Will Ricardo Rosselló Endorsement of Andrew Gillum Have Any Impact on Florida Elections? Probably Not

Oct 2, 2018
9:20 AM

ORLANDO — During this year’s gubernatorial primary election in Florida, both majority parties decided to select the most appealing candidates to their base. In the case of the Democrats, progressive Andrew Gillum, strongly backed by Bernie Sanders and the party’s far left, defeated Gwen Graham, the moderate Democrat who occupied a congressional seat in a Republican district. On the Republican side, voters backed Ron DeSantis, who was openly supported and backed by President Donald Trump. After so much excitement over a potentially epic showdown between the far right and the far left in Florida, it now seems that both candidates are moving towards the center of the political spectrum.

In what has been a historically traditional move by politicians throughout U.S. history, Gillum seems to be reaching out to figures within the center of the political spectrum after his primary victory, appearing Monday with moderate Democratic congressman Darren Soto and Puerto Rico’s conservative Democratic governor Ricardo Rosselló, who officially endorsed Gillum.

During a 12-minute speech given at the Monday rally in Kissimmee (how many Puerto Ricans were actually there?), Gillum expressed that he supported statehood for the island, but “not in a tokenizing” way, and if elected governor, he promised to help with the housing shortage recently arrived Puerto Ricans face in Central Florida after Hurricane María. After the speech, Gillum also tweeted this:

What did Gillum not mention? The seven-member unelected fiscal board imposed on the island by Congress through the “PROMESA” law passed by both Democrats and Republicans in 2016 and nothing about the archaic colonial Jones Act that continues to strangle Puerto Rico’s economy.

In addition, Rosselló appears as a “Democrat” on the Democratic Governors Association website, however, his governmental policies on the island are very conservative, as are the overwhelming majority of his cabinet members, such as his chief of staff and Lieutenant Governor Luis Rivera Marín, both Republicans.

It is also worth noting that Rosselló’s 2016 running mate is resident commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, a non-voting member of Congress who sits with the Republican majority and is also the president of Puerto Rico’s Republican Party.

Recently, Rosselló’s administration has been under fire by labor unions and sectors within the progressive movement due to his implementation of severe austerity measures, such as pension cuts, public school closures and for having initially supported the implementation of a Wall Street-backed “fiscal board” that has unilaterally taken over the island’s government.

It is irrefutable that Gillum won the Democratic nomination thanks in large part to Sanders, who campaigned for Gillum in Florida the week before the primary election; an election which had moderate democrat Gwen Graham well ahead of Gillum in all polls.

Sanders’ energizing support injected a raucous enthusiasm into the progressive base of Florida’s Democrats, helping Gillum edge out Graham for the gubernatorial nomination by a thin margin. It now seems, however, that Gillum is reaching out to moderate figures, such as former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who will join Gillum at a October 23 rally in hopes of garnering enough support from the center of the political spectrum and those who are undecided for his bid in becoming the first African-American governor in the Sunshine State’s history. We shall see if this strategy ultimately turns out to be a smart move or a regrettable mistake.

It also remains to be seen whether or not Rosselló’s endorsement will be impactful within the Puerto Rican community. Rosselló had previously endorsed Graham during the primaries, and we all know how that worked out for her.

Local Puerto Ricans in Central Florida interviewed by Latino Rebels don’t seem to think the endorsement will help Gillum and could actually cost him votes within that electorate.

“I believe that Gillum does not have an accurate understanding of how Puerto Ricans vote and that could cost him votes in November. He seems to think that a mere endorsement from Rosselló will cause all Puerto Ricans in Florida to vote for him, and he is mistaken. Rosselló’s image in Puerto Rico is very deteriorated among Puerto Ricans, both on the island and in Orlando,” said Ángel Fontanez, a Puerto Rican Democrat in Orlando.

Others like Lisa Santoni of Longwood, also a Democrat, stated, “Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló’s endorsement of [Democratic Senator Bill] Nelson and Gillum is not as odd as it seems at first glance. Rosselló touts the advantages of statehood for Puerto Rico while at the same time praises Trump’s response to the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Irma and María. The kindest thing I can say about him is that he is willing to go along to get along.”

Regardless of Rosselló’s official support (many in Florida don’t even know him), Gillum appears to be on his way to a solid victory over DeSantis. Recent polls have Gillum winning comfortably outside the margin of error—an electoral phenomenon for a progressive candidate in Florida. And despite Rosselló’s negative record with working class families, unions and the overall well-being of Puerto Ricans on the island, progressive organizers such as Michelle Suárez of Organize Florida are confident that Gillum’s commitment to progressive values will continue on course.

“Mayor Gillum has deep support across many communities, including dozens of leaders in the Puerto Rican community. Governor Rosselló is just one of those supporters and mayor Gillum’s support for unions, better work standards and a higher minimum wage is unwavering,” Suárez told Latino Rebels.

The real question still remains. What kind of governor will Gillum be if elected?A far-left progressive Bernie Sanders Democrat or a moderate middle of the road Hillary Clinton or Ricardo Rosselló Democrat if he wins?

We will soon find out.


Phillip Arroyo is a writer, civil rights activist and political analyst who frequently appears on numerous national and international media outlets. Mr. Arroyo served both in the Puerto Rico Senate, the Puerto Rico Department of State and was selected as the only Puerto Rican to serve in the 2012 White House Internship, having worked in the office of the Vice President Joe Biden, where he analyzed domestic and economic issues while at the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillipArroyo.