Vic Torres: Longtime Union Activist Looking Out for the Little Guy
Around the State
Birthplace: New York, N.Y.
Occupation: NYC Transit Police Detective (Retired); Marion County School Bus Driver (Retired); Lynx Bus Driver (Retired)
Previous Public Office: None.
Family: Wife, five children, eight grandchildren
Did you know? "Used to play softball like a bandit" during his crime-busting days.
Several of Florida's elected officials are the scions of political dynasties, with kids taking after their parents or even grandparents to pursue a career in public service. But in Rep. Vic Torres, D-Orlando, the state might have a first: a father following in his daughter's political footsteps.
Well, sort of.
Torres is the father of Amy Mercado, who suffered a crushing electoral defeat at the hands of soon-to-be Speaker of the House Dean Cannon in the 2010 elections. Torres campaigned for his daughter then, just as he had for several Democratic big wigs – Janet Reno, Bill McBride, Al Gore, Jim Davis, and a host of local candidates, among others – in years past.
This time around, Mercado declined to run again, the better to devote more time to her growing family; Torres decided to give it a shot, and won Orange County's District 48 by default, with no primary or general electoral opposition.
“My daughter's my biggest supporter,” the sexagenarian police labor union activist tells Sunshine State News. “I've always worked in the background as far as volunteering, canvassing, knocking on doors, phone banking, reaching out to the community, and labor activism. It's always been my passion and my desire but this time around I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”
He's certainly not your conventional candidate for state public office. A former Marine and police detective from the Bronx, he's spent the last 20 years driving buses, first for Marion County public schools and then for the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
“I'm not your lawyer, your businsessman, or your doctor; I'm a blue-collar worker, I come from the working class,” he's proud to point out. “In my last line of work, I saw the riding public every day, especially those kids. They looked hungry, they needed better school supplies, you could tell they had economic difficulties in their homes.”
That populism informs every single piece of legislation he's filed so far, including a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution.
HB 205 (“Students with Limited English Proficiency”) would exempt public school students from having to take the FCAT or other standardized tests if they have received two or fewer years of ESOL services. Florida law currently exempts those who have had less than one year.
HB 453 (“Charter Schools”) would provide that teachers and administrators employed in charter schools be paid according to the same salary schedules in place in regular public schools.
“I feel very strongly about that,” he says. “The money being paid to these charter schools is enormous compared to what our urban schools are struggling with. This is only fair.”
HB 767 (“Federal Immigration Detainer Requests”), known as the Florida Trust Act, would provide that illegal immigrants arrested for minor offenses not be detained for delivery to U.S. immigration authorities. Torres says the measure is necessary to relieve taxpayers of bearing the burden for “people who are sitting in jail for no reason,” sometimes for great lengths of time.
HJR 815 (“Governor's Authority to Fill Vacancy in County Office”) is in much the same spirit of Torres' other bills. If passed by the Legislature and approved by the state's voters in referendum, it would amend the state's Constitution to remove the governor's authority to fill midterm vacancies in county offices, instead allowing local residents to hold special elections to choose new officials.
As a member of the minority party, Torres says he knows it won't be easy getting all of his ideas pushed through a Legislature that will be Republican-dominated for the foreseeable future, but he's optimistic his stick-to-it approach will bear as much fruit in his latest line of work as it has throughout his career.
“Who would have thought a blue-collar bus driver would have ended up in Tallahassee?” he asks. “I'm not perfect, but I will fight with every ounce of my body to make things right; hopefully, I can make a difference up here.”
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (954) 235-9116.