State Rep. Holly Raschein has served the Keys and south Miami-Dade for the past eight years. Her time representing District 120 in Tallahassee will conclude as she terms out at the end of this year. Now, three Republican candidates and one Democrat vie to take over the reins. 

Candidates enter in what’s been a turbulent time in the state of Florida, between 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 cap 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 representative on the Republican side are Jim Mooney, Rhonda Rebman Lopez and Alexandria Suarez. A primary to determine the Republican candidate is set for Aug. 18. Clint Barras, vice president of business development for Two Oceans Digital, is the lone candidate on the Democratic side. 

Keys Weekly asked the candidates to answer the following questions (answers are as submitted):

  1. Rep. Holly Raschein has served the Keys and portions of south Miami-Dade County for eight years, and she’s set to term out at the end of the year. What work would you continue that Raschein supported? What would you do differently?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. Lowering caps to wind insurance rates has 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: Rhonda Rebman Lopez

Age: 55

Professional Background: Graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and Communications from the University of Alabama, worked for American Airlines for over 20 years, and worked part-time in education.

Political Party: Republican

Current Job: President/Owner, Peco International Electric

  1. Representative Raschein has certainly been an outstanding representative for the Keys and South Dade. Her ability to lead in a bipartisan manner and achieve consensus on the issues important to us is to be admired.  I would carry the torch forward on water quality and environmental re-nourishment projects, as well as the fight to protect our farmers from unfair regulations, and ensuring that the Keys continues to receive the funding it deserves to rebuild and improve quality of life. However, I would diverge with Representative Rachein by being more laser-focused on championing measures that stimulate economic growth and job creation.
  1. Through Governor Desantis’ appointment of a Chief Resiliency Officer, I am reassured that we have strong allies in Tallahassee who will help Monroe County and South Florida in making important infrastructural changes. Certainly, we need to make assessments to get a fuller picture of what needs to be done. However, through partnering with the SFWMD Board in advocating for their legislative priorities and full funding for the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program and the Coastal Construction Control Line Program, among others, we will be able to implement vital changes that safeguard the Keys and our residents for generations to come.  

3. This session’s full funding of the Sadowski Trust was a step in the right direction. I think the most powerful arguments to be made in ensuring that we get dollars in the Keys to support affordable housing are: the Keys are unique from the rest of the state in our needs from Tallahassee, and the Keys deserve its fair share of resources back from the state that we send in tax dollars every year. As a tourism and economic powerhouse, it benefits the state for the Keys to be able to provide housing for our workforce and disadvantaged. 

4. A good start in successfully shepherding such legislation through would be to amass a heavy, bipartisan list of co-sponsors on the bill, which was not done in 2019 during the last attempt. Although the Senate version moved quite rapidly and received large bipartisan support on the floor, the appetite was not there in the House to hear the legislation. We need to be more proactive in working with stakeholders and other legislators, particularly in the House. Further, perhaps future versions of rate cap legislation need to be made broader such that not only Monroe County would benefit from the legislation.

Name: James (Jim) V. Mooney Jr. 

Age: 69

Professional Background: Former Teacher Coach at Coral Shores High School; small business owner (grocer; bar/restaurant owner). Elected to Islamorada Village of Islands 1998 to 2002, served as mayor in 2000. Elected to Village Council 2014 to 2020, served as vice mayor in 2016 and mayor in 2017. Boards include Take Stock in Children Monroe County, Florida Keys Electric Co-Op, Islamorada Chamber of Commerce; FL Keys Board of Realtors for 2012 to 2013, served as treasure FKBR 2012 to 2013; Upper Keys Foundation, President Women’s Council of Realtors, FL Keys Chapter in 2015.

Political Party: Republican

Current Job: Realtor

  1. I plan to continue Holly’s work on water quality and marine resource issues, as well as supporting policies that are beneficial to our military and veterans. With 2023 looming as a major date for our ROGO system, I will continue her efforts to secure a local/state funding split for any potential takings cases that may arise.  As for what I would do different, that is going to be a work in progress, but I will adapt my strategies to maximize the positive impact I can have for my district given who my colleagues may be and the issues that develop.  
  1. Florida is looking sea level rise squarely in the eye as we shift from planning to adaptation and mitigation. Localities require help from state and federal partners to fund major infrastructure projects like raising roads and elevating homes in vulnerable areas. I’m also a proponent of strategies like living shorelines and coral reef restoration projects as natural ways to mitigate hazards such as coastal flooding and shoreline erosion. Florida is currently number 3 in the nation for clean energy jobs; we need to work to stay at the top of that list.  I believe a multi-faceted approach best facilitates resiliency.  
  1. I’d stress that all areas of Florida need quality, affordable housing so we can continue to strengthen our economy and help Florida’s workforce prosper.  The need to keep Sadowski funding going towards housing is something that should cut across district lines, and the more legislators who count it as one of their top priorities, the greater likelihood of protecting the funding.  Specific to the Keys, I’d make sure that the programs Sadowski funds, such as SAIL and SHIP are tailored to address higher median income levels, construction costs and other unique challenges this area faces when it comes to housing.
  1. The district seems to suffer from a lack of understanding by the insurance industry as it relates to our building codes. We have some of the most stringent codes in all the country, and I don’t feel that’s being accurately reflected in our rates. We should work with counties whose codes are less stringent and help them to see that a stronger building code pays off in many different ways.  We also must continue to address insurance fraud, which drives up rates. Groups like FIRM have done great work and should continue to be engaged as valuable stakeholders and partners.

Name: Alexandria Suarez 

Age: 49 

Professional background: Attorney, Miami Dade & Monroe County Former pharmaceutical sales representative, Miami-Dade & Monroe County former public school teacher, Miami-Dade 

Political party: Republican 

Current Job: Assistant State Attorney, Monroe County 

1. As State Representative, I will continue to support FKSA and funding for infrastructure water projects, and workforce housing. What sets me apart from my predecessor and other candidates, Republican or Democrat, is my focus on the entire District, from farm to sea, since Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys share the district, in order to improve quality of life while reducing cost of living. I will use existing federal and state laws to oppose over-development in the District’s north that would put added strain on water drainage and waste management. Measures to stop over-development in the District’s north will ensure water resource protection, aquifer recharge, conservation of wetlands and other ecologically sensitive habitats, while ensuring the coastal management, urban development boundaries, agricultural buffers and promote intergovernmental coordination. 

2. As State Representative I would support an environmental approach involving continued land recovery and a greater effort for mangroves and wetlands restoration to cope with floodwater inundation. Second, I would support hard engineering projects like sea walls, surge barriers, water pumps and overflow chambers to help keep water out when the time comes. Finally, I would continue to support innovation for resilient construction design. 

3. Whenever a trust fund is dedicated for a specific purpose, it is not appropriate for the legislature to shift funds from it to pay for other services. A dedicated state trust fund’s intention should be fulfilled. Otherwise, the public will lose faith in its elected officials. The same holds true for the Sadowski fund intended to ensure dollars for affordable housing projects needed within our District. Besides working to receive our Sadowski funds, I would also seek tax exemptions to allow opportunity for private property owners to be a part of the workforce housing solution, not just a select few. 

4. Because efforts to lower wind insurance rate caps have been unsuccessful in the past, as State Representative, I would review the related legislation to determine what is hindering rate reductions. Also, I would support a more competitive market approach to allow for more insurance options. Finally, I would also review whether insurance companies that have promised to lower rates after passing previous legislation have kept their promise. If not, the state legislature should hold them accountable to make sure premiums have improved when the legislature has relied on insurance companies reasons for such legislation.

Name: Clint Barras

Age: Turned 50 on July 7.

Professional Background: Since 1999, I have been with and currently run Two Oceans Digital, a full-service digital marketing agency based here in Key West. I am very fortunate to have a great team of professionals around me, and together, I am proud of the service and results we deliver our clients.  

Political party: Democratic 

Current Job: My title is Vice President, but as a small company, we all row together.  Whatever the need or challenge is, we all help one another.  Knowing that many hands make light work is comforting reassurance on those long days at the office.

  1. I have served on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council for 12 years, most recently as Chair, and like Holly, I have recently termed out. What I learned with my time on the SAC is a significant cause of Florida Bay’s, and our reef’s problems are originating in the mainland of Florida and the toxic water that flows through our ecosystem. Holly’s work with the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which dedicates $20 million for water quality improvements and $5 million for land acquisition, annually, is highly commendable and that is the torch I would carry forward for Holly.  However, dedicate and allocate are different things, and I will fight to ensure that both are realized.  
  1. Confronting our imminent sea-level rise must be addressed from several angles.   Florida is still without a plan to address climate change and sea-level rise, and I will work to fix that. The Sunshine State should be a global leader in solar power and clean energy, and we must stop denying science, agree that people contribute to climate change, and immediately begin to address the greatest existential threat to District 120 and all communities of the world. This is why I support a transition to a clean, renewable energy economy, especially now with so many millions out of work. I want the Keys to be part of the green technology boom that is transforming economies and creating good, high-paying jobs across the globe. We must take action now to ensure our tomorrows.
  1. My wife and I moved to Key West in 1998, and from that time, and well before, affordable housing remains a top concern of our residents. We all have known friends who left our community because the costs were too much to bear. The Sadowski Fund is the only revenue source for a multitude of State housing programs. Unfortunately, our Legislature continues to ignore the suffering of our citizens and has raided the Sakowski fund for the last 13 years. I believe we can create a stronger Florida by investing in our families and communities, and I will fight for all Floridians.    

4. We face the highest insurance rates in the State while having the strictest building standards.  More to the point, since 2004, we have paid over $800 million more in our premiums than claims paid. This disparity is similar to insurance companies charging more to those individuals considered a higher risk, or having pre-existing conditions. Other counties in the State feel their windstorm rates subsidize Monroe county, and this is not accurate. This is a matter of fairness and equality, and we need to have open, science-based discussions with our legislators and governor to emphasize the inequities of the current Citizens rate increases, which are not based on claims, but hurricane models.

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