Dotie Joseph beat an incumbent in the August Democratic primary to secure a slot on the November ballot for Florida District 108, a race that Republicans aren’t even contesting. That leaves Libertarian candidate Riquet Caballero with more attention than is generally afforded third-party candidates, and long odds in a district where nearly 70 percent of the registered voters are Democrats.
“Republicans have given up on District 108,” Caballero states on his campaign website for the solidly blue district along I-95 that includes the Miami neighborhoods of Liberty City and Little Haiti, along with El Portal and Biscayne Park. “Democrats have failed to deliver on their promises.”
Caballero, a Miami resident, started out running for governor this year in the Libertarian primary before switching to the legislative race. He’s a hard-core supporter of gun rights, criticizing Florida’s new ban on “bump stock” devices that increase the amount of bullets that can be fired from semiautomatic rifles.
In May, Caballero criticized Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi for “fighting tooth and nail to keep the new bump stock ban in Florida” by defending the state against a lawsuit seeking to overturn the legislation.
His gun-control stance goes even further than what’s typically heard from the National Rifle Association and other longtime defenders of Florida’s protections for firearm owners and users. The Cuban-born Caballero, 31, said his opposition to gun-control measures — a top political issue in Florida after February’s massacre at a Parkland high school — is based on a constitutional right of the populace to remain armed in case it needs to fight an oppressive government. “People should be able to possess automatic weapons,” he said. “The Second Amendment, really, is not for self-defense. It’s for fighting tyranny.”
Joseph, 39, has endorsed tougher gun regulations in Tallahassee, and posted on her Facebook page earlier this year that the Second Amendment doesn’t allow possession “of machine guns and military assault rifles.”
In a July interview with the “Drinks with Politicians” podcast, Joseph said she wanted to repeal Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which strengthens self-defense rights for people who shoot others. She also said she wanted Florida to restrict sales of the most lethal firearms. “There is no reason a regular civilian should have access to military-style weapons. Period,” Joseph said while drinking what the podcast said was a glass of fruit punch. “Those tools are designed to kill people. That’s it.”
For Joseph, the general election was always considered a glide path after one of the most contentious and competitive primaries in the state. In August, the attorney from North Miami beat one-term representative Roy Hardemon in the Democratic primary, a rare example of an incumbent lawmaker not even making it to November. Joseph took 49 percent of the vote, and Hardemon finished second at 36 percent.
Joseph declined an interview request, saying she didn’t have time for a conversation before this article was published. She invited written questions, and issued a broad statement on why she’s running for a Florida House dominated by Republicans. “I hope we find ways to create win-win situations where we don’t keep putting profits over people,” she said, “because doing the right thing by both is not mutually exclusive.”
Born in Haiti and a graduate of Yale and then Georgetown Law, Joseph has worked in the city attorney’s office in North Miami Beach, interned for the Carter Center in Atlanta and for a global human-rights organization. She now works for the Fort Lauderdale law firm Austin Pamies Norris Weeks. In her statement, she cited expanding healthcare, workforce housing, public safety and climate-change resiliency as some of the issues she considers priorities for the district.
Beyond undoing virtually all gun control, Caballero’s top issues are relaxing regulations on medical marijuana and making recreational marijuana legal, and unwinding the state’s system for regulating small businesses, such as barber licenses and restrictions on backyard-barbecue operations. “If there is not a lot of harm in it,” he asked, “why are we bothering people?”
On the fundraising front, the general-election candidates exist on different planes. Joseph has raised about $150,000, including donations from prominent lobbyist Ron Book, the Miami-Dade teachers union, and Magic City casino.
Caballero, a risk analyst in Visa’s Miami office who holds a master’s in international banking from Florida International University, reported nearly $3,900 in campaign funds. Donations totaled $315, and the rest of the money came from personal loans he made to his committee. Caballero said he hasn’t campaigned in person, and is relying on his online presence to make a decent showing in the race.
“It’s more difficult than I thought,” he said in an interview Sunday. “I thought that I could work and be in politics at the same time. But it’s impossible.”