For the past 10 years, the Florida Keys and Miami-Dade have been represented in the Florida State Senate by Anitere Flores. Her time representing Senate District 39 in Tallahassee will conclude as she terms out at the end of this year. Now, one Republican candidate, two Democrats and one candidate with no party affiliation vie to represent constituents. 

Candidates enter in what’s been a turbulent time in Florida, including the response to the coronavirus pandemic and cuts to the budget by Gov. Ron DeSantis to make up losses. Meanwhile, attempts to lower wind insurance rates for policyholders have proven unsuccessful at the state capital, while funds geared to support affordable housing have gone elsewhere. 

Entering the race for state senate are two former state representatives and a former chief of staff for a congressional member. On the Democratic side are Daniel Diaz-Horton and Javier Fernandez. The two will square off in the primary on Aug. 18. Ana Maria Rodriguez is the sole candidate on the Republican side. She has received the backing of Flores, state Rep. Holly Raschein and Gov. Ron DeSantis. Celso Alfonso, no party affiliation, also joins the race. 

The Keys Weekly asked the candidates to answer the following questions (answers are as submitted). Celso didn’t submit answers. 

1. The Florida Keys Stewardship Act funding was vetoed by the governor to offset the state’s financial losses from the pandemic. What efforts would you take to encourage the inclusion of this funding next year?

2. State Sen. Anitere Flores has served the Keys and portions of Miami-Dade County for 10 years, and she’s set to term out at the end of the year. What work would you continue that Anitere supported? What would you do differently? 

3. Among the issues that the Keys must confront is sea level rise. What are your proposals and ideas in the way of securing funds and implementing projects to make the island chain more resilient? 

4. Historically, the state legislature has swept the Sadowski fund, which is intended for affordable housing, to pay for other state programs. In the Keys, affordable housing remains a top concern. What efforts would you make to ensure the dollars from Sadowski go to support affordable housing and projects in the Keys?

5. Caps to wind insurance rates have proven unsuccessful in past attempts. What’s the key, in your mind, to getting other state legislators and the governor on board to solve this issue for insurance policy holders? 

Name: Daniel “Dan” Horton-Diaz

Age: 35

Professional background: FIU College of Law alumni, former state Senate legislative aide, former nonprofit director, former congressional district chief of staff

Political party: Democrat

  1. The FKSA is a critical policy in protecting the nearshore waters and lands that are crucial to our delicate ecosystem. The governor has stated his support of funding for Everglades restoration and water resource protection and a bipartisan group of state senators have echoed that support, so I am hopeful that this year’s offset will not recur next year. Securing funding for these projects will be a top priority for me as state senator. Despite the pandemic, the legislature gave away $543 million in tax cuts to big corporations. I believe that money would be better spent on FKSA projects.
  1. Fixing our broken unemployment assistance system must be the immediate priority for the 2021 legislative session. The system was purposefully and specifically designed to fail and our community has suffered the consequences. When our government asked residents to shelter in place to combat the pandemic, this community answered the call. However, the state failed to do its part in providing the unemployment funds necessary to allow people to ride out the pandemic. Instead, millions of Floridians have been unable to access assistance to buy groceries, pay rent, and keep the economy moving. The system must be fixed.
  1. Sea level rise is a crisis that endangers the future of the Florida Keys. Our freshwater supply is at risk, local governments are forced to spend millions in repairs and maintenance, and homeowners are stuck with water damage and high insurance rates. I believe we must promote public awareness of sea level rise, because we can’t begin to fix the problem if people don’t understand it or believe it’s happening. In addition to securing funding for mitigation projects, I will also support the preservation and restoration of coral reefs, mangroves, beaches, and marshes, which help minimize erosion and flooding.
  1. Monroe County has the highest cost of living in Florida and the average family in the Keys spends nearly half of their income on rent. We need truly affordable housing for workers and longtime residents and workforce housing for teachers, first responders, and healthcare workers. Over the past decade, more than $2 billion has been taken from the Sadowski fund and used for other purposes. Prior to the pandemic, there was bipartisan support for legislation that would set aside these funds exclusively for affordable housing. I support this legislation and I will happily co-sponsor this legislation as State Senator.
  1. Monroe residents pay the highest premiums in Florida and have paid $805 million more in premiums than they have received in claims over the past 15 years. That’s ridiculous. I will work to have the county’s strict building codes calculated into catastrophic model loss projections, work with our congressional representatives to effect change on the federal level, and create partnerships with community leaders in coastal communities throughout Florida with the hope of developing partnerships and alliances that will lead to wind insurance rate reform. I also support reducing Citizens’ Insurance rate glidepath and capping it at 5% for 5 years.

Name: Javier E. Fernandez

Age: 44

Professional background: Attorney

Political party: Democrat

  1. The Florida Keys are the Crown Jewel of the State of Florida and one of the greatest investments we can make is in our future. That’s what the Stewardship act was designed to do. While Monroe County has a small population it has a robust tax base and contributes a tremendous amount to the state coffers. As the only Democrat in the race with experience as a legislator, I will use my extensive knowledge of the budget and existing relationships with state and local leaders to ensure we get our fair share of funding from Tallahassee and that funds set aside for the Florida Keys are actually delivered in the budget each year. 

2. I thank Senator Flores for her long history of public service. As your next Senator, you can count on me to continue the fight for cleaner water. Restoring the flow from the Everglades will be one of my top legislative priorities and I have the experience to actually get this done. I would not, however, be a rubber stamp for the governor or for any political agenda. We are at a critical time in our state’s history and it is imperative that we elect strong independent leaders who understand our unique way of life and who have the knowledge, wisdom, and experience to effectively fight for us in Tallahassee.

3. This is a global issue that we must address at the local level, and as such, will require the efforts of leaders at every level of government. State leaders must listen to local leaders and work with our federal delegation to ensure that the actuarial models used to calculate our flood insurance rates reflect our local environment and that we are not a “donor state” to NFIP. We must lobby aggressively for federal grants to assist in raising our homes and infrastructure, and we have to encourage responsible building and smart regulation of this building at the local level. Most important, we must act now. I am the only Democratic candidate in this race with legislative experience, I am honored to be endorsed by our congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and I have the unique skills to tackle this issue head-on from day one.

4. This issue hits at the heart of our community. We live in a unique and amazing place that many consider paradise. We can not (nor, do I think, would we want to) help the fact that so many people dream of living here. However, for far too long, we’ve watched our friends and family be forced to leave due to the high cost of housing. As your State Senator, I will work to ensure that funding earmarked for affordable housing is used for affordable housing, that the Florida Keys maintain local control of building and zoning regulations, and that the quality-of-life for residents of the Keys’ is not only preserved but improved for generations to come.

5. In 2020 we must elect experienced independent leaders willing to stand up to the insurance companies and their lobbyists. As your State Senator, I will answer only to you, the voter. We cannot continue to allow insurance companies to pick our leaders and expect anything to change. That said, we the people have a tremendous opportunity to move the needle on this issue right now. It is unconscionable that folks are being priced out of their own homes by windstorm insurance at the same time that we are facing a public health crisis and affordable housing shortfall. Florida Keys residents can count on me to stand up to the insurance companies, who will no doubt fund the campaigns of my opponents, and to “bring the fight to them.”

Name: Ana Maria Rodriguez

Age: 43

Professional background: Senior Vice President of the Miami Realtors since 2015, elected State Representative, Florida House of Representatives District 105  (2018 – Current); Elected to serve as a Councilwoman in the City of Doral in 2010, re-elected in 2014 and served until 2018 (served as vice mayor 2017-2018).  Currently serving as a Board Member of FIU President’s Council and The Family Café.

Political party: Republican

Name: Ana Maria Rodriguez

Age: 43

Professional background: Senior Vice President of the Miami Realtors since 2015, elected State Representative, Florida House of Representatives District 105  (2018 – Current); Elected to serve as a Councilwoman in the City of Doral in 2010, re-elected in 2014 and served until 2018 (served as vice mayor 2017-2018).  Currently serving as a Board Member of FIU President’s Council and The Family Café.

Political party: Republican

1. I commend Rep. Raschein on sponsoring HB447 and for her ongoing efforts to make the Florida Keys the greatest place to live. If elected to serve as your next state senator, I pledge to ensure that the Florida Keys Stewardship Act is fully funded year after year. It is incumbent upon the Florida Legislature to ensure that Monroe County’s — and the state’s — natural resources are safeguarded for future generations to cherish. Protecting our water supply and the uniqueness of the Florida Keys’ ecosystem is paramount to maintaining the highest quality of life for our residents.

2. Senator Flores has been a staunch supporter of our Florida Keys through the various appropriations she sponsored and secured funding for in collaboration with Rep. Raschein in the Florida House. Following in her footsteps, I vow to continue working toward securing funding for the many projects our community needs. As a House member, I was successful during this past legislative session in securing funding for the reverse osmosis plant in Stock Island, affordable housing funding for Windley Key and funding for the Dolphin Research Center in 2019 to name a few.

3.  I would begin by saying that sea level rise isn’t a Democrat issue or a Republican issue; it’s a Florida Keys issue, it’s a South Florida issue, and it’s an issue that we cannot ignore. We must approach the fight against sea level rise with short, medium and long-term strategies. In the short term, we must ensure our current infrastructure can withstand prolonged periods of seasonal king tides; installing pumps and raising roads must be considered as well. Medium and long-term strategies that involve state and federal funds to help offset the cost of financing local projects is an absolute necessity. And we must continue to push our national leaders to engage those other countries who are dramatically INCREASING their carbon emissions year-over-year while America has decreased its total emissions dramatically since the early 2000s. We can and must do a lot to mitigate our current problem, but if we do not address the international threat of increasing carbon emissions, if we try to go it alone, we are only delaying the inevitable, and only then very slightly.

4. I have supported funding the Sadowski Fund, as was done this past year when the budget was passed.  Further, I have supported using federal disaster relief dollars to build affordable housing, including specifically in the Keys, which Gov. DeSantis has prioritized as well.  I will continue to support those efforts and believe the state is finally on the right track in prioritizing those issues. 

5. Sadly, yes, efforts to carve out Monroe County and cap wind rates at 5 percent have been unsuccessful despite Monroe County having one of the most (if not the most) stringent building codes in the state. Keys residents should not be penalized; the Keys are unique and warrant a carve out from existing state statute as it relates to windstorm insurance rates. Additionally, we must attract more insurance carriers and open the market to carriers to have coverage only for wind so they can avoid other policy coverages for other types of risks like water, mold, fire and other costly claims we see in Florida.

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