Primary battles send more than a dozen to Tallahassee


With only nominal opposition in November, several Miami Dade and Broward candidates won primaries that all but assured them seats in Tallahassee.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Miami Dade and Broward voters returned three incumbents to Tallahassee on Tuesday and elected the state’s first openly gay state representative in what was one of the most bitterly fought primary seasons on record.

David Richardson, a Democrat and CPA from Miami Beach, narrowly defeated three opponents for the District 113 seat and, with no November opponent, will become the state’s first openly gay member of the Legislature. The primary also signaled the end of campaign season for three other newcomers — Republican Manny Diaz and Democrats Kionne McGhee of Miami and Sharon Pritchett Miami Gardens — as well as seven incumbents to the state House, each of whom faces only write-in candidates in November.

Term limits and redistricting created the openings for most of the primary contests, while unlimited amounts of special interest cash financed fierce attack ads and spawned lawsuits, ethics complaints and even allegations of personal and sexual misconduct. Coalitions of legislators from outside the region also played heavily in the campaigns, in an attempt to influence who will hold the powerful posts of House speaker and Senate president for years to come.

In Miami Dade, Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, succeeded in electing more allies in his bid to become House speaker in 2018. Oliva, CEO of his family’s cigar company, was first elected to the House in a special election in 2011, defeated a primary challenger on Tuesday and faces only a write-in candidate in November. He saw a key ally, Manny Diaz Jr., defeat Renier Diaz de la Portilla. Another member of the Diaz de la Portilla family, Alex, who has worked against Oliva's bid for speaker, defeated former state Rep. Gus Barreiro, also of Miami.

Also emerging victorious from bruising primary battles:

•  Rep. Jose Felix Diaz defeated Rep. Ana Rivas Logan. The two Miami lawmakers, both freshmen, were drawn into District 116 as a result of redistricting. Diaz now faces only a write-in challenger in November.

•  Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, defeated first-time candidate Amory Bodin who attempted to highlight Fresen’s finances and ethics complaints in the race for District 114.

•  Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, sustained a challenge from Maykel “Miguel” Balboa in the District 111 House race. Gonzalez accused Balboa of violating campaign finance laws after Balboa’s campaign ran a Spanish radio ad attempting to link Gonzalez with the widening absentee ballot scandal in Miami.

In the Senate District 39 seat, Rep. Dwight Bullard of Miami appeared destined to win the Democratic endorsement over Rep. Ron Saunders of Key West in the four-county district. Despite Saunder’s capturing 88 percent of the vote in Monroe County, he couldn’t compete with Bullard’s support in vote-rich Miami Dade. The winner would face Republican Scott Hopes in the general election to replace Bullard’s mother, Larcenia, who is retiring because of term limits.

Rep. Daphne Campbell defeated two Democratic challengers for the District 108 seat, despite reports that she is under investigation by the IRS and a suggestion by Democratic Party officials that she step down. The losing candidates were Alix Desulme, a fifth grade teacher in the Miami Dade School system, who lost to Campbell two years ago by 367 votes, and Pat Santangelo, public affairs officer for the City of Miami mayor’s office. Campbell faces only a write-in candidate in November.

Redistricting pitted two incumbents, Rep. John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach, against Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens and the race was too close to call late Tuesday. Julien had the fundraising advantage after receiving the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida. The winner faces no November opponent.

Redistricting landed Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, in unfamiliar territory in District 100, but he sustained a challenge from Surfside Town Commissioner Sheldon Lisbon. The district is split between coastal Broward and Miami-Dade. Lisbon tried to work his connections in the Jewish community, but it backfired when Lisbon sent an email saying “this district is primarily a Jewish district composed of residents like us.” The Anti-Defamation League sent Lisbon a letter asking him to retract his email. Gibbons faces no challenger in November.

Democrat Katie Edwards, daughter of former Plantation Council Member Bruce Edwards, beat lawyer Louis Reinstein in District 98, which includes parts of Plantation, Davie and Sunrise. Edwards, an agriculture consultant and former Dade County Farm Bureau executive director, was endorsed by Florida’s NRA affiliate. Edwards is expected to easily win the seat in November against a Republican who has raised little money.

Former Miami Gardens City Council Member Sharon Pritchett beat another former council member Melvin Lewis Bratton in House District 102, which stretches from North Miami-Dade County, into Pembroke Pines and Miramar in Broward. Pritchett, a Democrat, will face a write-in candidate in November.

In a three-way Democratic contest in south Broward’s House District 104, Richard Stark, an owner of an insurance agency beat South Broward Drainage District commissioner Alanna Mersinger, and Robin Behrman, principal of the Bob Graham Education Center which is part of the Miami-Dade County public schools. The winner in the Democratic district is favored to win in November.

The primaries set the stage for another prominent battle among current state senators who landed in the same district: Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, who easily won her primary and will face Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, in November. Senate Democrats have identified the Broward/Palm Beach District 34 seats as a prime battleground where they hope to pick up a seat. But Bogdanoff has about a $100,000 more than Sachs in money left unspent, according to campaign finance reports through Aug. 9.

About 10.4 percent of Broward County’s 1.1 million voters cast a ballot. That included about 40,000 absentee ballots and about 16,000 early voters.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

A previous version of this article listed a wrong ally for Jose Oliva.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story mistakenly said Alex Diaz de la Portilla was an ally of Oliva.

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