Florida State Rep. Jim Mooney ventured from the Southernmost district to Tallahassee for the start of a 60-day legislative session on Jan. 11. Mooney enters the second year of his term that’s up for election, which three other candidates and he will vie for this November.
Mooney, a Republican from Islamorada, secured a primary victory in summer 2020. Months later, he went on to beat Key West Democrat Clint Barras in the November general election.
The win brought big shoes to fill, with Holly Raschein terming out following eight consecutive years representing the Florida Keys and south Miami-Dade. Entering year two, Mooney will look to move appropriations to the finish line. They include funds for the Key West Glass Crusher, coral restoration at Mote Marine Laboratory and vessel pumpout in Monroe County, to name a few.
He’s proposing a bill that would allow certain coastal communities to establish a pilot program to regulate single-use plastics. Mooney is also working through an anchoring bill with state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation that would provide 100 mooring sites within a mile of Key West Bight City Dock.
As for the 2022 election, Mooney told the Keys Weekly that his focus remains on the 19 appropriation requests and six bills he’s looking to get passed through the state legislature this session.
On the Republican side, Big Pine Key resident Robert Allen filed paperwork in December to challenge Mooney. A primary would take place Aug. 23.
“I’m going to do the job I was elected to do and let the chips fall where they fall,” Mooney said. “I think my actions, what I did last year and what I do this year, will speak for me.”
Alongside Rodriguez, Mooney was able to secure full funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act for the first time since it became law in 2016. The two legislators have bills in each chamber that ask for recurring funds for the program, which supports water quality projects and the purchase of land.
He was against language within an approved transportation bill that overturned Key West’s vote to limit the number and size of cruise ships coming to port. That vote of approval by state legislators last session — and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature of the bill — drew anti-corruption lawyer Adam Gentle to enter the race for House District 120.
A Democrat with a residence address on Big Coppitt Key, Gentle withdrew his bid for Florida’s 25th Congressional District and filed his paperwork for the House race on Jan. 4.
In explaining his decision, Gentle said that lawmakers in Washington, D.C. weren’t the only ones ignoring the people. Legislators in Florida were doing the same. Gentle alludes to the Key West vote that was overturned some six months later by state legislators.
“Rather than represent our community’s interests in Tallahassee, Republican lawmakers have been rubbing elbows with special interests and have silenced their vote on local issues,” Gentle said. “As an anti-corruption lawyer, I have spent my legal career investigating and rooting out corruption, and I’ll go head-to-head with the corrupt players in Florida politics.”
Originally from Michigan, Gentle studied at Columbia University in New York and attended George Washington Law School. He previously lived in Los Angeles, working with charitable organizations like The Young Americans, which promotes “understanding and goodwill among people throughout the world” through the performing arts.
Gentle said he’s running to fight for local business owners, veterans, the environment and anyone trying to get ahead.
Also running on the Democratic side is the former House District 120 and State Senate 39 candidate Daniel Horton-Diaz. The former district chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell filed his paperwork on Jan. 5.
Horton-Diaz lost in a 2020 Democratic primary in the Senate District 39 race to Rep. Javier Fernandez. Horton-Diaz secured 41% of the vote with Fernandez garnering 59%. However, Horton-Diaz secured 55% of the vote in Monroe County.
He lost in a 2016 House race to Republican Rep. Holly Raschein. He secured 43% while Raschein garnered 57% of the votes.
Going into his third run for office, Horton-Diaz feels confident between the connections he’s made in the district with voters. And he said he’s willing to do the work like he did in 2016 when he knocked on thousands of doors.
“In 2020, I had to figure out how I could reach people. What I ended up doing was drafting a letter to all the voters in the Keys who voted in the House District race in 2016 and still lived in Keys,” he said. “I had 8,000 envelopes, hand signed and stamped. That is one of the reasons I did well in Keys even though I wasn’t able to get out in the Keys. It’s important for me that people know I care. This is not about grabbing power.”
Gentle and Horton-Diaz will vie to appear on the ballot under the Democratic line in an Aug. 23 primary.
The election comes as the legislature redraws districts from which Florida voters elect their state representatives, state senators and members of the U.S. House. It’s done after each decennial census to adjust for uneven growth in different parts of the state.
Per census data, Florida’s population increased from 18.8 million in 2010 to 21.5 million in 2020. Average number of people in each congressional district rose by 769,000, while the number of people in each of the 120 state House districts went up by almost 180,000. While House redistricting plans would adjust the district’s boundaries, it’ll still cover the Keys and south Miami-Dade.