The drama this election season in the Florida Senate is whether Democrats will be able to flip enough seats to the blue column. All they need is three seats to reach parity and in this presidential election years, the sweep could go either way.
Here are our endorsements in two Florida Senate seats needing primary races to decide the winner in November.
“A hidden gem” is how more than one candidate in this race described this diverse and up-and-coming district, which encompasses Miami Gardens, Opa-locka and Miramar. Maybe that’s why seven candidates are vying for this seat left open with the departure of Oscar Braynon II, who was term-limited out.
The candidates are: former Florida Reps. Daphne Campbell, who was embroiled in too many financial scandals, and Cynthia Stafford; State Reps. Shevrin Jones and Barbara Watson; Miami Gardens City Council member Erhabor Ighodaro; Wilbur Harbin, a retired battalion chief with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue; and write-in candidate Darien Hill.
Campbell, Stafford and Hill did not respond to repeated invitations to take part in the Editorial Board’s candidate interviews. Harbin told the Board he was not seeking endorsements.
All the candidates who were interviewed showed knowledge of the district, which is widely recognized as the home to Hard Rock Stadium and the Miami Dolphins. Watson, who has represented portions of the area in the House, said she can hit the ground running if promoted to the Florida Senate. “I know how to get it done” and “I have always put my constituents first,” she told the Board. Watson says the most pressing issue in the district is post-coronavirus recovery. “Our cities are going to be in trouble; we need to bring the funds back,” she said.
Ighodaro, who says he’s running “to fight for the people,” has long been unhappy with the “under-representation” of the district by legislators who have not brought home the bacon. “If you can’t get it done, get out of the way,” he says, referring to the former and current legislators in the race. Ighodaro says the district has been neglected long enough and that the biggest issue is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Because he talked specifics,we think Shevrin Jones is the best candidate to represent this district.
Getting anything done as a member of the minority Democratic Party in Tallahassee is tricky, but Jones has managed to do it well. He pushed for police in Florida to wear body cameras. Touched by the case of a female inmate who had a baby alone in a cell, he has called for “more dignity” for female inmates. He supports full legalization of marijuana and a ban on assault weapons. On the coronavirus front, Jones says “ the state reopened too soon.”
It became personal when he contracted the virus.
Jones, the first openly gay African American elected to the Florida Legislature, said he decided to donate his antibody-rich blood after he recovered. But he was turned away because gay men are not allowed to donate blood as per a Food and Drug Administration rule spurred by HIV concerns. He said he plans to speak out against the rule, adding that an opponent used the Miami Herald story on the incident to try to stir up anti-gay sentiments against him. That’s a reprehensible tactic that voters should make sure backfires on the opponent.
Some legislators view Jones, a teacher first elected in 2012, as part of a young wave of leaders in the Florida Democratic Party. We do, too. He will be bring a forward-looking and thoughtful approach to representing the “gem” of a district.”
The Miami Herald recommends SHEVRIN JONES for Florida Senate, District 35.
This seat, which encompasses South Miami-Dade all the way down to the Florida Keys, has been long held by Republican Anitere Flores, who is being term-limited.
It’s viewed by political observers as the most flippable for Democrats, who have been winning big in the area in the past couple of years.
In 2018, Democrat Andrew Gillum defeated Gov. Ron DeSantis in the district, and Republican incumbent Congressman Carlos Curbelo was beaten by Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. State Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez is the only Republican in the race.
Running are: Javier Fernández, an attorney and current representative in the Florida House and Daniel Horton-Diaz, an attorney and former district chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
He also worked for State Sen. Annette Taddeo in Tallahassee. This is his second try for a legislative seat.
Fernández appears to have the financial backing of the Democratic Party, while Horton-Diaz is the outside candidate. Fernández has the endorsement of the Senate Democratic caucus and also of Horton-Diaz’s ex-bosses Mucarsel-Powell and Taddeo.
Horton-Diaz, says he understands how the political game is played and has plenty of the endorsements on the local level. In the era of COVID-19, especially, the district, and the state, need lawmakers who have demonstrated success as elected officials in Tallahassee. And that’s Fernández.
Horton-Diaz knows it’s an uphill battle. “I’m fighting both the Republican and Democratic parties.”
Meanwhile, Fernández has a record to tout. “I have a demonstrated track record and vastly more experience in getting things done in Tallahassee than my opponent.”
Fernández said he helped Coral Gables avoid thousands of dollars in legal fees during a lawsuit over its plastic bag ban. He also pushed for flexibility in school ratings that allowed more money to be allocated to districts. Both initiatives benefited Miami-Dade.
Fernández lives just outside the Senate district and says he will move in by October. He says recovery from COVID-19 is the main issue in the district. Horton-Diaz says fixing the failed unemployment system is the burning priority in the district where many have been left jobless.
Horton-Diaz remains a passionate, knowledgeable candidate. The last time he appeared in front of the Board, we gave him advice and he took it to heart.
“You said I had the energy but not the knowledge of the community,” he said. “I have invested myself in becoming the best candidate in this race.”
He set out to fix the deficiency, and we can tell. But Fernández is the more ready-to-go candidate with the backing of his party and colleagues.
The Miami Herald recommends JAVIER FERNÁNDEZ for State Senate District 39.