 2. “That’s why I want to choose options and candidates that really offer a solution to the problems we face.”
• • •
Tampa Bay Times Election Coverage
TAX BREAKS, FATE OF COMMISSION: Here’s a look at what measures are on the November ballot.
SUPREME COURT RETENTIONS? Florida voters will decide whether to retain 5 of 7 state Supreme Court justices.
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the elections in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription. Or click here to make a donation to the Tampa Bay Times Journalism Fund.