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John Ward’s Insult To Puerto Ricans

| May 30, 2018

John Ward, a Republican candidate for Congress from Florida's 6th Congressional District, doesn't think Puerto Rican storm escapees 'belong' in Florida.

John Ward, a Republican candidate for Congress from Florida’s 6th Congressional District, doesn’t think Puerto Rican storm escapees ‘belong’ in Florida.

Give John Ward credit. At least he did not say that some of his best friends are Puerto Ricans. What this Boston Brahmin wannabe and recent Florida transplant trying to buy himself a congressional seat here did say is revolting enough. But again, in fairness to Ward, he does not seem to know what the word “democratic” means, let alone what Puerto Rico’s place in our democracy happens to be. He’s not the first. Which makes him an ideal candidate for Congress in these days of re-emerging discrimination and selective supremacy.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Ward is one of three Republicans running for the 6th congressional district seat nominally held by Ron DeSantis since 2013. The district includes all of Flagler and parts of Volusia and St. Johns. Ward, a businessman who inherited his father’s wealth–“I stand with Trump,” Ward says with experience–was appearing alongside Fred Costello, another candidate, at a small forum hosted by a Mount Dora Republican Club last week when a man in the audience asked the candidates this question: “A lot of Puerto Ricans have moved either temporarily or permanently to Florida. How do you respond to them when they say that they need more help and that the aid to Puerto Rico is not enough?”

Ward never quite answered the question. Not the aid part, anyway. What he did say amounted to what he said in a rejoinder to Costello later: “I want to get ‘em home.” But before he got there he gave us a tour of his bigotry, ignorance, contempt, pompousness, and back to bigotry. Here’s his answer in full:


“So, first of all I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote. And you know it’s not lost on me that I think the Democrat [sic.] Party’s really hoping that they can change how the voting registers in a lot of the counties in the district and I don’t think they should be allowed to do that. Secondly, I’ve a good friend who actually runs Tote Maritime, which is one of the largest shipping concerns that runs the route here from up in Jacksonville, over to Puerto Rico, so I get pretty current updates on what’s going on in Puerto Rico. I think the situation is improving a lot there, and where I’m going with that comment is, we should be looking to put the Puerto Ricans back in their homes, right? So the idea that they can come to the mainland United States, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but I think we should be thinking about it in terms of getting them back home, and providing the capital and resources to rebuild Puerto Rico, which I honestly think is where they belong.”

First off it’s not the “Democrat Party.” Republicans since the 1940s have tried to slur Democrats by lobotomizing the word’s adjective to make it sound less, well, democratic. Ironic, considering Republicans’ infatuation with voter-suppression laws and neo-Black Codes. But as slurs go, that one was among Ward’s milder ones.

His opening line was more nakedly offensive: “I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote.” To say this about 3.3 million U.S. citizens requires impressive doses of ignorance and prejudice. True, since Puerto Ricans became citizens in 1917, they’ve been disenfranchised in every presidential election for living in a territory rather than a state, and the second-class status has been compounded by the mainland continually denying Puerto Rico statehood or representation with voting power in Congress. But just as any American who moves residency to Puerto Rico loses the ability to vote in presidential elections, any Puerto Rican moving residency to one of the 50 states gains it. That’s the law. Whether or how new arrivals register is their business. At least Ward doesn’t “necessarily have a problem” with them coming to the United States. Up to a point. 

Since to Ward all Puerto Ricans seem to look, sound, and vote alike (giving minorities their own individuality as human and thinking beings isn’t a reactionary’s strong suit, as Roseanne Barr reminded us in her latest 15 seconds of bile), he’s assuming that they’re all coming to Florida to register as Democrats, because really that’s the priority for those who’ve managed the crossing to get away from Hurricane Maria’s devastation. They’ve lost home, family, job, life. But all along through howls and loss they kept their eyes on the prize: that Democratic registration card at Kaiti Lenhart’s office. You can tell from the moist marks of naked Latino feet fraying carpet since September, obviously.

But let’s assume “they” were doing exactly that. In what way are Puerto Rican migrants to Florida different from, say, migrants from Oklahoma, Alabama, New York, or, like Ward himself, Acton, Massachusetts? Would Ward tell his snow-weary neighbors from Massachusetts who decide to make the move to Florida to go home once they’ve had a few days in the sun? Would he tell Hawaiian volcano victims or California wildfire escapees to go back where they belong after a while? Would he discourage anyone moving from anywhere in the United States to start a life in Florida? Judge their motives? Demean their rights? Question their politics? Of course not.

Unless they’re Puerto Ricans. Because they don’t “belong” here. They “belong” in Puerto Rico. Ward’s own word. In 2018 Florida.

For a moment there I really thought I was hearing those imbecilic nativists who thought during Reconstruction that they could “repatriate” freed slaves back to Africa, which, to quote Ward repeating their exact words from a century and a half ago, “I honestly think is where they belong.” The bigotry is the same, down to that supremacist language and the fear of the ballot in more bronzed hands.

Costello posted the video of the exchange and denounced Ward’s statement (see the full reply below). But he wasn’t much better–not just with his version of contempt–“Do I want them coming here and registering Democart? Of course not”–but with his vile and misinformed judgments about Puerto Ricans’ motives as driven not by escaping ruin, not by their ambition and ability to enrich Florida, but their implied predisposition to leech off the system: “Now, where I draw the line is government should not be paying them to continue to live off of government. If they want to move here and get jobs and live here, fine.” I wonder how many Flagler voters he’d insult that way for receiving a FEMA check, a Medicare subsidy, a mortgage-interest deduction, all three of which Costello or his family likely benefit from firsthand.

Fred Costello. (© FlaglerLive)

Fred Costello. (© FlaglerLive)

Costello was race-baiting just as much as Ward was. He just did it more slickly, tactically dropping his code words the way a guy who’s been around politics for many years knows how.

What neither of these men did was unreservedly and unconditionally speak of Puerto Ricans the way they’d speak of their white-skinned, proudly English-only neighbors in Ormond Beach or Ponte Vedra Beach, Ward’s alleged home (he doesn’t actually live in the district he’s running for). Just as strikingly, only one person in the audience of perhaps two dozen at the Ward and Costello show–an attorney who studied in Puerto Rico–called them out.

Beyond that, some articles, some calls for Ward (and only Ward) to quit his campaign, but not much else. No serious outcry, at least not yet. No groups cancelling their Ward invitations, certainly no denunciations by his party. No surprise, either. For Republicans in the Age of Trump, it’s bigotry as usual. And from Ward? “I stand by what I said.”

So much for welcoming our new neighbors from Puerto Rico, whose numbers thankfully add to our previous neighbors from the island, in Palm Coast especially: this town would be even more insipid than it is without its Latin and other-colored migrants. And now that men like Costello and Ward have made their caste systems clear, I do hope that as many of the recent arrivals to the 6th Congressional District register and act Democratic, in every sense of the term: their vote could be the difference in a disturbingly toxic region where too many of us, not just Puerto Ricans, are made to feel like we don’t belong.

Here’s Fred Costello’s full response to Ward: “I absolutely disagree. Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States of America. They have a right to go anywhere in the United States. Do I want them coming here and registering Democart? Of course not. I want them to understand that they moved here for opportunity. They moved to Florida because they wanted to take care of their families, and if they want individual liberty and personal responsibility and equal opportunity, we the Republican Party need to show them why we’re the party that they need to gravitate to. But, I believe a resident citizen of Florida should be able to go to any state. I believe a resident citizen that lives in Puerto Rico should be able to come somewhere. Now, where I draw the line is government should not be paying them to continue to live off of government. If they want to move here and get jobs and live here, fine. The time has come when we have finished the humanitarian effort that was the right thing to do to give them an opportunity to–their government down there, the Democrat-led government down there allowed their infrastructure to be totally decimated. It’s not their fault. It’s not the citizen’s fault that left, so they had a right to come, they don’t have a right to continue to receive benefits from our government.”

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam.

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34 Responses for “John Ward’s Insult To Puerto Ricans”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow

  2. MAusborn says:

    Sounds like he’s a pretty good representative of the GOP. Some in the GOP are willing to destroy this country than share it with other people. We don’t want to share this country with minorities,women,gays,immigrants,the poors and non-religious people. The only religion in this country sure be christianity any other religion no need to apply. We created our own reality don’t believe science,logic,facts and intelligence are losers with some in GOP.

    This is despicable! He is a racist, right-wing zealot! He should drop out in disgrace! If not, then he should be targeted for defeat.

  3. Jw says:

    Cut the cord. They shouldnt be allowed to vote unless they are here in the US. Most dont give a damn about this country. Why dont you write an article about the crap going on in Kissimmee where they are tearing up hotels that fema has paid for them to stay in. Get a job and become apart of our society or go back home. All or nothing.

  4. Jack Howell says:

    Mr. Ward’s comments and intent are a blatant slap in the face to our fellow Puerto Rican Americans. They did not particularly want to come to Florida as victims of Hurricane Maria, but they are here. As fellow Americans, they have every right granted to them under the Constitution with no reservations or restrictions. That includes voting Mr. Ward! If Mr. Ward wants to be a Congressman perhaps he needs to study the Constitution which, if elected, he will swear to support and defend before he takes office. However, I don’t see him getting elected after his ignorant and uniformed comments. We don’t need another bigot in Congress.

  5. Pogo says:

    @No such thing as a good Republican

    who supports a disgraceful sleaze like trump.

    All one need know about this reject from a wax museum – in his own simulation of human speech:

    “…The Personal Stuff:

    Favorite book is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged …”
    http://www.ueinvestors.com/team/

    Voting for Ward makes the same sense that a chicken voting for Col. Sanders does – don’t do it.

  6. Percy's mother says:

    Having been an immigrant in this country (with no voting rights), and having been displaced, my interpretation of the quote noted in the article is this, (and one must also pick up on the nuance of the quote) . . .

    No one enjoys being displaced. No one enjoys being away from home for extended periods with no end in sight. That being the case, it’s always much better to “be back home” . . . back home where one “belongs”.

    That was simply stated by the man. No more. No less. That’s what the man meant. HOWEVER, in these days and times its like walking around on eggshells all the time, and I suppose some might read bigotry into the man’s statement . . . where none was meant. It’s all about one’s mindset.

  7. Marvin says:

    Vote for JESUS

  8. Mark says:

    #1, this is not a democracy, it is a constitutional republic.
    #2, if you don’t live here legally, you don’t vote here.
    Yes, I am a deplorable, bigoted, racist, homo phone, white American. Thank you.

  9. resident says:

    Trump 2020

  10. mark101 says:

    What I don’t understand these rich somehow think that Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens or colonial subjects when fact is they are US Citizens.
    Hey Ward nothing like losing votes before you campaign gets really rolling. I say open mouth and insert size 11 foot.

    Also where do Ward actually live

  11. knightwatch says:

    The Republican Party is the party of exclusion. It is the party of fear and hate. It’s the party of Trump. My point is that Republicans at all levels of our society support an ideology that is anti-democratic. They would easily and happily vote in an authoritarian government that gives preference to the white and the wealthy. You are who you stand up and cheer for. If you cheer for Trump, you are Trump.

  12. knightwatch says:

    Mark, indeed you are. And you are the problem in America.

  13. oldtimer says:

    as an immigrant I find it funny that most Puerto Ricans consistently vote against becoming a state but when the S..t hit the fan in their island they come here and want the state to take care of them

  14. Randy Jones says:

    A bit of argumentum ad hominem eh Pierre? Attack the man based upon his political party, his former place of residence, the source of his wealth and seemingly blaming the man for current U.S. law prohibiting our good friends in PR from voting for POTUS. If I had been displaced by a natural disaster I hope someone would want to “get me back home.” Tell us you wouldn’t Pierre. And to all Puerto Ricians, please forgive Pierre for designating you “second class”.

  15. ScottyC says:

    Bloody ell. Now the Canadians are meddling in our elections.

  16. Fernando Melendez says:

    As proud as we Puerto Ricans are, some had to simply get off the island asap due to the lack of the most basic necessities such as water, power & lighting. In our case we were able to get my dad over to my brother’s house in Connecticut for a short period of time, while my brother and sister over there really toughed it out. Once back to somewhat normal conditions, and believe me no where near normal my dad couldn’t wait to get back. My point being is that most Puerto Ricans were eager to get back, Ward’s mistake was injecting politics into it when asked simply about the aid and help being offered by the US. The few that’ll stay and relocate, are those that either lost everything, or like an aunt of mine, who’s a medical doctor and had to relocate to Kentucky because doctors believe it or not were not getting paid. For the most part not a real factor vote wise with those relocating here, because most have already returned.

  17. Brandon says:

    Am I missing something?
    According to Wikipedia:
    “Voting rights of United States citizens in Puerto Rico, like the voting rights of residents of other United States territories, differ from those of United States citizens in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Residents of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories do not have voting representation in the United States Congress, and are not entitled to electoral votes for President. The United States Constitution grants congressional voting representation to U.S. states, which Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories are not, specifying that members of Congress shall be elected by direct popular vote and that the President and the Vice President shall be elected by electors chosen by the States.”
    If this is in fact correct, Puerto Rican’s temporarily living in Florida would have no more right to vote in Florida any more than they can in Puerto Rico? Now if these individuals were to change their permanent domicile to Florida then this could be a difference changer. Even then I think they would have to renounce their Puerto Rican Citizen ship.
    Just Sayin’

  18. Brandon Cross says:

    Maybe I am missing something?
    According to Wikipedia:
    “Voting rights of United States citizens in Puerto Rico, like the voting rights of residents of other United States territories, differ from those of United States citizens in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Residents of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories do not have voting representation in the United States Congress, and are not entitled to electoral votes for President. The United States Constitution grants congressional voting representation to U.S. states, which Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories are not, specifying that members of Congress shall be elected by direct popular vote and that the President and the Vice President shall be elected by electors chosen by the States.”
    If this is true seems to me Puerto Rican’s would not be eligible to vote in state and national elections if they were residing in Puerto Rico. Only game changer I see for the evacuees would be if they changed there permanently residence to Florida. Even then I believe one would have to give up their Pureto Rican Citizenship.
    Just Sayin’

  19. Mark101 says:

    @Mark “””” deplorable, bigoted, racist, homo phone, white American. “” at least you know you are the main problem in the US.

    These Puerto Ricans citizens, well Mr bigot, I had 3 serving with me in Irag during a battle in Fallujah. They fought well, I was wounded. They had our backs and and we hard theirs.. If they can fight as a US Marine, then by god they can vote.

  20. gmath55 says:

    Brandon Cross I remember reading that also. When will there be an article about the insults to President Trump? Democrat losers don’t want to talk about that. It’s a two-way street.

  21. Just the facts says:

    Brandon, there is no such thing as “Puerto Rican Citizenship”, they are US citizens jus tlike you.
    I visited PR a month ago and saw the devastation that still exists.There are still many without power and water.
    Aid has been slow in coming and many will never be able to go back because they’ve lost everything.

  22. Richard says:

    There is no reason why a displaced resident from Puerto Rico who is a US Citizen cannot vote in the US PROVIDING that they change their permanent residency to the state that they are now living in be it Florida or wherever state they choose as their PERMANENT residence. If they follow the rules and laws for registering in the state where they are living then they should have the right to vote also.

  23. Louis L. says:

    Fantastic article!!

  24. Nancy N. says:

    Brandon Cross, yes, you are missing something.

    Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. When they are resident in Puerto Rico, their territory doesn’t hold elections for President or Congress so they can’t vote for those things. However, they are U.S citizens like any other so when they move to a U.S. state like Florida that does hold elections for Congress and President, they are legally eligible to vote in those elections just like any other U.S. citizen that is a resident of that jurisdiction.

    And no, they don’t have to “give up their Puerto Rican citizenship” to vote in U.S. elections. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and any U.S. citizen can vote in the U.S. elections that take place in the location of permanent residence, regardless of dual citizenship status. Millions of Americans hold dual nationality. It does not affect the right to vote.

  25. Really says:

    @POGO hilarious!!!

  26. kevin says:

    According to a recent Time magazine article “Puerto Ricans by birth have American citizenship and can move freely between the island and the U.S. mainland. But unlike Hawaii, Puerto Rico is not a state. That means it does not have voting power in Congress and its citizens can’t vote for the U.S. president — but they can vote in party primaries.” If these Americans from Puerto Rico decide to settle in Florida which they have every right to do just as Mr. Ward claims to have done then they can vote like any other Floridian. I hope they do decide to stay and make Florida great again!

  27. Liberal media....sheesh! says:

    Where exactly was the insult?

  28. Sherry Epley says:

    Kevin, , , Right On!

    I see the racist white supremacist “usual suspects” have made their typical asinine comments.

    I’m certain that if they expected our fellow “citizens” from Puerto Rico . . . now living in Florida. . . to vote for trump and his henchmen, they would welcome them with open arms. Which actually adds to the proof that trump and his supporters are disgusting racists.

    Like it or not, our wonderful Puerto Rican neighbors ARE CITIZENS of the USA! They are NOT illegal!
    They ARE entitled to vote when they are living on the mainland!

    Don’t worry though. . . there’s plenty of Republican “voter suppression” going on. . . this from the Miami Herald:

    Puerto Ricans residing on the mainland can vote in federal elections. Yet while participation in elections is above 80% on the island, once Puerto Ricans move, their voting rates drop, due in part to barriers to participation caused by voter suppression policies that must be changed. For example, in states requiring photo voter ID, Puerto Rican birth certificates issued prior to 2010 are not accepted to get the identification needed to vote. Post-Maria, it is going to be impossible for the Puerto Rican government to provide enough updated birth certificates so her people may vote. Furthermore, there are costs associated, and no one should pay for an updated photo ID to vote.

  29. Sherry Epley says:

    Kevin, , , Right On!

    I see the racist white supremacists “usual suspects” have made their typical asinine comments.

    I’m certain that if they expected our fellow “citizens” from Puerto Rico . . . now living in Florida. . . to vote for trump and his henchmen, they would welcome them with open arms. Which actually adds to the proof that trump and his supporters are disgusting racists.

    Like it or not, our wonderful Puerto Rican neighbors ARE CITIZENS of the USA! They are NOT illegal!
    They ARE entitled to vote when they are living on the mainland!

    Don’t worry though. . . there’s plenty of the usual horrific Republican “voter suppression” going on. . . this from the Miami Herald:

    Puerto Ricans residing on the mainland can vote in federal elections. Yet while participation in elections is above 80% on the island, once Puerto Ricans move, their voting rates drop, due in part to barriers to participation caused by voter suppression policies that must be changed. For example, in states requiring photo voter ID, Puerto Rican birth certificates issued prior to 2010 are not accepted to get the identification needed to vote. Post-Maria, it is going to be impossible for the Puerto Rican government to provide enough updated birth certificates so her people may vote. Furthermore, there are costs associated, and no one should pay for an updated photo ID to vote.

  30. Md says:

    They are US citizens of Puerto Rico not Fl. They need to go back and fix there own territory.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I served with MANY people from Puerto Rico in the US Army, and they did everything, like every other person serving. I happen to be a conservative Libertarian and in my opinion, if you’re eligible to serve in the US Military, you should have full voting rights.

  32. Ben Hogarth says:

    All I can say is that the inherent racism is a disgrace to everything the Constitution stands for. My generation won’t tolerate it for long and once WE become the majority electorate, I assure you that this kind of ignorance will have no place in OUR future.

    With that said – enjoy your last little nostalgic “pure” white autocracy – while you still can.

    Sincerely,

    This young, white man.

  33. Michael Randazzo says:

    I agree it was a major screw up on John Ward’s part. I told him myself. I don’t agree with where you go with it from there Pierre. However at the root of the problem in a world of live video and the sharing on the internet, it was bad.

    Back around 1970 when I was a democrat, I volunteered with a democrat campaign for congress. Art was an up and coming lawyer running for congress. He lived two doors down from me. It was my first exposure to politics. I was friends with his daughters and our two families spoke often. My mom thought it would be a good idea to go work with them. So I did. I learned a couple of things while there.

    1. When you don’t have rolling paper how to stuff a cigarette with pot. That from his sister in law/ campaign manager.

    2. When in public remember the Mic is always hot.

    The second lesson came when at a rally on the county courthouse steps, when the lights went out, the sound was still working, during Art’s speech. He said, and everyone heard it “I can’t see a F&8king thing.” That was the end of his campaign, and my lessons in Pot smoking.

    John is a nice guy, we have had many a spirited conversation about politics and policy, we don’t agree on a few things. I do not believe him to be racist but that’s not how it sounds and that’s a problem. Art lost and I believe so with John if he gets the nomination. Time to move on.

    Art went on to serve as a county judge for many many years until his passing in 2016. I am sure if again the lights went out he had a different retort moving forward. RIP Art and John I am sure you will go on to bigger and better things.

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