A county GOP party chairman in Florida is under fire for apparently blaming an influx of Puerto Ricans on the decline of local registered Republicans, and calling Puerto Rico “a basket case.”
Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver has said his comments, made last week to the Orlando Sentinel, were taken out of context, but apologized for using a poor way of expressing what he meant to say.
In his original comments to the Sentinel, Oliver said Puerto Ricans were moving into the local area from places run by inept liberal leaders. He said "If you like a semi-socialist government where the highest aspiration is a nice secure government job, Puerto Rico is heaven on earth."
His comments came under fire from various groups, who accused him of discrimination.
"The chairman of the Orange County GOP Lew Oliver should take responsibility for his party’s poor performance among Hispanics in Orange County,” said the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, “instead of blaming the Puerto Rican community, which is one of the region’s newest and most vital Hispanic demographics."
Puerto Ricans are the largest Latino group in Orlando – and the numbers have increased significantly during the past two decade. According to Census figures, about 260,000 of Orlando’s 2 million people are Puerto Rican.
Both Republicans and Democrats have been paying more attention than ever to the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Island transplants and retirees now make up 28 percent of the state's eligible Hispanic voters. That's second only to Cuban-Americans, who make up 32 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
And because of this, Puerto Ricans living in the Sunshine State have drawn unprecedented attention from political campaigns – they have become an important segment of the state's most independent voters.
Since the comments, Oliver has sought to apologize and to clarify his views.
"What I'm trying to say is, I wish more Hispanics, Puerto Ricans, understood that if they looked at the places they have left,” Oliver said, “and the reasons they have left there, one thing they all have in common is poor economics, run by Democrats and by Democratic policies.”
Lew said he admired Puerto Ricans, and their courage in looking for places to live that offer a better life.
"It's not about the character of the Puerto Rican people,” Oliver said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "It's a compliment that Puerto Rican people are willing to pick up and move their families... in order to improve their opportunities for themselves and their families."
"I am commenting on the government of Puerto Rico... what I'm not commenting on is the Puerto Rican people," he said.
Includes reporting by The Associated Press.