Miami Herald recommendations for the Florida Senate

Miami Herald Editorial Board


This year’s Florida legislative races have some solid veterans being challenged by promising newcomers. All expressed concern for the state’s well-being, but one issue was missing.

The Editorial Board found it troubling that no South Florida lawmaker or challenger has signed the Brechner Center/Florida First Amendment Foundation’s Open Government Pledge committing to governmental transparency. We hope the number of signers will grow in the future.

Senate District 36

This winner of this race will represent a district that encompasses Hialeah, Miami Lakes, Miami Springs, Doral and parts of Little River and Brownsville.

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican first elected in 2010, has proven himself to be a champion of the disenfranchised during his tenure. He has long been a proponent of the state accepting federal Medicaid expansion funds. And he is also a warrior for more funding for Floridians struggling with mental illness and substance abuse. If reelected, Sen. Garcia says he will concentrate on fighting for more money to help these troubled Floridians. That’s good news.

Sen. Garcia, 42, is being challenged by Democrat Anabella Grohoski Peralta, 57, a business owner and single mom, who is taking her first stab at public office. If elected, Ms. Grohoski says she will be laser focused on state environmental and climate change issues.

That would be a welcome approach. But Sen. Garcia’s record of helping the state’s downtrodden gives him a big edge.

For State Senate District 36, the Miami Herald recommends RENE GARCIA.

Senate District 37

The Miami Herald’s “Naked Politics” blog aptly summarizes this race, one of the most interesting in Miami-Dade County: It pits “Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a three-term Republican incumbent with a big name and independent streak, and José Javier Rodríguez, a two-term state representative and ‘rising star’ in the Democratic party. (A third candidate, Mercedes Christian, has no party affiliation and no money.)”

Both of these candidates were unopposed in the primaries. Interesting aside: Rep. Rodriguez defeated Sen. Diaz de la Portilla’s brother, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, to claim his House District 112 seat in 2012.

This is one of the most competitive and contentious races in the state. Democrats hope to capture a seat held by an incumbent Republican, thanks to court-ordered redrawing of Senate district boundaries.

Sen. Diaz de la Portilla, 53, has a long political trajectory in this county. As a former county commissioner, he takes credit for safeguarding the urban development boundary against encroachment by developers.

Last session, he single-handedly killed the dangerous “campus carry” bill favored by the NRA — though his record otherwise supports NRA causes. Sen. Diaz de la Portilla says he doesn’t make decisions on a partisan basis and argues that, since he’s up for his last election before term limits kick in, his seniority will benefit constituents.

Mr. Rodriguez, 38, contrasts his own background as a former member of the Peace Corps and legal aid lawyer against Sen. Diaz de la Portilla’s work as a lobbyist for powerful interests such as charter schools and developers. His own work, Mr. Rodriguez says, has always served to benefit the public interest. In that vein, he called the Legislature’s unwillingness to expand Medicaid “the biggest catastrophic failure” by lawmakers during his four years as a state representative.

Mr. Rodriguez believes the state has to do more to improve public education, protect the environment and improve the justice system.

This race will be a close call for some voters, as it has been for some interest groups. Local teachers have endorsed Sen. Diaz de la Portilla. But the statewide teachers union has endorsed Mr. Rodriguez. We also give Mr. Rodriguez the edge. He has shown that he is an engaged and articulate lawmaker, willing to work hard for the right causes and to improve Florida. More Democrats like Mr. Rodriguez in the Florida Senate, where Republicans currently hold a 26-14 margin, would bring a better balance to state government.

For State Senate District 37, the Miami Herald recommends JOSE JAVIER RODRIGUEZ.

Senate District 38

In her quest for a seat in the state Senate, Rep. Daphne Campbell won the Aug. 30 primary over a crowded field of mostly superb candidates. But the Editorial Board has always found Ms. Campbell something far less than superb, as has her challenger, former state Rep. Phillip Brutus.

Ms. Campbell, who, though invited, did not participate in the Board’s candidate interviews, has been a disappointment as a lawmaker. Most notably, she has used her position to work to thwart more-stringent oversight of assisted-living facilities. Her family-owned ALFs were cited by state inspectors for lousy conditions.

Unlike Ms. Campbell, Mr. Brutus, an attorney, supports the rights of LGBT Floridians, rejecting discriminatory legislation. He says that the poorer areas of this district are not “workforce ready” and he wants to bring more vocational education to those neighborhoods and get businesses involved with high schools students. He also wants residential developers to set aside 25 percent of new building for affordable rentals. He believes in the Second Amendment, but rightly does not support open carry or campus carry. It gives people “a sense of invincibility,” Mr Brutus told the Editorial Board. “Too many things can happen.” He criticizes Rep. Campbell for voting against holding a special session on gun issues.

Mr. Brutus wants the state to confront climate change head on and opposes fracking: “We’ve got to go green.” Though he says he will caucus with the Democrats, Mr. Brutus is running as an NPA candidate — no party affiliation.

His progressive views are more in tune with this large, diverse district. The Herald recommends PHILLIP BRUTUS for State Senate District 38.

Senate District 39

Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, 40, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2004 and then to the Senate in 2010, squares off against Democratic newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, 45. Both ran unopposed in the primaries.

Sen. Flores has served in leadership roles in both chambers of the Legislature over the years. She has consistently won reelection in west Miami-Dade districts thanks to a moderate voting record.

If reelected, this would be her final term. One priority would be a worthy effort to reform criminal justice standards by imposing statewide civil citations for first-time youthful offenders rather than jail sentences.

Another would be to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee to improve Everglades restoration — a goal of environmental advocates.

She has also been a fighter for lowering premiums for windstorm insurance, especially for customers of the state’s public insurance agency, but admits she has fallen short. “I’m just about at my wits’ end on this issue,” she told the Editorial Board, but she vowed to keep trying.

Ms. Mucarsel-Powell, who owns a consulting firm on strategic planning, lives in Pinecrest, which is outside the boundaries, but says she knows the district well. She says Sen. Flores is a latecomer on behalf of environmental issues and criticizes her for voting for abortion restrictions.

We give the edge to Sen. Flores because of her experience and attention to her district, but Ms. Mucarsel-Powell is a strong advocate for the issues she favors and should run again at a later date.

For State Senate District 39, the Miami Herald recommends ANITERE FLORES.

Senate District 40

The redrawn boundaries of this district in central Miami-Dade County have thrown two incumbents, state State Rep. Frank Artiles and Sen. Dwight Bullard, into contention. It leans Democratic, which should help Sen. Bullard, but is also heavily Hispanic, which might give Rep. Artiles an edge.

It’s become a viciously combative race. Republicans feel they can knock off an incumbent Democrat and are pouring a river of money into the race. Rep. Artiles has raised $647,194 as of early October. Sen. Bullard, who won a tough Democratic primary, had raised a relatively meager $172,117 at the time.

Much of the money spent by Mr. Artiles has gone into deceptive attacks, including a grossly misleading mailer and TV ad that claims his opponent “voted to release violent criminals and sexual delinquents in our community.”

We have supported Mr. Artiles, 43, who runs a Miami public adjuster company, in earlier races when he campaigned as a moderate and took a strong pro-consumer stance on windstorm insurance when few Republicans dared to.

But this time around he’s resorting to scare tactics, even criticizing fellow Republicans like U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and state Sen. Anitere Flores for backing a $15 minimum wage, accusing them of “placating to the middle and to liberals.”

Sen. Bullard, 39, teaches at Coral Reef Sr. High. He was a state representative for two terms beginning in 2008 and moved up to the Senate in 2012. He makes no bones about where he stands: “I don’t see how you can get any more progressive than I am,” he told the Editorial Board.

He supports the increased minimum wage and expanded Medicaid, and was particularly vocal about the need for targeted enterprise zones — including parts of his district — to alleviate high pockets of poverty.

It’s often tough for Democrats, a distinct minority in the Senate, to make headway on legislation, but Sen. Bullard has shown he can do it. He was instrumental in the successful bipartisan effort to give in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants. He was also a vocal legislative critic of the state educational testing system and fought to get it replaced with the a revamped process.

Sen. Bullard has been an effective advocate for the issues he supports and has the support of a variety of elected municipal officials in his district.

For State Senate District 40, the Miami Herald recommends DWIGHT BULLARD.