With Rep. J.C. Planas, R-Miami, retiring from the House because of term limits, a fight is shaping up to replace him with three candidates who have hit the ground running. Two Republicans and a Democrat sparring in the 115th House District have posted impressive -- even jaw-dropping -- fund-raising figures at the end of the first quarter of 2010.
With eight months to go, the money is flowing into this race. Republican candidate Jose Felix Diaz has raised more than $228,000 in donations and more than $11,000 through in-kind donations. Democratic candidate Dr. Jeffrey Solomon, a chiropractor and small-business man, has brought in more than $94,000 and more than $6,000 through in-kind donations. Republican Carla Ascencio-Savola has gathered more than $76,500 in donations, more than $6,000 through in-kind donations and has taken $30,000 in loans to the campaign.
All to win a $30,000-a-year job.
The son of Cuban immigrants and a lifetime resident of the district, Diaz, an attorney who appeared on the Donald Trump reality show "The Apprentice," said voters are concerned about jobs, housing and senior issues. Weve started to see some common themes, said Diaz, who noted that he's knocked on many doors andtalked face-to-face with district residents. The quality of life they've had is being threatened.
Its an important time to make this area, this district, better, said Diaz. He invoked images of weathered roads and closed strip malls covered in graffiti. People have lost confidence in where they live.
Calling himself a political neophyte, Diaz said his lack of political experience was helpful in this volatile election cycle.
People have rallied behind the fact that Im not the same-old, same-old in the district, he said. Theyre really concerned about politicians who promise things but dont deliver.
Diaz said his background in law, including in the American Bar Associations House of Delegates, would make him a good representative for the district. As a lawyer, I have a unique perspective in reading and introducing legislation, he said.
If Diaz is running as an outsider, Ascencio-Savola, who served on the Kendall Community Council and ran for the seat in 2006, is running on her political experience.
Ive been a councilwoman for seven years, she said. I have delivered for my voters.
Ascencio-Savola said voters are concerned about the economy. Theyre asking about how Ill bring jobs to Miami-Dade, she said, adding that she intends to lead the fight to lure businesses to the area.
Ascencio-Savola said she believes the answer could be greater ties to the Caribbean and Central and South America. Calling her region the Gateway of the Americas, she said that shipping, especially with the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015, could revive the economy.
We have a great port down in Miami, she said. We should get that business, not Louisiana.
Ascencio-Savola noted that voters were also concerned about social issues, including HB 1143, a measure that passed the Legislature but is not yet signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, requiring women considering an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy to have an ultrasound.
The voters are concerned about the bills to save life, said Ascencio-Savola, who is pro-life. They ask me flat out if Im pro-life or pro-choice.
Like Diaz, Democrat Solomon is running as an outsider and he said that this is a strength this year when the electorate is tired of politics as usual. He said it also is a clear difference between his campaign and the two Republicans in the race.
Jose Diaz is a professional lobbyist and lawyer, part of the system, said Solomon. Ascencio-Savola is a politician. He added that he had never run for office before and this was an asset to the thousands of Floridians he has talked to.
Solomon said his background in medicine and in business will make him a good representative for the district. Ive been a businessman for 28 years, he said; "a past president of the Florida Chiropractic Association," he added. I have good experience in leadership.
When asked what the big issues in the district were, Solomon said, Jobs, the economy and education. Solomon said his experience running his business qualifies him to tackle Floridas tough economic problems.
Solomon, who has the backing of the United Teachers of Dade, said he has thought a good deal about education issues. I have three children in the Dade County public schools, he said before adding that his wife was very active in the PTA.
SB 6 is a good concept, said Solomon, though he said he was glad Crist vetoed the teacher-performance pay reform passed by the Legislature. What happened in Tallahassee was kind of like practicing medicine without the doctor -- they left out the stakeholders. Had they involved them, they may have had a good bill.
The three candidates recognized that the race in the 115th would be one of the more interesting ones in the state, even if it was being overshadowed by the gubernatorial election or the battle for the U.S. Senate seat.
I dont know many other races where all the candidates have made the ballot by petition, said Diaz. You have three people working really hard to win the district.
With the war chests to spend a lot of money to do it.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859