One of the things about Florida is that is a state of extremes, one where the remnants of the Old South are still alive and well, even though the state has one of the fastest-growing population rates among Latinos in the United States.
Take the curious case of Florida State Senator Alan Hayz, a Republican out of the tiny town of Umatilla, which is north of Orlando. Following the script that has become common among a sector of the national GOP, Hays is now facing criticism for his remarks last week during a discussion about congressional redstricting.
"We all know there are many Hispanic-speaking people in Florida that are not legal,’’ he said. “And I just don’t think it’s right that we try to draw a district that encompasses people that really have no business voting anyhow,” Hays said.
According to The Miami Herald, Hays is facing a firestorm of criticism from Latino politicial leaders in Florida, both Republicans and Democrats.
“He is calling on a witch hunt before a Hispanic district can be realistically considered,’’ said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.
Florida will receive two additional congressional seats because of its population growth in the last 10 years that, according the U.S. Census data, was largely fueled by the surge in the state’s Hispanic population. Hays made the comments in response to a proposal being considered by the Senate Reapportionment Committee that would create a Hispanic-majority district in Central Florida, where the Puerto Rican population has exploded.
Cruz pointed out that Puerto Ricans are American citizens at birth.
While no one on the committee responded to Hays’ comment on Tuesday, the remarks were published in an Orlando Sentinel blog, provoking outrage from the Hispanic caucus. Several members of the Republican-dominated group met late Wednesday and considered drafting a letter of complaint, said caucus chairman, Sen. Rene García, R-Miami. Sen. Garcia said he asked Hays for an explanation and Cruz and Rep. Luis García, D-Miami, demanded that Hays apologize or resign.
Rep. García said Hays’ comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of state law. “Either he is ignorant or prejudiced, neither of which are qualifications for him to serve on this committee,’’ he said.
Said Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami: “I think that it is unfortunate that anyone would question whether or not Hispanic voters are American citizens,’’ he said. “It is basic Government 101 that in our country only U.S. Citizens can exercise the right to vote.”
García wrote a letter last week to both of Florida's congressional leaders, and as of tonight, Hays has said nothing.
What is interesting to note is that Latino Republicans in Florida have been quick to call out Hays' comments, a trend that is occurring across the nation, as they try to fight against anti-Latino rhetoric within their own party.