By Thomas Kennedy
In April, state Senator Frank Artiles resigned from his seat in Florida’s recently redistricted Senate District 40, after directing racist remarks against fellow lawmakers in a drunken tirade. This was following an extremely racist election campaign, in which he falsely insinuated that his opponent, incumbent Democratic lawmaker Dwight Bullard, supported terrorism.
Fast forward to September, District 40 is once again held by a Democrat. After a grueling special election that cost millions of dollars and defied the predictions of most political pundits, Annette Taddeo beat former Florida Republican State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz by a margin of 51 to 47 percent, becoming the first Democrat to win this district in over a decade, even though she was outspent three to one.
The result of this election means that the Florida electorate is closer to seeing parity and balance in its legislature. Democrats now hold 16 seats and Republicans, 24. The Florida Republican Party has used its majority to gerrymander legislative districts and push forward an extremist agenda, which includes the criminalization of immigrant communities, the expansion of for-profit charter schools and weakening environmental regulations. That’s why elections like these matter.
However, this win for Democrats is not isolated to Florida alone. Nationwide, Democratic candidates have picked up seats in red districts in New Hampshire, Oklahoma and New York.
Throughout the latter part of the Obama administration, the Democratic Party saw their legislative power erode as state and federal seats went to Republican candidates. In the Trump era, this trend appears to be rapidly reversing itself as polling shows Trump has low approval ratings, hovering at 37 percent. As the Florida elections shows, his unstable and irresponsible actions are becoming a drag on down-ballot candidates from his party.
It seems this was not lost on Annette Taddeo. She and the Florida Democratic Party tied her opponent Jose Felix Diaz to Trump, cutting television ads and mailers showing a selfie of him and Trump taken at the White House. The results of this election show that Florida’s diverse communities reject the extremist policies espoused by the Trump. These communities reject ripping apart families and demeaning the very same immigrants who have contributed to our cities and economy. Voters stood up for the immigrants who have helped build so much of Miami-Dade County, which includes Senate District 40.
This is a warning shot to the hateful and divisive rhetoric stemming from the Trump Administration and his local allies in Florida. People will not stand for it. State Senator Taddeo won because she espoused common sense and policies that work for everyone, such as support for driver's licenses for all Floridians and a commitment to our hard-working immigrant families. Republicans leadership in Florida would be wise to learn from these results and distance themselves from the Trump administration policies, not just through words but also through actions. Voters will punish candidates at the ballot box who do not stand with their family, friends and neighbors.
Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for the Center for Community Change.