STATE HOUSE RACE HEATS UP BETWEEN JIM MOONEY & RHONDA REBMAN LOPEZ

Only 148 votes separated 2020 Republican primary winner for the Florida State House, Jim Mooney, and second-place finisher Rhonda Rebman Lopez. A resident of North Key Largo, Rebman Lopez announced another run for state representative on April 4. 

“I just think we deserve better,” Rebman Lopez told the Keys Weekly. “Our current rep let us down on AHEC funding. I wouldn’t leave money on the table with AHEC, which I got a million complaints about.”

Rebman Lopez alludes to a $650,000 request by Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC) that wasn’t approved in the budget by the time legislators left Tallahassee. The appropriations bill was filed by Mooney last November. It went to the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee on Jan. 18. The request received no traction after that. 

Mooney said he did his part to get the request in. From there, it’s up to the lobbying team that’s representing the organization seeking the funds to get in front of committee chairs, like Health Care Appropriations chair Brian Avila. In this case, lobbyist Andrew Palmer, of Metz Husband & Daughton, was assigned to AHEC’s funding request. 

“It’s the lobby firm. They’re being paid to lobby the committee chairs,” Mooney said. “I’m not a paid lobbyist. If I was a paid lobbyist, I would have been in front of Brian’s face 24/7 for my customer.

“I wouldn’t leave money on the table with AHEC, which I got a million complaints about.” Rhonda Rebman-Lopez

“The fact is, the (Florida Keys) aqueduct asked for $1 million but their lobby team got them $20 million,” he continued. “I’m not saying Metz (Husband & Daughton) aren’t great lobbyists, I’m just saying I don’t know what happened. I can tell you whatever happened wasn’t any fault of House District 120’s leadership. That’s a guarantee.” 

A little more than $51 million in the approved 2022-23 budget supports projects and programs in the Florida Keys. The other section of House District 120, namely Homestead, didn’t get as much. Rebman Lopez took issue with that. 

“Very little money was brought back to Homestead. It’s a big part of the district,” she said. 

Mooney said he was particularly surprised Homestead didn’t receive funds for infrastructure requests, including an ask of $150,000 to purchase and install flow meters and automatic flushing units. The city also sought $750,000 to obtain electrical backup infrastructure. 

“I’m really surprised they weren’t approved because they were for infrastructure. They weren’t really big asks,” he said. “But you certainly cannot run a business assuming you’re going to get an appropriation from the state of Florida. There are some people who got nothing.”

Rebman Lopez runs PECO International Electric, a third-generation family business and an established electrical exporter in the southeast region of the U.S. She’s a member of the Florida Advisory Council on Small and Minority Business. She also serves on the Monroe County Republican Executive Committee and the National Hispanic Assembly of Miami-Dade County. 

In announcing her decision, Rebman Lopez said she entered the race following “numerous local activists and voters concerned about local and state issues that are being neglected or outright ignored by their current representative.”

“I’m going to spread my message to stay engaged, meet as many voters as possible, and be accessible,” she said. “I feel like I outworked him (Mooney) last election. No one’s going to outwork me. Nobody.” 

Rebman Lopez added that she wants to run a positive campaign and hopes the negativity from dark money will stay away from the race. A 2020 race for state representation saw a heated primary among Mooney, Rebman Lopez and Alexandria Suarez. 

One of the main targets was Mooney, who ended up winning during the general election to represent the Keys and south Miami-Dade in Tallahassee. Mailers also went out accusing Rebman Lopez of taking money from the Nicholas Maduro regime. 

“I can tell you whatever happened wasn’t any fault of House District 120’s leadership. That’s a guarantee.” — State Rep. Jim Mooney

Alexandria Suarez, who’s running for Monroe County School Board this year, was the subject of controversy over a text attack against Mooney from a PAC that appeared to support her. Suarez said her camp didn’t send anything out, and that the disclaimer in the text was inaccurate and fraudulent to make it look like she was the one behind it.

When all was said and done, Mooney secured the primary victory on Aug. 18 with 44% of the vote in Monroe County and 18% of the vote in Miami-Dade. Mooney went on to beat Democrat Clint Barras in the Nov. 3 general election, with 57% of the vote in Monroe County and 52% of the vote in Miami-Dade. 

Joining Mooney and Rebman Lopez on the Republican side this year is Robert Allen, of Big Pine Key. He filed paperwork last December to run for the seat. 

Adam Gentle, lawyer from Big Coppitt Key, and Daniel Horton-Diaz, former district chief of staff for U.S. Rep Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, are running for state representative on the Democratic side. A resident of Cutler Bay, Horton-Diaz lost in a 2020 Democratic primary in the Senate District 39 race to Rep. Javier Fernandez. Gentle said in a statement when he announced his run that he’s fighting for local business owners, veterans, the environment and anyone trying to get ahead. 

A primary is set for Aug. 23 to determine who gets the Republican and Democratic nods.

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.