Two of three Republicans running for a competitive Miami-Dade state Senate district found plenty to disagree on at a forum Monday, despite their shared political party affiliation.
State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and attorney Lorenzo Palomares told about 100 people gathered at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus where they stand on key issues. Primary candidates tend to have few differences — but not in this case.
On recently passed education legislation known as House Bill 7069: Diaz supports it, Palomares doesn't. On a legislative deal to implement medical-marijuana rules: Diaz supports it, Palomares doesn't. On the future of transit in Miami-Dade County: Diaz envisions autonomous vehicles, Palomares wants to expand the Dolphin Expressway past the western edge of the Urban Development Boundary.
Both candidates expressed support for gun rights — but Diaz said Florida needs to increase funding for mental-health issues. Palomares, a self-described gun collector, didn't see it that way.
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“I support the Second Amendment; I will expand it if I can,” he said. “I don’t believe mental health is an issue.”
On HB 7069, which will funnel millions of tax dollars to privately managed charter schools, Palomares' critique was that legislators “bundled” bits and pieces of other bills together.
Notably absent from the nevertheless largely amicable discussion was former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who is locked in a bitter campaign chiefly against Diaz. Diaz de la Portilla's attendance would have turned the night into a more combative affair, Diaz said.
“I was ready to debate today against whoever came,” he said. “I’m sure if he was here, he would have been on the attack the whole time. That’s his modus operandi.”
In a statement to the Miami Herald, Diaz de la Portilla said he informed Angela Vazquez, the president of the Women’s Republican Club of Miami that hosted the forum, two weeks ago that a scheduling conflict would prevent him from attending.
He offered to send a surrogate, but on Monday morning, that person canceled, Vazquez said. Organizers left an empty seat on stage at the forum, which was moderated by WPLG-ABC 10's Glenna Milberg.
“As I also told Ms. Vazquez, I will gladly work with her to arrange for my participation in any future forum at a mutually agreed to time and place,” Diaz de la Portilla said.
The three Republicans will face off in a July 26 primary for Senate District 40. Gov. Rick Scott called for the special election after former Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigned in April after using the word “niggas” in conversation with two black senators. He also had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and Playboy model as consultants.
Democrats Annette Taddeo and Ana Rivas Logan are also running, as is independent Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth.
The forum crowd Monday was split between Diaz and Palomares, with an abundance of campaign shirts, pins and signs fighting for attention. Most in attendance knew who they were voting for.
That wasn't true for John King, a 75-year-old from Kendall who said he doesn’t “know one candidate from the other.”
King said he is a registered Democrat who voted for Trump and owns an AR-15. He supports charter schools, and said he was on the fence about “campus carry,” but he said he may be in favor of allowing female college students to carry weapons on campus.