The people of Florida’s 114th House District may not want to read this next sentence.
Since the district was formed in 2012, every candidate voters have sent to the Florida Capitol on their behalf has pleaded guilty to criminal charges. In April, it was Erik Fresen, a Republican who failed to file his income tax returns for eight consecutive years. In November, it was Daisy Baez, a Democrat who lied on her voter’s registration about living in the district.
On Tuesday, some of the 34,000 Republican voters in the district, which includes Flagami, Coral Gables, West Miami and parts of Pinecrest and Cutler Bay, will head to the polls to begin the process of voting for the first time — hopefully — to elect someone who won’t disgrace them. Whoever they choose will run against a Democrat in a May 1 special election called by Gov. Rick Scott after Baez resigned in order to avoid jail time.
Baez “spent a lot of time earning the trust of voters in that district. And it was all for naught. She was running under the pretense of a lie,” said Sean Foreman, a Barry University political science professor who lives in the district. “That’s what’s most disappointing for the voters: Regardless of party, we’ve elected people who we thought would be good representatives but they violated the public trust.”
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In this go-round, Republican voters are choosing between Jose Pazos, a U.S. Marine and combat veteran who runs a condo association management business, and Andrew Vargas, an attorney and law partner to powerful Miami State Rep. Carlos Trujillo.
Vargas, by far the better-funded candidate of the two, says he wants to be the first to bring ethical representation to the district. Pazos echoes that sentiment.
Voters are way past all the ethical issues or scandals going on with our elected officials.
“Voters are way past all the ethical issues or scandals going on with our elected officials,” Vargas told the Miami Herald. “I’ll govern myself transparently.”
Vargas, who initially filed to run for Jeanette Nuñez’s open House seat and switched after Baez resigned, has had help raising $154,000 through the new year from Trujillo, who represents a different district and is leaving the Legislature soon to become the American ambassador to the Organization of American States. Trujillo said that Vargas is “a great person with a great track record,” but added that he has mostly stayed out of the race.
Pazos is business partners with former state Rep. Julio Robaina, but has embraced the role of the underdog. He says he’s the best choice to represent a community that includes thousands of blue-collar immigrants, and believes that Scott scheduled the special election and primary during a period expected to draw low turnouts specifically to benefit Trujillo’s well-funded law partner.
We have way too many attorneys in the Legislature.
“We have way too many attorneys in the Legislature,” said Pazos, 42. “I think we need more businessmen, more common-sense experience.”
Pazos says he wants to focus on lowering the cost of healthcare, improving transportation and eliminating property taxes for people older than 70. Vargas says he’s running to tamp down over-development and questionable government subsidies.
Whoever voters elect will be in a peculiar situation. Though a Republican victory would potentially give the party a super-majority in the House, with 80 of 120 seats in the chamber, the May election falls after the legislative session and just six months before the seat is up for grabs again. So the winner will immediately have to turn around and file to run to keep the seat.
For Democrats, Javier Fernandez is running in May. Liz de las Cuevas is running as an independent.