Republicans find their candidate to challenge Taddeo, and it isn't Frank Artiles

Marili Cancio
Marili Cancio

A Republican attorney and Miami Dade College trustee with the backing of party leaders is moving from Key Biscayne to South Dade in order to challenge Annette Taddeo for a Miami-Dade state Senate seat, setting up what should be an expensive clash as Republicans and Democrats battle over control of Florida's upper chamber.

Marili Cancio, 52, filed Tuesday to campaign for Florida's 40th Senate district, which includes the Greater Kendall area and stretches south into Perrine and Richmond Heights. In an interview, she said she'd do more to bring back resources and legislative wins for South Florida than Taddeo did this year during her lone legislative session.

"It’s a good time for me to run," said Cancio, whose only other political campaign was a failed bid for Congress in 2010. "I see that we have a sitting senator who supposedly opposes guns, and she opposed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. For me, that would be a critical part of my decision. I think I’d be an effective legislator who can bring dollars to South Florida."

The daughter of former county commissioner Jose "Pepe” Cancio, she could pose a formidable opponent to Taddeo. She was recruited by Senate leadership, which intends to fight to reclaim a seat it lost when Frank Artiles was forced to resign last year over racial remarks in a Tallahassee bar. She is also a regular contributor to Spanish-language news.

Cancio, who was appointed as a trustee by Gov. Rick Scott, says she will resign from the board before qualifying to make the ballot. She supports President Donald Trump — a trait that appeared to hurt Jose Felix Diaz in his 2017 special election loss to Taddeo. But she says that's irrelevant to voters. "People in the district are concerned about local issues."

Cancio's candidacy signals that an Artiles comeback is unlikely, despite signs earlier this year that he would mount an effort to reclaim his seat. Artiles still has $52,000 in a campaign account he opened in 2016 when he was still in office, but he hasn't raised a dollar in more than a year. The last major expense to Artiles' account was $3,500 in April paid to political consulting firm Green Point Group, which Cancio said is now representing her.

A longtime Key Biscayne resident, Cancio said she's selling her home and in the meantime moving into a condo near Dadeland in the district. She said she lived in Kendall with her parents when she was "a little girl," and she made the decision to move and run for office after learning her daughter is pregnant, which she said made her want to be closer to family.

In a statement, Taddeo said she's looking forward to the campaign.

"I've seen firsthand how the Republican leadership's lack of investments to ease traffic gridlock, efforts to arm teachers with guns, underfund our schools, and undermine access to healthcare has caused pain for too many families," Taddeo said, taking a veiled shot at Cancio's residency. "While some who don't live in our community might not appreciate how troubling these shortsighted policies are, the residents of District 40 do."