The Miami-Dade County’s legislative delegation is regaining the strength and muscle it once had, then lost to North Florida interests. Seniority has led to the ability to bring benefits home to their districts, even though some of the lawmakers worked against the community’s best interests in the case of denying residents the chance to vote on whether to fund improvements at Miami Dade College. And despite high-profile partisan rifts in the Republican-controlled Legislature — which refuses, for instance, to expand Medicaid — lawmakers have not been reluctant to reach across the aisle in cooperation. Despite impressive opposition in several races — there are some incredibly weak foes in a few others — the incumbents have the edge.
HOUSE DISTRICT 100
This Intracoastal district that includes parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties pits former North Bay Village Mayor Joe Geller, 60, against Republican newcomer Marty Feigenbaum, 64. The two attorneys are vying for the open seat of term-limited Rep. Joe Gibbons.
Mr. Feigenbaum is sincere when he says he doesn’t have a solution for every problem but hopes he can help steer the Republican Party back to its more-moderate roots.
Mr. Geller, a longtime Democratic insider, says he, too, wants to avoid the political extremes. “I don’t demonize my opponents,” he said. Unlike Mr. Feigenbaum, Mr. Geller is thoroughly familiar with the issues. He said Medicaid expansion is a priority, and he wants to create a dedicated trust fund for child protection.
The Miami Herald recommends JOSEPH S. “JOE” GELLER for House District 100.
HOUSE DISTRICT 103
Incumbent Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican and longtime teacher and school administrator, is seeking his second term. He is being challenged by Democrat Benjamin DeYurre, 58, a Spanish-language newspaper columnist and newcomer to politics.
Mr. Diaz’s work in the Legislature reflects his close ties to education. Some say those ties are too close. He is academic dean at Doral College; before that, he was a teacher and administrator in Miami-Dade Public Schools, where his wife is a teacher.
When Mr. Diaz, 41, was picked to shepherd a controversial bill at this year’s legislative session that would revamp the way hundreds of charter schools statewide enter into agreements with local school boards, some opponents balked. They felt Mr. Diaz had a clear conflict of interest because he works at a charter school run by Academica, the state’s largest for-profit charter school management firm.
Mr. Diaz said he was tapped to manage the charter-school bill because he understands both sides of the issue — nothing more. Mr. Diaz’s influence is tied largely to being a member of the influential Republican majority of the Miami-Dade delegation. In the mire that is Tallahassee, our region needs all the help it can get.
Mr. DeYurre is somewhat knowledgeable about state issues, but we think that Mr. Diaz will come into his own in the Legislature and should be elected to a second term.
The Herald recommends MANNY DIAZ JR. for House District 103.
Democrat Carlos Pereira, is challenging Rep. Carlos Trujillo, who was elected in 2010 to represent this district that encompasses a portion of Doral, goes west to Collier County and north to Miramar. Mr. Trujillo, 31, supports school choice in the form of vouchers and says, rightly, that state trust funds should not be raided. His concerns reflect his district’s, especially when it comes to property insurance. He says that companies should not be allowed to cherry-pick the most profitable areas. Mr. Pereira, 40, supports the expansion of Medicaid and protecting Florida’s fragile environment. It was good to hear Mr. Trujillo support taking a multi-pronged approach to keeping at-risk kids busy and on the right path to productivity. The Herald recommends CARLOS TRUJILLO for House District 105.
HOUSE DISTRICT 108
We did not recommend incumbent Rep. Daphne Campbell in the primary and cannot, in good conscience, do so for the general election. For starters, her family owns assisted-living facilities that state inspectors have criticized for their poor condition — and Ms. Campbell has led the legislative fight against more-stringent ALF oversight, supervision and transparency. Clearly she is part of the problem. She is being challenged by Cedon Saintil, a pastor and former corrections officer who hosts feeding and felon-rehabilitation programs in the district. Though earnest, there is little in his background that says he is ready for legislative office. The Herald makes NO RECOMMENDATION in District 108.
HOUSE DISTRICT 110
Rep. Jose Oliva, first elected in 2011 in a special, off-year election, is on track to become Speaker of the House in 2018, giving voters a powerful incentive to keep him in office. A Republican, he faces only token opposition this year from Nelson Milian, who has no party affiliation.
Mr. Oliva, 41, is the chief executive of his family’s cigar company and by all accounts has acquitted himself well as an up-and-coming Florida Republican leader. Unfortunately, he led the opposition to the effort by Miami Dade College to get a public vote on a half-penny sales tax to secure its future, and failed to articulate a good reason for his position. We continue to hope he can find a way to work with other members of the delegation to help this important Miami-Dade institution. The Herald recommends JOSE OLIVA for House District 110.
HOUSE DISTRICT 111
Two newcomers are vying to replace term-limited Eddy Gonzalez in this district in the north-central part of the county. Republican Bryan Avila, 30, is an English teacher at Miami Dade College, and Democrat Mariano Corcilli, 37, is an attorney and eight-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
We recommended Mr. Avila in the GOP primary, but noted that he supports the prevailing Republican view in Tallahassee against expanding Medicaid, which won’t help the many constituents in his district who lack access to medical care.
Mr. Corcilli, on the other hand, says improved healthcare is a top priority and supports accepting federal funds for Medicaid expansion. Although he supports many standard Democratic positions, he called Ronald Reagan “one of my heroes” and said he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and against gun control. The Herald recommends MARIANO ARIEL CORCILLI for House District 111.
HOUSE DISTRICT 112
Even though he’s in the minority party, incumbent Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, 36, has been a powerhouse in the Legislature, finding common ground with Republican colleagues to bring about reform at the Department of Children & Families, helping give public schools a boost and pushing other initiatives to “make the state go forward.”
Daniel Diaz Leyva, 35, is his Republican challenger. He said in his questionnaire that though some vouchers empower parents, funding for public schools remains too low. Mr. Leyva, an attorney who has been active with CHARLEE House for at-risk kids, a level of community engagement that’s good to see. He says that he can be an effective leader. However, the district already has one in the incumbent. The Herald recommends JOSE JAVIER RODRIGUEZ for House District 112.
HOUSE DISTRICT 114
Rep. Erik Fresen has shown tremendous growth during his time in office and he is poised to finish his tenure in a position of influence. He pushed for increased K-12 funding, fought for the Safe Harbor Act, which treats young people suffering from traffickers’ sexual abuse and violence as victims, not criminals, and sponsored the bill that would have given Miami-Dade voters a chance to decide whether to pay for renovations for Miami Dade College — quashed, unfortunately, in a fit of political pique. However, we remain troubled by his lapses in financial meticulousness, and given the strength of his Democratic opponent, are only reluctantly swayed to recommend him again because of the seniority that he brings to the table. He refused to pay a fine imposed by the state Ethics Commission for not filing a financial disclosure after losing his job as a legislative aide. He and the commission, eventually, reached detente.
In his most recent financial disclosure, Mr. Fresen, 38, reports tens of thousands of dollars in income from a company he founded that was dissolved by the state in 2009. State law prohibits companies that have been administratively dissolved from carrying out business, except that which is needed to “wind up and liquidate [their] affairs.” Mr. Fresen says that he still has clients from that time. Whatever his reality, the perception is just as important. In this case, the perception is squirrelly, to say the least.
His opponent is impressive, having served three years in the Army’s First Cavalry Division. Daisy Baez, a healthcare executive, says that public schools have been “cannibalized” and that Bright Futures are not serving smart, working-class kids. She says, and she’s right, that healthcare dollars are better invested in prevention and the state has been irresponsible to reject federal funds to expand Medicaid. Given her professional background, Ms. Baez, 55, displays the know-how to hit the ground running in the Legislature and should definitely give it another try. This time, the Herald recommends ERIK FRESEN for House District 114.
HOUSE DISTRICT 115
Rep. Michael Bileca, whose district includes Homestead and Florida City, is a numbers guy. When others in the Republican-led delegation question measures tapping taxpayer dollars, Mr. Bileca is often the man they seek to scour the “financials.”
Mr. Bileca, 44, a CPA who is president of Main Street Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontist, was among the legislators who found fault with Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross’ attempt to request taxpayer dollars to renovate Sun Life Stadium; he also helped halt Miami Dade College’s quest for a half-penny sales tax. Being fiscally conservative is his job, Mr. Bileca says.
Mr. Bileca faces an earnest Democratic challenger, Kristopher Decossard, 33, whose last job was with the Miami-Dade Elections Department. He had to step down to run. As expected, Mr. Decossard and Mr. Bileca are polar opposites on charter schools, Medicaid expansion and increasing the minimum wage.
At the last legislative session, Rep. Bileca sponsored some controversial bills, including a proposal to create scholarships for children with profound disabilities. He sponsored the hot-button Parent Trigger bill in 2013, which failed in the final days of the session.
Mr. Bileca used to serve as a member of the once financially troubled Jackson Health System board, but resigned in August. His fiscal detective work on behalf of taxpayers is something that’s needed, he said.
The Herald recommends MICHAEL BILECA for House District 115.
In 2012, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, 34, coasted to victory in November against a write-in challenger. This year, Democrat Juan Carlos Cuba, 29, is waging a strong campaign to unseat him. Mr. Cuba, executive director of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, advocates raising the state minimum wage. He supports accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, and wants to curb the power of lobbyists in Tallahassee.
In his two terms, Mr. Diaz has taken up the cause of keeping state trust funds, particularly the housing fund, from being diverted for other purposes. He says affordable housing is a big issue in his district and wants to expand its availability. And he’s fought to drop the rule that disallows kids from receiving Kidcare and Medicaid until they have been in this country for five years.
Mr. Cuba makes a good case for himself and hopefully will stay involved in electoral politics. Mr. Diaz, however, has been a good advocate for worthy causes and deserves another round.
The Herald recommends JOSE FELIX DIAZ for House District 116.
HOUSE DISTRICT 117
Rep. Kionne McGhee is helping put his South Dade district on the right track, bringing home funding for road-improvement projects in Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay. Mr. McGhee, 36 and a Democrat, works with Republican colleagues for the good of the district, focusing on jobs, healthcare and fast-tracking the restoration of ex-felons’ rights. He also has listened closely to the concerns of the farmers and agricultural interests there.
He says his Republican opponent, Carmen Sotomayor, 45, is playing the “name game,” trying to muscle into a district in which she does not live — by law, a candidate does not have to live in a district until after he or she has won election — and persuade his Hispanic supporters to vote for her. Ms. Sotomayor says that this contention is not true. However, she displays scant knowledge about the real needs of the district. The Herald recommends KIONNE McGHEE for House District 117.
HOUSE DISTRICT 118
State Rep. Frank Artiles, 41, faces a smart and thoughtful newcomer in Democrat Omar Rivero, 29, in a district stretching from Richmond to Tamiami in eastern Miami-Dade County.
Mr. Rivero runs a successful website (occupydemocrats.com) and advocates for a number of progressive causes, principally raising the minimum wage. He criticizes Mr. Artiles for being one of four members in the Miami-Dade delegation that blocked Miami Dade College’s effort to hold a referendum on a half-penny sales tax.
We believe MDC’s opponents were wrong, but Mr. Artiles has proven himself a champion of his constituents by fighting unwarranted premium increases and other schemes by Citizens, the state’s windstorm insurer of last resort. This made him a lonely voice among local lawmakers when he was first elected in 2010, but he has since been joined by others.
Mr. Rivero is young, articulate and energetic. He should stay in politics.
Our vote, though, goes to Mr. Artiles on the basis of his experience and his support of homeowners fighting unjust insurance rate increases.
The Herald recommends FRANK ARTILES for House District 118.
HOUSE DISTRICT 119
Jeanette Nuñez has a unique distinction: She’s the only Republican woman in the Miami-Dade legislative delegation. She is seeking her third term representing unincorporated Miami-Dade, including Kendall and Westchester.
She is being challenged by Democrat Milagro Ruiz, who did not respond to an invitation for a candidate interview by the Editorial Board. Ms. Ruiz appears to have done little campaigning.
First elected elected to an open seat in 2010, Ms. Nuñez, 42, is fresh off her most productive legislative session, where she was tapped to sponsor the controversial proposal that would let undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott wanted the proposal to boost his popularity among Hispanic voters. But Senate Republicans were working to block it.
Ms. Nuñez, chair of the Higher Education & Workforce Subcommittee, shepherded the bill through committees. The proposal passed on the last day of the session, cementing Ms. Nuñez’s session “as a breakout star in the Florida House,” the Miami Herald wrote.
Like other Republicans in the delegation, Ms. Nuñez did not back Medicaid expansion in Florida, denying coverage to many in the own district. She explained that she and fellow legislators are suspicious. “A lot of us don’t have confidence the federal government will pay its share,” said Ms. Nuñez, who is part of an influential group of young Republicans including Jose Oliva, Erik Fresen and Manny Diaz Jr.
Together, they have become a source of power for South Florida. Although we don’t agree with all their measures, they do get it done for our region, which hasn’t happened in awhile.
The Herald recommends JEANETTE NUÑEZ for House District 119.
SENATE DISTRICT 36
Incumbent Oscar Braynon II, 37, first elected to the Legislature in 2008 in the House, has served his constituents well in his last two terms as a member of the upper chamber. He says his ability to reach out and cooperate with members of either party has allowed him to secure millions for infrastructure programs in his district, which includes parts of south Broward and north Miami-Dade. He faces only token opposition from a write-in candidate. The Herald recommends OSCAR BRAYNON II for Senate District 36.