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March 8, 2018

THIS IS SORT OF LIKE MY “WELCOME WAGON” IDEA: Displaced Puerto Ricans have come to Florida by the thousands—and one group is working to turn them into conservative voters.

Thousands upon thousands of Puerto Ricans have landed in Florida in the months since Hurricane Maria battered their island. They have simple priorities, but complicated needs.

They need a place to live and a way to make a living. They want to get their kids enrolled in local schools and find out if they have to take a test to do so. Maybe they were a real estate agent in Puerto Rico and wanted to know if their license transferred over; or a medical professional with great job prospects at local hospitals if they could just improve their English; or a bilingual teacher who needed help navigating the application process.

Over the last several months many of these transplants learned about a program called “Welcome to Florida.” They may have heard about it at church, or on Spanish-language radio, or from a friend. Whatever the case, “Welcome to Florida” was offering free English classes and help with many of the logistics of establishing a new life on the mainland.

You might expect that this outreach was being underwritten by a progressive group, but you would be wrong. “Welcome to Florida” is a project from the Koch-funded LIBRE Institute. . . .

It’s a smart move, politically. Thousands of Puerto Ricans settling in Florida represents a rare opportunity to mint new voters in America’s quintessential swing state. And it’s one of the rare cases where conservatives are being proactive about bringing new voters into their tent.

Smart indeed.