Yes, long-time Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen mattered — and still does — for all of Miami-Dade, not only for a political career full of firsts and her well-documented political fight against Fidel, then Raúl Castro.
She is a substantive local politician, rivaling in longevity and popularity the likes of Dante Fascell and Claude Pepper, whom she replaced in Congress.
Ros-Lehtinen, 64, who announced her retirement on Sunday, is a Republican, but her willingness to reach across the aisle, and sometimes part ways with her party, has drawn the respect of her colleagues and her constituents, no matter their political persuasion. She is the consummate public servant: She listens, she is accessible and helps make life better for the people she represents.
Her departure creates a giant political opportunity for Democrats in South Florida in 2018 — and leaves U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, as the only member of the once powerful triad of politicians, including Lincoln Diaz-Balart, seen as powerful muscle for Miami’s Cuban exiles.
Before becoming the first Hispanic U.S. congresswoman, she was the first Hispanic woman in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate.
An anti-Castro stance was her entry to politics, for a long time her bread and butter. But Ros-Lehtinen evolved as Miami’s political landscape changed — she had to. She took on the environment, Israel’s security and transgender and immigrant rights, two issues that are personal: Her son, Rigo, is transgender and Ros-Lehtinen fled Castro’s Cuba with her beloved parents, Enrique and Amanda, when she was 8.
When re-elected in November, after she faced one of her strongest Democratic challengers in Scott Fuhrman, she issued a statement:
“In Congress, I will continue to work in a bipartisan manner in order to forge consensus and solutions that benefit our community. No matter who our new president is, I will work together with that person to help solve our nation’s problems.”
Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald on Sunday that Trump’s presidency played no role in her decision to retire, though a redrawn district that gives Democrats some heft indeed might have.
On Saturday, hours before announcing her retirement, Ros-Lehtinen tweeted out a picture of herself playing with her grandchildren. These “constituents” no doubt are dearest to her heart.
Well, done, congresswoman. Miami-Dade will miss you.