If all politics is local, then it makes sense that a campaign to woo voters in Kendall would revolve around traffic. Lots and lots of traffic.
Clogged roads are one of the central issues in the battle to represent Florida House District 118, which encompasses a large suburban swath of Southwest Miami-Dade. The incumbent, Democrat Robert Asenscio, is hoping to keep his seat from Republican challenger Anthony Rodriguez.
While the district leans Republican, both realize the daily gridlock to and from Kendall is a perpetual issue that cuts across party lines.
Asencio was one of several Democratic lawmakers who mounted a public campaign blasting Florida’s troubled Sunpass system, which caused billing headaches for commuters this summer because of a backlog of millions of unprocessed toll payments.
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“I was one of those who was most adamant about correcting the Sunpass debacle,” said Asencio, who is also advocating to build more industries in Kendall to keep workers close to home and off the roads. He also co-sponsored a bill in 2017 that reduced tolls on certain expressways in Miami-Dade.
Rodriguez wants to go after the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which he says unfairly fleeces motorists. His plan: introduce legislation that would forbid charging tolls on MDX highways when cars are traveling under 40 miles an hour.
“It’s an issue we see every day. We jump on the expressway, pay expensive tolls and we’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic,” Rodriguez said.
Florida House District 118 represents over 150,000 residents from Southwest Miami-Dade neighborhoods such as Kendale Lakes, Country Walk and Richmond West. Voters elected Asencio two years ago by the thinnest of margins: 53 votes. He bested David Rivera, the scandal-plagued former state legislator and U.S. congressman.
The Nov. 6 election has statewide implications. In a state dominated by Republicans, House Democrats are hoping to add seats that will give them more influence over legislation next year. That means keeping the Kendall district is important.
State records show Asencio has raised $133,344 in campaign contributions. He’s also the chair of a political committee, the Alliance for Prosperity, which has raised $43,900. Rodriguez’s campaign has outpaced those efforts a bit, raising more than $180,000 in contributions, records show.
Asencio, 55, is a retired captain who spent more than two decades with the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department.
As a lawmaker, he has served on committees that deal with education, health quality and the justice system. Asencio, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was also active in relief efforts after Hurricane Maria battered the island. He chaired the House’s Puerto Rico/Caribbean Hurricane Relief committee.
Asencio was also one of the Democrats who opposed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Public Safety Act, which raised the age limit to buy a gun, funded mental health programs and controversially created a program to allow some school employees to carry firearms on campus.
He remains adamant in rejecting the bill, saying the programs were underfunded and putting guns in the hands of employees solves nothing.
“The bill was more about people putting guns on campuses than addressing safety,” said Asencio. “We can’t just put guns on campuses and expect schools to be safe.”
His opponent hasn’t shied away from going after him.
“It was the start of something good,” Rodriguez said of the new law. “He voted against that. It’s just unacceptable.”
Rodriguez, 30, a married father of three, runs a real-estate and property management business. He was raised in Westchester.
Beside reducing tolls, Rodriguez said that he is also supporting extending the Dolphin Expressway west, although he does not want it to cross the Urban Development Boundary line that protects endangered wetlands. He also supports greater freedom for parents to choose the right schools for their children, and reducing property taxes for the elderly.
“I feel very accomplished in my personal life, and I want to do something great for my community,” Rodriguez said. “I do believe I will be the best representative for this community.”