No. 7 on the list of Central Florida’s Most Powerful Politicians: Darren Soto

Darren Soto
Soto has managed to maintain progressive creds while also charting moderate political courses

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has steadily built a legislative career the old-fashioned way, building both partisan and cross-aisle alliances one issue, one bill, one idea at a time for many years.

With a mixture of progressive positions on issues such as the environment, immigration, health care, and guns, and more pragmatic approaches to energy, technology, commerce, partisan rhetoric, and legislative amendments, Soto has adapted the lessons he learned from eight years in the Florida Legislature to a successful first three years in Congress.

He has managed to author 20 approved amendments on other omnibus bills, covering issues from how the Army Corps of Engineers is to regulate water storage in Lake Okeechobee and elsewhere to allow the University of Central Florida and other universities provide post-traumatic stress disorder services related to military sexual trauma.

This year he scored an unusual accomplishment, getting appointed to the powerful and busy House Energy & Commerce Committee, which normally is an exclusive committee, meaning members of the House of Representatives are expected to give up memberships in all other committees. Yet Soto, who has crafted himself as an advocate for Puerto Rico and other United States territories, managed to keep his seats on the House Natural Resources Committee and its Subcommittee for indigenous Peoples of the United States.

Soto, 41, a Democrat, is the seventh most powerful elected official in the first-ever Florida Politics Central Florida 25 most Powerful Politicians survey.

With his seat on the Commerce Committee and his position on the indigenous Peoples Subcommittee, Soto has been pushing for Medicaid parity for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. The bill It’s a $14 billion omnibus measure that was approved in July by the Commerce Committee and is expected to go to the House Floor yet this summer.

Soto also was one of the principal House negotiators for $19 billion disaster relief bill approved in June in one of the rare bipartisan stories of the year.

As the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Task Force, Soto also has been a leader in the fight to prevent the citizenship question from being included in the 2020 census.

The U.S. Supreme Court decides the issue in June and President Donald Trump abandoned his plan in July. Soto has been fighting the proposal long before it became front-page news.

Soto is Florida’s only Puerto Rican congressman representing southern Orange County, Osceola County, and northeastern Polk County, home to Florida’s largest population of Puerto Ricans. Florida’s 9th Congressional District also is home to a large and growing population of Venezuelan refugees, and Soto has been one of the strongest backers of temporary protective status for them, solidifying his standing across the full spectrum of Hispanic voters in Central Florida.

He has also taken on a bit of a niche issue, one that likely will put him in the spotlight soon. Soto has become interested in federal legislation and regulation of blockchain technologies, and specifically cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Now that Facebook is rolling out its own Libra cryptocurrency and Congress is beginning hearings on it, Soto will get a front seat to the emerging matter.

While he has yet to win an election by much more than the partisan vote spread of CD 9, Soto easily vanquished Democratic progressive lion Alan Grayson in the 2018 primary. Along the way, he won the endorsement of nearly every major progressive organization, even though Soto is a member of the moderate, bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

Follow the list here, on Facebook and Twitter at #Top25inCF.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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