Incumbents can’t bring sense of entitlement

Miami Herald Editorial Board

State Sen. Gwen Margolis dropped out of her race for reelection after crudely dismissing her opponents.
State Sen. Gwen Margolis dropped out of her race for reelection after crudely dismissing her opponents. AP

Votes have been cast, and winners and losers have been decided. To make its annual recommendations, the Miami Herald Editorial Board spent the last two months interviewing candidates for public office. Here’s what we learned from talking to more than 70 candidates — newcomers and incumbent alike:

This year, we saw several incumbents who felt they did not need to engage their opponents, preferring to try to ignore them. It was especially glaring in a few judicial races. Incumbency, of course, has its advantages, not the least of which is accruing experience and realizing some accomplishment as a public servant. That is, if elected officials are taking their jobs seriously.

Miami-Dade Judge Ed Newman, who won his race on Tuesday, made his pique at being challenged by a young attorney clear, implying that she had broken some unspoken rule. It was a revealing moment, and off-putting. However, given his experience the Editorial Board, indeed, did recommend him for reelection.

Of course, incumbency has its risks, too, especially if the elected is seen as coasting in a seat they’ve had forever, seemingly. This year, there was a flood of young, smart candidates jumping in, saying, “Move on, already!” Fortunately, many of them were running for open seats, and it was heartening to see — and recommend — a new generation eager to serve.

Unfortunately, several young wannabees, were in way over their heads, whether they were challenging an incumbent or hoping to fill an open seat.

While Scott Fuhrman, for example, the Democratic primary winner who will challenge Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in November, at least brings a healthy dose of political experience to the table, one of Ms. Ros-Lehtinen’s opponents in the Republican primary, David Adams, was a bit conundrum — earnest, but outdone from the git-go.

But while expressing respect and admiration for the congresswoman and her accomplishment, he, too, said that fresher faces, newer voices needed a chance to be heard. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, sitting right next to Mr. Adams, was so nice, even affectionate, toward him that we knew we were watching a genuine pro. She took nothing for granted, took mild criticism seriously and showed the upside of incumbency. They even shared a few giggles together, leaving the Herald offices not quite the best of friends, but you get the idea.

The candidates for one open seat in the state Senate owe their opportunity to a severe case of incumbent-itis: Gwen Margolis’ long political career at the state and local levels came to an end rather unceremoniously when she dismissively described her opponents, who had every right to run against her, as “two Haitians, a lawyer and a teacher.” She added that she’d been in politics for 40 years, which, she mistakenly seem to imply was reason enough for her re-election. (And even U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson referred to her opponent as “some football star” — former Miami Dolphins Randall Hill, an ex-federal agent who made a persuasive case that there are some challenges in need of attention in her congressional district.)

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez asked to be interviewed alone, requests that the Editorial Board granted. With both embroiled in heated races, it was our desire to have the chance to do a deep dive into each candidate’s profile, not referee a food fight.

For some incumbents, winning Tuesday’s primary was the glorious end of the road. And in the Editorial Board’s eyes, reelection was well earned, well deserved. Others, still have to make the case leading up to the general election in November. If they don’t treat their seats as if they own them, they’ll have a better chance of sealing the deal.