Latinos Rise in Numbers, Not Influence By Don Van Natta Jr.

Over the last decade, Florida’s Hispanic population has exploded, especially in central Florida, where the number of Hispanic residents in Orange County jumped 84 percent. They are now 308,244 of 1.2 million residents, about one in four.

But some here are raising questions about why Hispanics’ representation on influential political boards has not kept pace with their increase in numbers in this county, of which Orlando is the seat. Last month, only days after the fresh census data reflecting the surge in the Hispanic population, county commissioners and the mayor appointed a 15-member panel to redraw the boundaries of political districts with data culled from the 2010 census. Just two of the board members are Hispanic.

The appointing of two non-Hispanic whites by County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson (who, like all the commissioners, had the power to name two panelists) drew particular criticism because she represents a district that is 38.4 percent Hispanic.

“It just breaks my heart to see that we are here 40 years, and we should be moving forward and included in every segment of the community, and that is just not happening,” said Trini Quiroz, 62, a community leader who raised her concerns at a recent County Commission meeting. “How do you ignore one-third of the entire population? It’s not right.”

Commissioner Thompson chose a former colleague at the Chamber of Commerce and an Orange County lawyer.

When asked by WFTV Channel 9 news in Orlando about why she did not name a Hispanic, she said, “I wouldn’t say it was a priority.”

But in an interview, Commissioner Thompson said that her comment was taken out of context. She said that no Hispanic constituent had applied for the position.

And since the appointments were made, she has invited Hispanics to participate in meetings about redistricting and other subjects of local interest, and to apply for other posts, but none have done so, she said.

“Finding a Hispanic was not a priority over finding the most qualified individual on that board,” she said, citing among the important qualifications the willingness to make the time commitment.

However, that sentiment angers some of the commissioner’s constituents. Jaye Bonner, 62, a retired former Marine and an Orange County native, said he was “appalled” by how few Hispanics were on the redistricting board. The final decision on the boundaries is in the hands of the county commissioners.

Commissioner Thompson “claims she could not find a single qualified person, with a high percentage population in the Hispanic Latino community, to serve on that advisory board,” Mr. Bonner said. “That’s just absolutely atrocious in my mind. It’s almost like they are making an effort to suppress the Hispanic representation.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/us/08florida.html?scp=7&sq=Orlando&st=cse

A version of this article appeared in print on April 8, 2011, on page A15 of the New York edition.
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