A Florida Keys backcountry fishing guide and environmentalist and a property maintenance business owner are challenging incumbent Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein for the District 120 Florida House seat she has held since 2012.
The 37-year-old-consultant is buffered by her strong local support and a campaign war chest approaching $200,000, compared to her Republican primary challenger Jose Peixoto, 57, who hasn't raised any money since filing in April, and Democrat Steve Friedman, whose campaign so far has raised $1,000 since he announced he's running in May.
Raschein is competing to serve her final two-year term representing all of Monroe County and parts of South Miami-Dade. She said she is proud mostly of her environmental record, which includes securing $75 million for nearshore water quality improvement projects in the Keys and co-sponsoring legislation that puts in place minimum funding levels of $200 million a year toward the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
"I also fought to expedite the Tamiami Trail bridging and secured funding or the C-111 spreader canal, two critical projects that when complete, will bring more clean, fresh water into Florida Bay," Raschein said.
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Raschein also touts bringing Senate Bill 10 to the House floor. The bill, signed by Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017, prioritizes the creation of a deep-water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce freshwater discharges filled with agricultural runoff into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The discharges have caused algae blooms, seagrass dieoffs and fish kills. But that project awaits federal funding and review, and completion of the project is far off.
"Now that the reservoir project is in the hands of the federal government, I think we should focus on completing additional projects that can provide benefits to Florida Bay on a shorter time line," Raschein said.
Friedman, 47, is the commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, serves on the Village of Islamorada Nearshore Water Committee and co-founded the local environmental group Florida Bay Forever. He said despite the efforts, water quality in the Keys, especially in Florida Bay, is still in fast decline. He thinks the reservoir design by the South Florida Water Management District could be better, and the process expedited.
"This is essentially a man-made problem that we can fix, but no one seems to be in a hurry to fix it," Friedman said.
While acknowledging efforts like the bridging of the Tamiami Trail are working, Friedman said the pace is too slow to make a serious difference in the short term.
"I saw evidence of restoration at work, but at this rate, I think it's going to take 75 years to complete, and I don't think we have that kind of time," Friedman said. "It's really scary to think about how we can have that kind of corrosive influence on our water."
Friedman said he'd do a better job in Tallahassee than Raschein at getting lawmakers from other parts of the state to care about what's happening to the Keys' environment. Tourism is Florida's bread and butter, and people won't want to come to the Keys and the state's beaches if events like algae blooms and seagrass die-offs become more commonplace, Friedman said.
"I think this is a national problem, and the nation doesn't know about it. Some of our elected representatives in Tallahassee aren't fully aware of the water problems we're having," Friedman said. "I think what I would do is be a louder voice. I won't be afraid to stick my elbows out too much. I'll stand on the table and bang pots and pans."
Peixoto, who has had unsuccessful runs for various offices over the years, including Florida Keys Mosquito Control District commission and Congress, took aim at his primary challenger this week, accusing Raschein of not caring enough about local issues. As an example, he said Raschein supported the Miami Dolphin's 2013 proposal to have taxpayers foot half of the nearly $400 million bill to renovate its stadium.
"I don't think he needs the help of taxpayers," Peixoto said of Dolphins owner and billionaire real estate developer Stephen M. Ross. "We need some of that money for low-income housing."
However, a bill on the proposal never came up for a House vote due to stiff and broad opposition, and the only action Raschein took on the measure was to introduce an amendment to the bill as a member of the Economics Affairs Committee that stipulated the team would pay the money back over time.
"I'm not sure what he's talking about, which is usual," Raschein said.
Other issues on Peixoto's platform include increasing teachers' pay, dismantling the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District and overhauling the Monroe County Building Department.
"The building department treats everyone like criminals," he said.
While Raschein continues to bring in money from donors like NBC Universal, Disney, the National Marine Manufacturers, PHRMA and Walgreen's, Peixoto said he doesn't plan to try to compete for those dollars and he thinks he can run a successful campaign on a shoestring budget.
"I only plan on spending a few hundred dollars," he said. "I go there and I say things the way I see things."
The primary is Aug. 28.
Follow David Goodhue on Twitter @DavidGoodhue