At a League of Women Voters debate on Tuesday, moderator Rhonda Victor Sibilia described Florida House District 114 as being “cursed” — and in a way she’s right.
Since the district was formed in 2012, every candidate whom voters have sent to Tallahassee has been ethically challenged and ended up in front of a judge.
Erik Fresen, a Republican held the seat until he was term-limited out. During much of that time, he also failed to file income tax returns for eight consecutive years. He worked a deal with prosecutors that kept him out of prison. Hard to believe, but true.
Then Daisy Baez, a Democrat, lied on her voter’s registration about living within the district. The Miami Herald Editorial Board had recommended Baez, who resigned to avoid jail time. Gov. Rick Scott then called a special election for May 1.But there is a catch. The election will decide who will hold the seat, but only for six months before it’s up for grabs again — all before the person who holds it can participate in a single legislative session. Even so, incumbency is a powerful thing.
And the district's voting bloc is also quirky. It can flip to either major party, but clearer is that the high number of independent voters will likely decide the race.
Regardless, a new day is on the horizon for District 114 — we hope.
Voters in the district, which includes Flagami, Coral Gables, West Miami and parts of Pinecrest and Cutler Bay, will choose from among Republican Andrew Vargas, 35, an insurance litigation attorney and law partner to one-time Miami State Rep. Carlos Trujillo, now in the Trump administration; Democrat Javier Fernandez, 42, a land-use attorney and lobbyist; and Independent Liz de las Cuevas, 49, a Miami-Dade public school educator.
During this week's candidate interview, de las Cuevas told the Editorial Board that: “We need to bring back to this district morals and ethics.” She’s right.
That’s not to say the race hasn’t gotten down and dirty. Letters and flier accusing Democrat Fernandez of donating money to the Republican Party and working for a law firm that once represented a manufacturer of semiautomatic rifles and for having a client who sought to open a nightclub where a strip club operated.
The Miami Herald investigated and found the letters were likely fake, authored under different names and made to appear as if they were written by Democratic voters.
Vargas, who talked to the Board for the Republican primary, declined to be interviewed for the special election. He also was a no-show for the debate on Tuesday. Is he afraid to appear before the people he wants to represent? These absences are disturbing. He, too, has been attacked over his law firm’s specialization in what is called “assignment of benefits” cases, which the insurance industry blames for spiking premiums.
Opponents also accuse him of “helping companies steal pay from workers” due to his representation of several firms sued two years ago in a federal overtime case that was ultimately settled, the Herald reported.
The better-financed Vargas, a Belen Jesuit Prep graduate, is running because he wants to serve the district and “better protect taxpayers money.” Vague.
Fernandez, a former chief of staff for onetime Miami Mayor Manny Diaz who has been active in non-profits throughout his professional life, and de las Cuevas, appear to be in step with many issues. They want the pillaging of public school funding directed to charters schools to stop; they seek stricter gun laws for the state. They differ a bit on climate change, where de las Cuevas feels that the vulnerable areas should be addressed case-by-case, Fernandez favors a more aggressive regional approach. “We’re one storm away from becoming New Orleans,” Fernandez said.
Of the three candidates, Fernandez has the most expansive public-service resume.
He’s the better-rounded candidate with the best chances of getting the district on the right path.
For Florida House District 114, the Miami Herald recommends JAVIER FERNANDEZ.
This editorial was updated to correct Rhonda Victor Sibilia’s name.