Voters in House District 119, located in western Miami-Dade County, will choose among a Democrat, a Republican and an independent in the Nov. 6 general election to represent them in the Capitol.
All three candidates, Heath Rassner, Juan Fernandez-Barquin and Daniel Sotelo, are looking to win the seat currently occupied by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, who has been in office since 2010 and is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor running on the ticket with former Congressman Don DeSantis.
All the candidates are newcomers to District 119, which comprises almost all of West Kendall, and some parts of the Hammocks.
For Rassner, a Democrat, this is not his first time running for office.
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Rassner ran for a House seat in neighboring District 116 in 2016, where he lost to Jose Felix Diaz by more than 15,000 votes.
He has taken a leave of absence from Florida International University, where he’s enrolled in the graduate program for political science, to run for office again.
Juan Fernandez-Barquin is a real estate attorney, who went to Florida International University as an undergrad and went to American University in Washington, D.C., for law school. He beat Analeen Martinez, Bibiana Potestad and Enrique Lopez in the Republican primary with nearly 44 percent of the vote.
Daniel Sotelo, a 28-year-old in the real estate industry who studied criminal justice at FIU, is running as an independent.
Two of the candidates, Soleto and Fernandez Barquin, are for the newly approved Kendall expressway, which will stretch 13 miles connecting State Road 836 to South Miami-Dade. They are also all against crossing the urban development boundary, the invisible line that separates infrastructure from the Everglades, although the expressway would, in fact, cross the line.
Rassner’s position is to reverse damage to the Everglades by stopping anything more from crossing the line, including the expressway. He claims that it has been crossed about three dozen times before, although it has never been moved, by officials who are not held accountable.
Although Sotelo wasn’t aware that the expressway would cross the UDB, he said he only supports the expressway if it stays east of the line.
“We do not have trains, trollies or that many options of transportation,” Sotelo said. “The only viable answer is expanding the expressway.”
Fernandez-Barquin, a Republican, agrees. He wants the expansion but not to the detriment of the 1.5 million-acre wetland preserve.
Fernandez-Barquin and Rassner, the Democrat, want to expand public transportation in general. Rassner says that the area doesn’t have an adequate above-ground train system and residents are almost forced to drive.
Fernandez-Barquin said the county has been using the half-penny tax meant to fund improvements to transportation, to maintain the current systems and not actually create something more effective.
Residents are taking the bus less and less, he said. Although the county wants to pass a $300 million bus expansion, he said he would rather have a light rail train from FIU to the airport, for example.
Another issue is tolls, which Rassner says cost people thousands of dollars each year
One of his solutions is to eliminate tolls. He wants to switch the revenue coming from tolls to companies, creating a carbon tax on corporations. He is proposing a cap on how much carbon a business could use before it has to pay a penalty.
Soleto and Fernandez-Barquin just want to reduce tolls.
“Tolls are a necessary evil, but we are charging more than we actually need,” said Soleto. He is hoping to get more funding from Tallahassee for transportation.
Fernandez-Barquin said that the toll rate is not proportionate to the debt that the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) incurs. He wants to lower the interest rate on the debt the city owes for MDX, which he said could effectively lower the tolls.
Fernandez-Barquin also wants to get more funding from Tallahassee to Miami-Dade, have more transparency from municipalities as to where property taxes get allocated, and increase teachers’ pay.
Fernandez-Barquin says his 10-year career as a lawyer better prepares him, versus his opponents, because he understands the law. He said he wants to “restore integrity and conservative values to Tallahassee.”
Rassner wants to raise the minimum wage, expand healthcare — especially with Kendall’s older population, increase funding for schools, and address discrimination of LGBT people in housing and employment.
Rassner, who identifies as gay and gender-fluid, has dealt with the bias head-on. If elected, he plans on being a representative full-time with no other employment.
Soleto, who came from Cuba in 2001, says he knows what residents want. Soleto said he helped organize the community against the relocation of homeless sex offenders from Hialeah to Kendall back in May.
His priorities include creating a regulatory agency to oversee homeowner’s associations, moving more dollars toward reusable energy and subsidizing local colleges and universities to decrease the need for student loans.
“Nothing gets done because both parties think they are safe,” he said. “They think their power cannot be touched. “