Florida Politics

A tale of two homes: Does Miami lawmaker live in district she represents?

State Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, pictured during the legislative session that ended earlier this month.
State Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, pictured during the legislative session that ended earlier this month. TAMPA BAY TIMES

State Rep. Daisy Baez doesn’t appear to live in the House district she represents, a possible violation of the Florida Constitution that could haunt her Florida Senate candidacy.

Her residence continues to be a prim Coral Gables house with a stack of her old campaign yard signs leaning against one of the porch walls. On Monday evening, Baez wasn’t inside — but her two rescue dogs, Oso and Coco, were. So was her campaign team, working around the kitchen table. Baez was expected back a couple of hours later.

The home is in House District 112. Baez, a Democrat, represents House District 114, whose boundaries begin about half a mile away. Florida requires lawmakers to live and vote in the districts they represent by Election Day. For Baez, a freshman, that was Nov. 8 of last year.

Six days earlier, on Nov. 2, Baez changed her voter-registration address to a Coral Gables apartment within the District 114 boundaries, election records show.

“I have two residences,” Baez told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Baez said she rents an apartment on Anderson Road, about a mile and a half away from her three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Malaga Avenue where she claimed a homestead exemption on her 2016 property taxes, according to county records. Asked if the apartment was vacant or occupied, Baez cleared her throat several times, sounded uncomfortable and wouldn’t respond.

“I have kept this home, and I have a rental,” she said. “I am renovating this house to put it on the market.”

Baez then ended the interview, saying she needed to consult with her campaign team before speaking further.

Public records show the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom apartment is owned by Robert and Maritza Jacobson, who have a homestead exemption on the property. Robert Jacobson donated $600 to Baez’s House campaign last year, according to election records.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Maritza Jacobson said she lives in the Anderson Road apartment. When a reporter asked about Baez claiming residency there, Jacobson added: “She also lives here.”

Pressed for details, Jacobson became annoyed.

“You can ask her,” she said of Baez, before hanging up.

One of the Jacobsons’ neighbors in the apartment building, retired University of Miami professor and Cuba scholar Andy Gomez, said he’s never seen any sign of Baez living there.

“Unless she comes in after midnight and leaves very early in the morning, she doesn’t live here,” said Gomez, who praised his neighbors — and Baez — but said he expressed his dismay at the representative’s questionable residency. “I’m highly disappointed.”

Earlier this month, Baez declared her candidacy to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40, a swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County that covers neither Baez’s house nor the Jacobsons’ apartment.

“While I currently live just outside of SD40, I will be a resident there shortly,” Baez said in a statement released by her campaign. “I have no doubt that Miami-Dade voters will see fit to have me continue to represent them in Tallahassee.”

To remain in the Senate, veteran legislators have been forced to move to new homes. After the last round of redistricting, Republican Sens. Anitere Flores of Miami and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa had to relocate into their districts.

Baez was the first Democrat to enter the race to replace Artiles, who resigned last month after a sexist and racist diatribe to two African-American senators. State Democrats appeared to try to clear the primary field for her, securing the big-name endorsements of a pair of gubernatorial candidates.

But the contest still drew candidacies from former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo, both of whom might have higher name recognition ahead of the special July 25 primary election, since they’ve been on the ballot there before. Rivas Logan owns a home in the district; Taddeo rents a home there, having sold her previous Pinecrest home last year.

Baez was one of seven then-candidates for the Legislature whom the Herald identified in November as living outside their districts, according to voter-registration records.

Enforcing residency requirements is up to each legislative chamber. In 2011, the GOP-controlled House fined then-Rep. Reggie Fullwood, a Jacksonville Democrat, $1,220.40 for failing to become an elector of his district for 15 days after his election. The fine was based on the then-legislative salary of $81.36 a day.

But Artiles, then a representative, was caught a month later living in Palmetto Bay instead of West Kendall more than 170 days after his election. The House didn’t penalize him.