Florida Politics

Seven candidates vie to replace Artiles in Florida Senate

The special Florida Senate District 40 primary will take place July 25, and the general election Sept. 26.
The special Florida Senate District 40 primary will take place July 25, and the general election Sept. 26. El Nuevo Herald file

Seven candidates will compete this summer in a special Florida Senate election crucial for Democrats, who consider the competitive seat a rare opportunity to boost their small numbers in the state Legislature.

Three Democrats, three Republicans and one candidate without party affiliation qualified Wednesday for the special Senate District 40 election.

Democrats, who hold 15 of 40 Senate seats, hoped to win the Southwest Miami-Dade County district last November. Instead, it went for Republican Frank Artiles, who resigned in April after unleashing an offensive tirade against two senators and using his political committee to hire a former Hooters calendar girl and a Playboy model as “consultants.”

The primary to replace Artiles is scheduled for July 25, and the general election for Sept. 26.

Vying for the Democratic nomination are former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, Army veteran Steve Smith and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

Rivas Logan, 55, ran for the seat last year but lost in the primary to former state Sen. Dwight Bullard. She’s a former Miami-Dade School Board member who served one term in the state House as a Republican before publicly disavowing the GOP.

Taddeo, 49, lost a congressional primary to Joe Garcia last year, and later lost a bid for the local Democratic Party vice-chairmanship. A recent poll funded by Democratic donors, however, showed she was far better known among district voters than Rivas Logan, a key metric in special elections where many voters aren’t politically engaged.

Smith, 51, is a first-time candidate and tech consultant who said he decided to run after President Donald Trump and Florida Republicans notched victories last November. Until last year, Smith was registered Republican. He said he considered himself a “liberal” Republican and eventually realized that his values were more aligned with the Democratic Party.

Running on the Republican side are state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Lorenzo Palomares, a past candidate for Congress.

Diaz, 37, represents a portion of the district in the House, and Diaz de la Portilla, 52, once did as well. Both have already started mailing campaign fliers, with Diaz de la Portilla casting himself as a bigger booster of Republican Gov. Rick Scott than the GOP-held House (Diaz, who is known as Pepi, is part of House leadership). A pair of recent private polls touted by Diaz de la Portilla show he’s better known than Diaz.

Palomares, 63, who last ran as Palomares-Starbuck, was an early local supporter of Donald Trump for president and is a frequent political pundit on Spanish-language radio and television.

The rare no-party-affiliated candidate in the race is Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, a 36-year-old adjunct sociology professor at Barry University, Miami Dade College and the University of Miami. His nickname, which he says came from years of playing rugby, will appear on the ballot. He’s a registered Democrat but said he’s disillusioned with the party and wants to run an “anti-establishment” campaign.

Because Diaz, the Republican representative, had to resign from the House to run for the Senate, his House District 116 will also be on the July and September ballot. Candidates for that race have until June 6 to qualify.

Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles formally apologized on the Florida Senate floor on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, for insulting and using racial slurs against two black lawmakers two days prior.

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