Miami-Dade County

Florida lawmakers force four Miami politicians to resign in order to run for Congress

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, is retiring, leaving her seat open in November. Five candidates in the race will have to resign if Gov. Rick Scott signs a new bill into law.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, is retiring, leaving her seat open in November. Five candidates in the race will have to resign if Gov. Rick Scott signs a new bill into law. Miami Herald file photo

State lawmakers just put four Miami congressional candidates in a pickle.

On Wednesday, the Florida House voted 87-27 in favor of a bill that would force local and state elected officials to resign their seats in order to campaign for a federal office should the new term overlap with the old. With the Florida Senate having already passed the bill, it is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott, whose office says he’ll review the legislation.

If Scott signs the bill into law, he forces nearly a half-dozen local and state lawmakers to choose between holding onto the sure thing and taking the risk of running for the congressional seat that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is giving up in order to retire. The bill, which seeks to reverse a loophole created years ago by the Legislature, requires candidates to submit a resignation no later than 10 days before the qualifying deadline to run for federal office.

For congressional candidates, that forces a drop-dead decision near the end of April. Qualifying deadline is May 4. The resignation must be effective either the day that the candidates take their new office, or when the person elected to replace them in their old job would need to be sworn in, whichever is earlier.

Anyone who qualifies to run for federal office and doesn’t resign is immediately revoked from the position they hold.

All four candidates in the race who stand to be affected told the Miami Herald in January that they intend to continue their campaigns: Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro on the Republican side, and State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Miami Commissioner Ken Russell among the Democratic candidates.

Everyone said Wednesday night that nothing had changed.

“I’m in the race all the way,” said Barreiro, the lone Republican affected by the expected change in law.

Along with Barreiro, Rodriguez and Russell said they intend to resign if they have to in order to seek Ros-Lehtinen’s empty seat. Rosen Gonzalez confirmed that she intends to file a legal challenge to block the law from taking effect.

“Our campaign will challenge Tallahassee’s unfair decision on behalf of all the candidates who are elected officials,” she said. “Someone has to fight Tallahassee and tell them enough is enough.”

David Richardson, a Democratic State Rep. in the race, is not affected by the law because his term ends in November and would not overlap with the Congressional term should he win. He’s choosing not to run for reelection.

The law is ostensibly intended to save the state money by reducing the domino-effect created when politicians jump from one seat to another, requiring expensive special elections. But the law will also force open Rodriguez’s Senate District 37, a swing district that Republicans will try to claim if Rodriguez runs for Congress.

Rodriguez said he intends to campaign for the Democrat seeking to replace him while also running for Congress.

“Making sure the Democrats hold [Senate Distrct] 37 has been a key part of this process,” he said. “This is not taking anybody by surprise.”

This article has been updated to correct information around the creation of the resign-to-run exemption for federal offices. The loophole was created in 2007 by the Florida Legislature and was unrelated to Charlie Crist’s 2010 run for U.S. Senate. Additionally, information regarding David Richardson’s candidacy has been clarified.

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