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Andrew Gillum focuses on equal citizenship rights in Puerto Rico

Now that he’s acepted the endorsement of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in the heart of Florida’s Puerto Rican community in Kissimmee, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum sought Monday to differentiate himself from Republicans led by his opponent Ron DeSantis, starting with a firm call for equality.

Rosselló hustled Monday from an endorsement rally in Orlando for re-election of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson against Republican Gov. Rick Scott to a rally in Kissimmee to support Gillum’s election against DeSantis,

As he did so, Republicans quickly responded with their own pronouncements in support of Puerto Rico Monday, for the work Scott had done and commitments DeSantis had made, with backing from, among others, the island’s lieutenant governor, member of Congress, and Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, who helped push through several plans last fall to assist Puerto Rican refugees.

Monday’s activity showed how critical both parties see the Puerto Rican vote in Florida.

Equal citizen rights is a rallying cry for many on and from the island, who see that island residents get less Medicare and Medicaid benefits, were hit with a new tax liability in last year’s Republican-pushed tax cut law, saw the first round of hurricane and natural disaster legislation get approved in the U.S. House of Representives without money for Puerto Rico, and were left feeling the federal relief effort lacked the focus, commitment and care seen in the efforts offered for Florida and Texas last year.

Both Gillum and Nelson emphasized the need for equal rights for American citizens in Puerto Rico compared with those stateside, something Rosselló also pushed when he announced why he chose to back Nelson over Scott, and Gillum over DeSantis.

“Andrew’s message, it is a message of equality,” Rosselló said. “It is the commitment that every U.S. citizen should be treated the same.”

That’s where Gillum entered Monday, with far less record in the past than Nelson or Scott in addressing Puerto Rico, and perhaps more or less on equal footing with DeSantis in comparison of activity to address Puerto Ricans’ concerns. Gillum’s focus on equality is what sets him apart, Rosselló said.

Equality has been a theme of Gillum’s campaign since he first announced his candidacy in early 2017, and on Monday he sought to bridge the similar struggles of the underprivileged communities in Florida, from which he came, and those of Puerto Rico.

“Guess what, ya’ll? I’m here to ask to be the candidate for governor that is the candidate choice for the Boricua right here in the state of Florida. I want that label! I want that label! Gillum said. “And I want it not in a tokenizing way. I want it in a way that says we understand one another, that we know what it means to fight for every inch, every square inch, for every mile of what we get. You’re not gifting us anything. We work for what we got.

“I want my living experience here in the state of Florida to say, ‘You know what? That is our shared experience,'” Gillum continued. “When I talk about a job where people can work and earn a livable wage, I’m talking about my mother and my father.”

Gillum began by pointing to efforts by Florida’s only member of Congress who is of Puerto Rican descent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Celebration, who stood by his side at both rallies.

“This man is also a champion of just saying, ‘Don’t treat us like the third world!’ We’re American citizens, and we deserve respect, and the dignity that comes with humanity,” Gillum declared.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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