Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver is defending comments he made to Political Pulse Monday after two days of harsh reaction from Democratic and Puerto Rican leaders, bloggers and commentators.
Oliver, in responding to news that Orange County’s number of registered Republican voters had slipped behind “other,” attributed it to the fact that the region’s influx of Puerto Ricans were registering either as Democrats or “no party affiliation.”
In written comments he sent Political Pulse, he called Puerto Rico “a basket case” and said “If you like a semi-socialist government where the highest aspiration is a nice secure government job, Puerto Rico is heaven on earth.”
Then came the firestorm, branding Oliver for using “racially-tinged” and offensive language. Those accusations added to an already tumultuous spring for Florida Republicans because of other recent stumbles in the party’s efforts to appeal to Florida’s rapidly growing Hispanic base.
On Wednesday Oliver said his critics are taking his comments out of context. He stood by what he wrote, except to note he wished he had thought through how each sentence could be taken out of context.
“It didn’t occur to me in my wildest dreams that my comments would be interpreted the way they were interpreted,” Oliver told Political Pulse.
Here’s Oliver’s statement from Monday on the voter registration trends that sparked the criticism:
“The great grand irony of it all is that the massive predominantly Puerto Rican influx that has accounted for nearly all of this is the result of Puerto Ricans almost without exception fleeing Puerto Rico and other states whose economic opportunities have diminished. What do all those places have in common? Puerto Rico, Chicago, Illinois, New York? Democrat governments. You would think at least of few of them would figure that out. If you like a semi-socialist government where the highest aspiration is a nice secure government job, Puerto Rico is heaven on earth, PLUS nice weather! Sadly, it is also a terrible basket case. As is Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Illinois, New York and just about every other Democrat-controlled state and city in the country.”
Here’s what the critics had said:
The Puerto Rican Leadership Council condemned “the racially-tinged comments by Orange County Republican Party Chairman Lew Oliver who stated among many other ignorant comments that Puerto Ricans ‘highest aspiration is a nice secure government job.'”
U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, whose district has a large Puerto Rican voter base, wrote, “Lew Oliver served up racially-tinged and inaccurate remarks offered in defense of the Republican Party’s failure to connect with Central Florida’s vibrant Puerto Rican community. Sadly, Lew’s sweeping generalizations about the entire Puerto Rican community demonstrate just how out-of-touch the GOP has become”
The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida declared, “The chairman of the Orange County GOP Lew Oliver should take responsibility for his party’s poor performance among Hispanics in Orange County, instead of blaming the Puerto Rican community, which is one of the region’s newest and most vital Hispanic demographics.”
Other critics offered harsher comments on-line and in blogs, and lit up phone lines at call-in Spanish radio talk shows, including and WNQ 1030 and La Fantastica 1440, WPRD-AM Orlando.
On Wednesday he clarified, “What I’m trying to say is, I wish more Hispanics, Puerto Ricans, understood that if they looked at the places they have left, and the reasons they have left there, one thing they all have in common is poor economics, run by Democrats and by Democratic policies.
He said he admired people who would undertake the difficult migration to leave such situations.
“It’s not about the character of the Puerto Rican people. 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.
Click here for the story in the Orlando Sentinel.