[Miami - September 2, 2022] It was hard for conservatives to beat establishment candidates in the Republican primaries for the State House of Representatives held in South Florida during the election season that ended on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
In District 113, an open seat stretching from Key Biscayne to Brickell and surroundings, Venezuelan-American anti-socialist firebrand Alberto Perosh lost decisively, 33% to 66%, to political consultant Vicki Lopez, who had moved from running in Senate District 38 at the request of the establishment in order to open the way for Alexis Catalayud, a progressive BLM supporter.
In District 118, covering West Kendall, establishment semi-incumbent Juan Fernandez-Barquin, with 65% of the vote, saw off two challengers: Daniel Sotelo, who had campaigned since last summer, with 27%; and also the late-filing Francisco Rodriguez, with only 7%. This campaign featured nasty advertising from the establishment, including charging Sotelo, whose grandparents spent time as political prisoners in Cuba, with being a communist.
In District 119, covering Southwest Kendall and with no incumbent, youthful legislative aide Juan Carlos Porras, with support from the establishment, won 48% of the vote against four other candidates: Rob Gonzalez, a family man and successful litigator, received only 20%; Ashley Alvarez, a Community Council member, received 15%; Ricky Tsai, a hotelier, received 12%; and Jose Soto trailed with a mere 3%.
Finally, the closest of these races occurred in District 120, which runs from Homestead to Key West, and has portions in both Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. Incumbent Jim Mooney, former mayor of Islamorada and acknowledged drug dealer, voted against the Parental Rights in Education Act championed by Governor DeSantis, proposed a sales tax increase, and ignored the Miami-Dade portion of his District. These failures prompted local businesswoman Rhonda Rebman Lopez, who lost to Mooney two years ago by just over 100 votes, out of some 10,000 votes cast in a three-way race, to launch her candidacy in the spring of this year.
The campaign in District 120 was hard fought, with Lopez focusing on going door-to-door, especially in the Homestead area located on the Miami-Dade portion of this District, which had been totally ignored by Mooney according to the Mayor of Homestead. This strategy paid off, as Lopez won 56% of the vote in this portion of the District, while Mooney received only 29%, and a third candidate, Key West painter Robert Allen, received 14%.
However, Mooney made up this deficit with votes from the Florida Keys, in the Monroe County portion of this District, to win the race with a total of 45% of the votes cast, compared with 44% for Lopez and 10% for Allen. Mooney received 88 more votes than Lopez, out of more than 11,000 votes cast.
This race was characterized by a barrage of false and defamatory ads against Lopez funded by the establishment, especially the House Republican Campaign Committee, chaired by incoming Speaker Paul Renner of North Daytona Beach, and supported by Representative Barquin. These ads promulgated outrageous lies, including that Lopez, a mother of two successful adult sons and married to the son of Cuban refugees, was affiliated with socialist Democrats and with failed gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
Both Sotelo and Lopez were endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, a grassroots libertarian and conservative group working within the confines of the Republican Party.
These disappointments for the conservative cause may be traced to elements of the Florida political system that make it hard to challenge the establishment and incumbents:
First, the primaries are held at the end of a very hot summer, just before Labor Day, when everyone is going back to school and the heat makes campaigning most arduous.
Second, in Florida, unlike Texas, the primary can be won with a plurality, and a runoff to win a majority is not required. This means that the anti-incumbent vote is split when there are two or more challengers. That is how Ted Cruz was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. See District 120 above.
Third, there was very low turnout in Miami-Dade County, only 19%, compared with 34% in Monroe County, but only around 22% in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The establishment does not want a high turnout in the primaries, because it causes potential problems for their candidates. Again, see District 120 above.
Fourth, that is also why the establishment in Miami-Dade does not promote Republican voter registration, and in this county, Republicans are the third-largest party of registered voters, after Democrats and Unaffiliated. The establishment would rather have full control of a small party, than share control of a larger and growing party.
Fifth, the Republican establishment, both at the state level (RPOF) and the county level (REC), contrary to its own stated position, interferes in primary elections on behalf of its chosen candidates. This interference includes sending mailers, digital ads and television spots attacking the challengers, often with ridiculously false and defamatory allegations. This will not stop until they are challenged in court for violating their own principles and for defamatory slander.
This happened recently in Alabama, where a federal jury awarded $8.2 million to Roy Moore, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, against an opposing political action committee for false and defamatory campaign advertising.
Finally, election integrity is another issue to be considered. In Miami-Dade County, there is a vigorous Election Integrity Subcommittee of the Republican Executive Committee that has been working closely with the Supervisor of Elections on cleaning up voter rolls, signature verification of Vote-By-Mail, and machine accuracy, as well as fielding experienced poll-workers and poll-watchers. In Monroe County, on the other hand, there has been no organized election integrity effort, but it is coming.
Eduardo Vidal is a lawyer and political activist. His family brought him when he was nine years old from Cuba to the USA, but now the rule of law has been eroded in the USA as well, and we are turning into Cuba and the rest of Latin America.