Herald picks for Florida House

Miami Herald Editorial Board


Today we continue the Miami Herald’s recommendations for the Aug. 30 primary. These are the contested intra-party races for the Florida House of Representatives in our area:

District 107

Rep. Barbara Watson says that she works on issues “that no one wants to tackle.” And the Democrat from Northwest Miami-Dade works across the aisle, too — effectively. Her successful effort to close a loophole in firearm sales to some mentally ill people led Gov. Rick Scott to praise, in the same breath, both Rep. Watson and former NRA President Marion Hammer for addressing this safety issue. To bring jobs to the district, the representative is pushing to ensure the county locates an off-site loading zone there for goods headed to the port.

Rep. Watson’s challenger, Mary Estimé-Irvin, 45, says that she could do a better job, citing her support of school choice and her plan to push for important drainage projects and enhanced social services, especially for undocumented immigrants.

Ms. Estimé-Irvin, indeed, is engaged. She serves on several community boards. But Rep. Watson, 66, has a strong track record of legislative accomplishment, and her opponent is untested here.

In District 107, the Herald recommends BARBARA WATSON.

District 108

There are seven candidates vying to replace Democratic Rep. Daphne Campbell, who is running for the state Senate, among them: Fayola Delica, who runs an education academy and is an independent contractor to Miami-Dade public schools; Moises Dugé, a teacher at Jose De Diego Middle School; Taj Collie-Echoles, a teacher and head of two community-based nonprofits; Roy Hardemon, who works for the county Parks and Recreation Department and has a lengthy rap sheet of felony arrests; Henry Patel, a businessman and hotel owner; and Marie Erlande Steril, a former North Miami councilwoman. In 2014, she pleaded no contest to charges that she violated the county’s conflict of interest and code of ethics ordinance for using her position to get upgrades to her mother’s city-subsidized home.

The Editorial Board was most impressed with the seventh candidate, Francesca Menes, 31. She is director of policy and advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which comprises 75 advocacy organizations. Her position has plunged her directly into the legislative process, working in Tallahassee to get laws beneficial to the FIC’s causes passed and to stop the bad ones. She speaks knowledgeably about what it takes to be an effective legislator, bolstering her pledge to work across the aisle by saying that many of her mentors have been Republicans.

She is a strong supporter of making sure public schools have the resources to do the job; closing loopholes in laws that let the wrong people have guns and speaks knowledgably of the district’s strengths and challenges — and persuasively about solutions.

In District 108, the Herald recommends FRANCESCA MENES.

District 112

Republican primary

While Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez pursues a seat in the state Senate, Mike Davey and Rosa Palomino are vying for the one he’s leaving behind. Mr. Davey, an attorney, is a former councilmember and vice mayor of Key Biscayne. Ms. Palomino is a community advocate, businesswoman and teacher.

Both have solid legislative priorities. Ms. Palomino, 47, rightly is concerned that Miami-Dade County is a “donor community” that sends more money to the state than it gets back. Tackling the challenges of sea-level rise, human trafficking and education are also on her to-do list. She supports school choice; and would not want to push through knee-jerk gun restrictions in light of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, believing that, “The tragedy would have been more limited if security or patrons had been armed themselves.”

Mr. Davey, 50, wants to focus on aging infrastructure, traffic and doing a better job to lure businesses. He is concerned, too, about rising property taxes pushing people out of their homes. We give Mr. Davey the edge here for his support of expanding Medicaid, something that members of his party, including Gov. Rick Scott have misguidedly refused to do, despite the fact the almost 1 million more people would receive healthcare, courtesy of the federal government.

In District 112’s Republican primary, the Herald recommends MIKE DAVEY.

District 112

Democratic primary

Nicholas X. Duran, like Mr. Davey and Ms. Palomino, also wants to replace Jose Javier Rodriguez in the state House. The executive director of the Florida Association of Free Charitable Clinics, Mr. Duran says he’s an advocate for Floridians without access to healthcare and quality early education.

The candidate faces Waldo Faura-Morales in this race, who did not meet with the Editorial Board. Mr. Duran is the son-in-law of former state lawmaker Mike Abrams, who writes an occasional column for the Herald opinion page.

Mr. Duran, 34, supports school vouchers, giving parents a choice, but also wants charter schools’ funding to be linked to the schools’ grade and how many low-income and special-needs children they serve. He rightly backs Medicaid expansion, understanding the unnecessary and astronomical costs to the public that result by not following through.

His work as campaign manager and director of health initiatives for the Children’s Movement gave him a front-row seat to the legislative process, in which he participated. We think this give him a solid advantage.

In District 112’s Democratic primary, the Herald recommends NICHOLAS X. DURAN.

District 113

David Richardson, 59, a Democrat, was first elected to the Legislature in 2012 representing a district that includes parts of downtown Miami, Miami Beach and North Bay Village. He faces Rey Valdes, who did not appear before the Editorial Board or send in a requested questionnaire.

Even against more prominent opposition, Mr. Richardson would deserve serious consideration for a third term. As a CPA and former Pentagon auditor, he is well versed on budgetary issues and believes the Legislature often displays misplaced priorities.

For example, he says, it was irresponsible to cut $300 million from the State University System budget while creating a 12th state university. And, he rightly points out, the state has wrongfully diverted money from dedicated trust funds into the general-revenue fund to balance the budget. We fully agree.

Mr. Richardson was one of the first two openly gay members of the Legislature and has the backing of Equality Florida, a pro-LGBT organization. Given the state’s shameful disregard of discrimination against LGBT members in the labor force, voices like Mr. Richardson’s are needed in Tallahassee. To his credit, he has taken on prison reform as an issue requiring urgent attention, making 45 visits to various facilities to observe conditions. He called for the prison in Lancaster to be closed — and it was.

For District 113, the Herald recommends DAVID RICHARDSON.

District 114

With incumbent GOP Rep. Erik Fresen retiring because of term limits, Democrats believe they have a chance to capture this district, which President Obama carried in 2012. It extends from Flagami to Cutler Bay and contains parts of Miami, South and West Miami, Pinecrest and Coral Gables, including coastal areas.

Candidate Daisy Baez, 57, won 44 percent of the vote in 2014 against Mr. Fresen, while Albert Santana, 46, a businessman and member of the zoning appeals board is making his first bid for office.

Both favor Medicaid expansion and believe that Gov. Rick Scott has done little to help average Floridians or to aid Florida’s environment. Ms. Baez said she wants to stop the “cannibalization” of public schools by charter schools. Mr. Santana says he doesn’t support charters at all.

Ms. Baez made a strong showing for a first-timer against a popular incumbent in 2014, and seems more self-assured this time around. A native of the Dominican Republic, she served in the U.S. Army as a medical specialist and today is a healthcare consultant. Ms. Baez is particularly well-versed on medical issues and says that, as a single mother, she wants to see Florida pass a women’s equal pay act. She also emphasizes restoring cuts to the state’s Bright Futures scholarship program.

For District 114, the Herald recommends DAISY BAEZ.

District 115

Two Democrats are fighting for the chance to take on GOP incumbent Michael Bileca in November. This east-central district runs from Doral and Miami Springs on the north to South Miami Heights and includes half of Pinecrest and most of Palmetto Bay.

Ross Hancock, 61, is running against Jeffrey (Doc) Solomon, 56. Both have run and lost legislative and municipal races. They both disagree with Rep. Bileca, a conservative, on virtually everything.

They believe the state needs to do more to improve education. Dr. Solomon, a chiropractor, emphasized the need for remedial education, while Mr. Hancock, a marketing director for a manufacturing firm, stressed the need for testing reform and for better education to prepare students to enter the workforce. Both support state purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee to keep the Everglades healthy and both support Medicaid expansion.

We give a small edge to Dr. Solomon for his depth of understanding of the issues.

For District 115, the Herald recommends JEFFREY SOLOMON.

District 118

Five primary candidates seek the open Florida House seat created when Republican Rep. Frank Artiles decided run for the Florida Senate.

Two of the candidates are looking for a second chance at public office; the others are newcomers. Running are: former Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell, who lost her seat two years ago to Daniella Levine Cava, and the controversial former Congressman David Rivera.

Also running are Steven A. Rojas Tallon, a small business owner; Carlos Pria, a dentist; and Anthony Rodriguez, who did not appear before the Editorial Board.

The candidates say the pressing issues in the South Dade district center on traffic and tolls, as residents in that area spent hours of their day commuting on toll roads to go to work downtown.

Bell, 59, told the Editorial Board touted her long political career. “I have good governmental experience; I’ve been a council woman, a vice mayor, a commissioner and a vice chairman of the board,” she said.

In Mr. Rivera’s case — despite his previous controversial campaigns of which legal remnants remain — he is the only candidate that comes to the race with a public mandate: petition signatures from voters in the district asking him to represent them in Tallahassee. “I’ll be ready on Day One,” he said.

Mr. Rivera, 50, says throughout his political career, he’s helped scores of local projects: FIU’s medical school, the PortMiami Tunnel, the State Roads 826-836 interchange. But Mr. Rivera comes with a suitcase full of ethical skirmishes well documented in this newspaper. Mr. Pria and Mr. Tallon, though thoughtful, need more political experience before heading to Tallahassee.

We think Ms. Bell is the best candidate in this race and that her previous election loss will make her a stronger public servant.

For District 118, the Herald recommends LYNDA BELL.

District 120

The Democratic primary pits Daniel “Dan” Horton, 31, a Florida International University law school graduate, and Kevin Diaz, 28, an attorney and long-time resident.

At first, Mr. Horton planned to challenge Democrat Andrew Korge in the primary for the District 39 Senate seat, which also includes parts of southern Miami-Dade into Monroe. The winner of that contest will face incumbent Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores.

Then Mr. Horton dropped out of that Senate seat race and moved to this race. His move was at the urging of Mr. Korge and the local Democratic Party. This displeased Mr. Diaz, who told the Board that the local party offered to raise money for their campaigns in exchange for race jumping. Mr. Horton changed races; Mr. Diaz did not. But Mr. Horton is right that nothing illegal happened. “This is not cloak and dagger; the party wants to put the right people in the right place.”

Both candidates agree the district’s pressing issues are the environment, lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living.

Mr. Horton wants more young Democrats to run for office. “It’s time for Tallahassee to change,” he said. True, still, Mr. Diaz seems to have a more boots-on-the-ground knowledge of the district, giving him the edge.

For District 120, the Herald recommends KEVIN DIAZ.