Voters Guide

Our recommendations in the District 27 congressional race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

David Richardson, left, and Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, right.
David Richardson, left, and Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, right.

DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY

A wealth of candidates, bringing new names, unexpected faces and diverse talents, signed up to be the Democrat who would replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress. When Donna Shalala, former University of Miami president, joined in, bearing a healthy war chest, a well-known name and a CV of singular accomplishments, the field thinned somewhat.

Still, with Shalala’s presence, the wealth of talent in this race only got more abundant.

Matt Haggman, who spent 10 years as Miami Herald reporter and most recently was program director for the Knight Foundation. He’s is rightly credited with nurturing Greater Miami’s transformation into a technology hub. Michael Hepburn, a former academic adviser at UM’s School of Business; Rep. David Richardson, who has served in the Florida House since 2012 and has taken on Florida’s broken prison system; and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a Miami Beach Commissioner since 2015. She proposes, among other things, a bullet tax, whose proceeds would go to retrofit schools to protect students from mass shootings.

In recommending David Richardson, the Editorial Board is following voters’ lead. Political brand names have fallen — from county commission races to the White House.

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Our recommendation is no slight to the stature and ccomplishments of frontrunner Shalala, who has led two major universities to national prominence and confidently walked the halls of power in Washington, D.C. as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. She knows how to “win friends and influence people” — and raise money. All vital skills.

The $1 billion she raised for UM as president is evidence of her pull, as are the many ways she leveraged the university to benefit the broader community, from establishing its medical center to subsidizing transportation for students to get cars off clogged streets.

David Richardson’s accomplishments may not appear as grand, but are significant: As a state legislator, Richardson took on the task of reforming Florida’s broken prison system. It wasn’t glamorous, there was little publicity, but it was the right thing to do. Richardson made an impact. That was one of his achievements that persuaded us that he is a true public servant who will make the most of a seat in Congress.

Let’s face it, felons are not a constituency that anyone loves. However, Richardson knew that Florida’s prisons, including those run for profit, were hellish places, where corrections officers and other staffers were meting out violence, and even death, while being paid by taxpayers. He also recognized that most felons become former felons, and how they’re treated in prison will impact society at large — for better or worse.

Richardson got one prison closed and reforms pushed through. All this as a Democrat outnumbered in the Republican-majority state House. In fact, he sought to sponsor a bill to help gay kids in foster care. When he realized its chances would be better as a rider on a GOP bill, he relinquished getting credit in favor of securing the bill’s passage. This alone speaks to his ability to find common ground and work effectively across the aisle. Richardson also convinced reluctant GOP colleagues in the Legislature to ban bump stocks, which let semiautomatic weapons fire even faster. It’s now Florida law.

Richardson, a forensic accountant, is a relatively new — but not newbie — elected leader. He is poised to energize both voters and prospective voters, many of whom believe they have been taken for granted by the establishment political machine. And Shalala cannot claim distance from that machine — from her tight bond with long-time friend Hillary Clinton, whose sometimes maligned foundation hired Shalala after she left UM, to her prior corporate board seats. They speak of a well-connected insider, where perhaps fresher relationships are warranted.

All of the candidates who agreed to sit down with the Editorial Board — Hepburn did not — express practical, progressives views. They diverge somewhat on how to provide healthcare for all, but are adamant that it must happen. And no one in the group equivocates on sea-level rise: It’s real, and must be confronted.

We think the state representative has shown the potential to be an enduring advocate for his district, his state, and the nation. The Herald recommends DAVID RICHARDSON in the Democratic primary of Congressional District 27.

REPUBLICAN PRIMARY

“This congressional seat has been a pulpit for veteran Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen since she won it in 1989. But Ros-Lehtinen is now retiring. Can the Republicans hold on to her seat? It’s one of the biggest political questions in South Florida this election season. A slew of Republican candidates is vying to face the winner of the Democratic primary in November and protect against flipping of the seat from red to blue.

But the overcrowded race might be a sign that Republicans have given up the seat, since the district now has shifted closer to the Democrats’ favor.

Among the best-known candidates are Spanish-language television star Maria Elvira Salazar, who has wide name recognition; former Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, whose wife just lost a bid to keep his commission seat in the family, and Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a former Doral councilwoman.

There are other, lesser known candidates in the race: Elizabeth Adadi, Angie Chirino, who is a daughter of singer Willy Chirino, Stephen Marks, Michael Ohevzion, Maria Peiro and Gina Sosa.

Two candidates in the race, Salazar and Barreiro, who are viewed as the front-runners, declined to take part in the Miami Herald’s candidate interview process. Barreiro’s campaign said that he was not seeking our endorsement; Salazar’s campaign said that her schedule was booked until Aug. 28 — Election Day.

The Editorial Board was most impressed by Rodriguez Aguilera, now a business consultant.

We realize that Rodriguez Aguilera is an unusual candidate. Last year, she told the Miami Herald — and several Spanish-language media outlets — that she believes in extra-terrestrials. She says when she was 7, she was taken aboard a spaceship and, throughout her life, she has communicated telepathically with the beings, which remind her of the concrete Christ in Brazil. There you have it.

“This is a non-issue,” she told the Board. We agree. Her bona fides as a former elected official, and now a businesswoman who spends time in other countries training women to run for office are solid.

Rodriguez Aguilera is a strong candidate in the race with plausible conservative ideas. The daughter of a Cuban political prisoner, Rodriguez Aguilera became an activist, volunteering with the Cuban American National Foundation. She said that she was coached by its former leader, Jorge Mas Canosa, who taught her that, “If you don’t have a solution to a problem, don’t raise your hand to complain.”

Rodriguez Aguilera started her career in the public sector as a social worker for Miami-Dade, and later as an ombudsman at the county manager’s office. She eventually parlayed that government experience — helping residents, companies and start-ups navigate county red tape — into a successful private business.

She eventually entered politics and ran for Doral councilwoman, becoming deputy mayor, but these were turbulent times in Doral. In 2013, she was accused of violating Florida’s homestead-exemption rules. The matter was resolved, and there were indications that the accusation was levied by political enemies.

Unlike other candidates in the race, she has a “Working Class Agenda.” with proposed solutions that include: reforming the Fair Credit Act to change the credit score system; reducing student loan payments to make them more affordable; cutting taxes and red tape that, she says, paralyze progress; and creating a hardship rental insurance to reduce homelessness.

Salazar’s platform has been low key because she has made few public appearances as part of her primary bid. And Barreiro is now running without the power of incumbency.

Likely to be an issue in the race is the fact that Barreiro was the commission chairman when the unpopular Miami Marlins Stadium deal was voted on. Many Miami-Dade taxpayers see him as having helped usher the process along — one of the most despised deals ever.

While Barreiro and Salazar appear to be saving their ammunition for the general election, for her boots-on-the-ground ideas and experience, the Herald recommends BETTINA RODRIGUEZ AGUILERA in the Republican primary for Congressional District 27.

Miami congressional candidate, Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, speaks in 2009 about her relationships with extraterrestrial beings in an Américan Tevé program.

Read our full list of recommendations for the Aug. 28 primary here.

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