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Interview: Maria Padilla, editor of La Prensa

Maria Padilla is the editor of La Prensa newspaper, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in Central Florida. We recently sat down with her to talk about what’s on the minds of Latino voters in the run-up to the election.

MARIA PADILLA: Florida is a Latino Mecca. For all kinds of people, not just, you know, Cuban or Puerto Ricano. But there’s Colombian and there’s Venezuelan and there’s– you name it, Mexican. We’re all here.

Q: What’s it like living in what must feel like the very epicenter of the Presidential campaign, with so many visits from the candidates?

MARIA PADILLA: Every day, every week, until November, we see people here. Last week we had Paul Ryan. I think the week before that, or even– actually, during the week there was Romney. Obama comes all the time. Michelle Obama might come. It’s quite a number of people here from both parties that actually visit Central Florida on a weekly basis. So, we see a lot of folks up close, which is actually quite unique I think for the voter. All because this is a very coveted place, in terms of voters. Central Florida is where you have the swing part of the state. Something like 44% of all voters in Florida are right here in this Central Florida area ranging from Orlando going all the way out to Tampa Bay.It’s quite a number of voters and we happen to be swing voters. Which means that we may just as well vote for a republican one year as a democrat the next year. And it’s kind of unpredictable what we might do from election cycle to another. So, that’s why they’re here, ’cause everybody wants to make sure that we vote for them.

Q: The economy of Central Florida is still struggling – large numbers of foreclosures, high unemployment (especially among Latinos). Why hasn’t President Obama been held more accountable for this economy?

MARIA PADILLA: I think a lot of people know that he inherited a good chunk of that even if he ought to be held accountable for what has happened in the last at least two years. I think people figure, well, the first two years there was this whole mess to deal with, the last two years– maybe we ought to be out of this by now. Some of the statistics that we are seeing now are actually quite helpful to Obama right now. As for Romney, I think that he did have a strong– angle there, for lack of a better word in terms of appealing to people in terms of the economy and so forth. I’m not quite sure why that hasn’t taken off. Maybe there haven’t been enough specifics. Maybe Romney reminds them of their boss. You know, maybe it’s your boss telling you, “Yeah, things are gonna get better. You’re gonna get that raise next year. I promise you.” And the next year comes around and maybe there’s no raise, or whatever. I’m thinking maybe there’s a combination of all those things going on there. Because it’s the right theme, and it is the right subject for a lot of people. It hits home. But I don’t know.

Q: President Obama’s administration has deported a record number of immigrants, many of whom are Latinos. Despite that, President Obama’s approval ratings among Latinos remains remarkably high. Why is that?

MARIA PADILLA: Why Obama hasn’t been held accountable for the approximately 400,000 deportations per year in each year of his administration, I don’t really know. That is a heck of a lot of people to be deporting out of this country, almost all of them, a good chunk of them, Latino. Why Latinos are not holding him more accountable for that, I can’t really say. Except that — I can see where perhaps Obama has tried to play it both ways, where you’re gonna be tough on immigration, and then he pulls the Dream Act thing out of a hat, where he stays all of these deportations for these young folks.

Q: Earlier this summer, President Obama announced the “mini DREAM Act,” where his administration would no longer deport young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children without papers. Instead, those young people would be eligible to apply for legal work permits.

MARIA PADILLA: Huge, huge popularity in the Latino community. And I don’t know whether that may have softened the feeling, whatever hard feelings there may have been out there for him, I’m– I’m imagining and from what I’m able to see and we’re able to report here, yes, it had a big impact. … The Dream Act had a lot of resonance in Florida. … And I think that trying to give young folks a break, who came here through no fault of their own, I think is really, really plays up to Hispanic strength in terms of taking care of your family. is your family. You should not blame these kids. Yes, they are illegal but what can they do?

Q: If you were advising the Republican Party, what would you suggest they do to help broaden their appeal within the Latino community?

MARIA PADILLA: First of all, there are Latinos who are Republicans. And I know many of them here in Central Florida. There is a good chunk of Latinos who are republican. I think the issue is – the folks that I know who are Republican, the Latinos I know who are Republican, they’re going to be republican no matter what. The issue for Romney is, can you pull Latinos who are not Republicans or who might not ordinarily vote Republican, can you move them over to your side of the ledger? And I think some of the language that they have used when they talk about Latinos and when they talk about immigrants, it’s not something that people like. It feels as if people are talking to you. So, I would say that they need to change some of that language. They need to change their approach. They need to be aware that there’re lots of different Latinos here in this country, that most Latinos are citizens, that illegal immigrants are really a small portion of the immigrant community. They need to remember all that when they’re talking to the Latino community. They need to understand that there’s a difference between a Cubano and a Puerto Ricano, and a Puerto Ricano and a Mexicano, and a Mexicano and a Colombiano. We are all united by language and we all, you know, there is a brotherhood there, I think. But we are also different. We each have different customs and may eat slightly different food. We are slightly different. We have different political cultures that we come from. And all that, if you knew something about that and you could appeal to people on that basis, I think would be really helpful.

Q: A recent Pew Hispanic survey indicated that a large percentage of Latinos in the U.S. don’t have health insurance. How do you think that issue – coupled with the passage of “Obamacare” – impacts Latino voters’ attitudes?

MARIA PADILLA: Here in Florida you have about a third or more of Latinos who are uninsured. So, that has a very big impact when you’re thinking about whether you can provide just adequate healthcare. We’re not talking about super-duper healthcare, just adequate healthcare. You know, being able to go to a doctor– perhaps sending your child or you yourself going to a dentist, or whatever. Being able to do things like that is impossible for a large chunk of the Latino community. So, I think the appeal of Obamacare, for lack of a better word, is strong among a lot of Latinos who are treading water. And a lot of Latinos are treading water. The economy has been very tough on them. So, you can’t underestimate the importance of something like that.

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