If there is any county that is sharply divided along all sorts of lines in Central Florida, Osceola County has to be the place. If someone were to exit I-4 on Exit 62 , which is US Highway 192, and head east, they would encounter a number of different types of electorate. As soon as they exit, they will notice the Disney-created town of Celebration, a place for well-to-do folks to live that small town lifestyle. Further down the road, they would end up in Kissimmee, a place bursting with new migrants from other states and countries. Finally, they would end up in St. Cloud, which is as much of “Old Florida” as Gatorland in Orlando or the Citrus Tower in Clermont.
This mix of demographics makes for interesting politics in Osceola County. According to the 2010 Census, 43.2% of Osceola County is Hispanic while only 40% is non-Hispanic white. Yet for some reason, Hispanics haven’t been able to make any ground when it comes to politics in this county.
Looking at both the Osceola County Democratic and Republican Parties, minority participation is not very high. Compared to the population breakdown of the county, political participation is actually very low. Therefore, the question needs to be asked why participation, as far as running for office, is low among Hispanics? The problem isn’t that Hispanics are being defeated in primaries, but that they are not running at all.
This is where “old Florida” and “new Florida” clash. Old Florida is still interested in keeping the old ways of Florida politics. People who are politically involved with this group can easily relate to someone who is talking about Reubin Askew or Claude Kirk. The good ole boy buddy system that has been in place in Florida for generations still exists here today. Basically, the white population of Osceola County still runs the show and get their guys and gals elected.
In addition to the whites in the county controlling the system, the money still goes to the white candidates instead of Hispanic candidates. The main reason for this is because most of the money that finds it way into the political campaigns in Osceola County comes from the agriculture industry, mostly from cattle ranching and citrus growers. Therefore, it is in the best interest of these ranchers and farmers, who are highly involved in Osceola County politics to back their native sons and daughters instead of the newly arriving Hispanic candidates, who might not even understand issues surrounding agriculture.
The question that must be asked is if the Hispanics in Osceola County understand that they possibly have the political power to drastically change politics in Osceola County? As of right now, they haven’t utilized this power and continue to be a non-factor in non presidential races. If they do understand they have this problem, what are they waiting for? Is it a lack of organization? Is it a problem with competing with the good ole boy system. Honestly, it is both.
In most elections in Osceola County, Hispanic voter turnout is roughly about 13% to 15% lower than white turnout. In turn, the Hispanic candidates have a harder time capturing votes, especially in districts that might be split between white and Hispanic voters. This is the case with most of the county districts in Osceola County. With the exception of two county commission seats, the rest favor the white candidates. Easily, the system in Osceola County is created to help the white good ole boys retain their power, yet the Hispanic population isn’t doing anything about it.
As of right now, there isn’t a place, or city, of domination when it comes to electoral politics in Osceola County. While Kissimmee is the largest city in the county, most of the political power is channeled through St. Cloud. And, of course, St. Cloud is the home of most of the people in the good ole boy system. It is more likely for a candidate who is running countywide to attend events held in St. Cloud compared to going to an event in Kissimmee. That is where the power, money and, sometimes voters are at.
The future of Osceola County politics should be very interesting to watch. Eventually, the Hispanic population will grow to such a high percentage of the population that Hispanics being elected to positions within county government will be inevitable. But when will this change take place? Will it be 2020? Possibly. Currently, Osceola County is the only county in the nation that has a plurality of citizens describing their ancestry as Puerto Rician.
But as of right now, there is very little impact by the Hispanic community on elections in Osceola County. Well, less of an impact compared to what they can become, which is a large electoral machine, if they organize, recruit candidate and, most importantly, vote.