Religious right loses one

Michael Hoover hoov at
Mon Mar 15 05:31:53 PST 1999

> Central Florida puts 1st Hispanic in state House
> Scott Maxwell
> of The Sentinel Staff
> Published in The Orlando Sentinel on March 10, 1999.
> Democrat Anthony Suarez became Orange County's first Hispanic state
> legislator Tuesday by defeating a conservative Christian in a heavily
> Republican district.
> Suarez was elected in House District 35 in a special election for the
> seat vacated by Republican Bob Brooks, who left to become secretary of
> the Department of Health in Gov. Jeb Bush's administration.
> The vote marked a rare chance for local Democrats to gain back a seat
> in a district with nearly 20 percent more registered Republicans.
> "No one thought this was possible. Not even my own party in the early
> stages," an excited Suarez said Tuesday night. "We've been battling
> for this for so long. I'm just disappointed we didn't win by more."
> Suarez, originally from Puerto Rico, won about 51 percent of the vote
> to beat Jerry Creel, who had 46 percent. Libertarian Janet Hawkins
> received about 3 percent of the votes cast in the district that
> stretches across east Orange and southern Seminole counties.
> Evelyn Rivera, the vice chairwoman of Orange County's Democratic
> Party, said the victory demonstrated the rising power and influence of
> Hispanics in Central Florida.
> "It says that we are here in this community, that we want to be a part
> of it -- and that we can go out and vote," Rivera said.
> Democrats conducted an intense campaign that focused on
> Spanish-speaking radio stations and door-to-door stops to give Suarez,
> 45, a lawyer who lives in east Orange, the victory over Creel, 48, a
> Baptist pastor.
> Democrats also gambled heavily on the power of absentee ballots in
> this race where turnout was low at around 16 percent. It was a bet
> that paid off, since nearly three-fourths of the absentee votes went
> in Suarez's favor.
> Before the absentee totals came in, Suarez was losing the election.
> But absentee ballots, many of which Democrats had urged their
> supporters to mail in, constituted more than a third of the total
> votes cast.
> If the victory symbolized the up-and-coming status of Hispanics, it
> also showed that the Democratic Party is not as out of the political
> scene as some have suggested, Rivera said.
> "We're still here. We're still alive. We're still kicking," she added.
> Doug Head, the party's leader in Orange County, said the race also
> suggested that President Clinton's impeachment process and the
> Republicans who led the charge against him went a long way toward
> turning voters away from Republicans.
> "This race shows that hard work at the local level can make all the
> difference," Head said. "And it also shows that it helps to have [U.S.
> Rep.] Bill McCollum on the other side."
> Suarez's campaign played on that sentiment when it sent a last-minute
> mailer to Democrats that connected Creel with McCollum, R-Longwood,
> and independent counsel Ken Starr.
> Creel was not available for comment.
> Tuesday's race in Orange and Seminole counties and two other special
> legislative elections were being watched by pundits nationwide who
> were curious to see what, if any, impact the recent hearings had on
> Americans' voting patterns.
> A Republican, Ken Littlefield, won the other special election for
> House District 61 in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, a seat
> previously held by his brother. Republican Jim King of Jacksonville
> won a Senate seat.
> Suarez's victory means that Democrats picked up a seat in the House,
> although Republicans still hold a 72-48 majority.

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