Democrats are making a major play for Senate District 39, recruiting Rep. Javier Fernández to pursue the open seat. Now, the party is hoping that play doesn’t cost them any ground in the House.
Just over two years later, he’s vacating the seat, which was held by Republicans before the 2016 General Election.
Two candidates are looking to take his place. Jean-Pierre Bado, a lawyer, secured the Democratic nomination in the Aug. 18 Primary Election. Republican candidate Demi Busatta Cabrera was unopposed on the Republican side and will face off against Bado on Nov. 3.
Busatta Cabrera formerly worked as a legislative assistant for Republican Sen. Anitere Flores. She earned her law degree from the Florida State University College of Law.
Bado, meanwhile, is a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. Army. He earned an M.B.A. in finance from the University of Miami and a law degree from the Florida International University School of Law.
Bado seems confident he can hold the seat for Democrats, which have a narrow voter registration advantage. The latest book closing data shows 35% of HD 114 voters are Democrats, 34.3% are Republicans and 30.7% belong to third parties or are not affiliated with any party.
“As divided as a country, as a community as we were just two years ago, Javi Fernández still won the district by 6 percentage points,” Bado told Florida Politics.
With President Donald Trump on the ballot this November, Bado says he has heard from many voters looking to oust the incumbent President. Bado said he spoke to several independents and Democrats in the two weeks leading up to the Primary Election.
“The independents in particular, their number one priority was defeating Trump,” Bado said.
“It’s telling that in those two weeks, I didn’t meet a single independent that didn’t make defeating Trump at the national level a priority. And I feel like my personal conversation with them also brought them to the Democratic candidate here in [HD] 114. I realize that’s anecdotal, but those are conversations with real voters right here in the community. These are my neighbors telling me that they want to vote Democratic.”
Busatta Cabrera, meanwhile, argues she’s better connected to what residents are looking for in a Representative.
“My mom always said that I have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so I should be listening twice as much as I talk,” Busatta Cabrera said.
One of those big issues in the district, like most South Florida districts, is the environment. HD 114 covers parts of Miami-Dade County spanning Pinecrest and Cutler Bay, which run alongside Biscayne Bay.
“We saw recently what happened in Biscayne Bay with all the dead fish turning up,” Busatta Cabrera explained. “That can’t be happening. That’s not water that I would want to be swimming in.”
She said she would look to push policies dealing with sea level rise as well as water infrastructure and expressed confidence she could court support in a Republican-led Legislature.
“At the end of the day, I don’t really see that as a party issue. It’s just a Floridian issue. No matter where you live in Florida, water is close.”
Bado, however, went on the offensive when asked to contrast his policy agenda with his opponent’s.
“It would be easier to make contrasts if my opponent actually stood for something,” Bado said. He accused Busatta Cabrera of generalities and of too often toeing the party line.
“It’s very easy to call yourself the ‘law and order candidate,’ whereas I see myself as the candidate who wants to protect and serve,” Bado argued. “With my background, I can speak to specifics from the perspective of somebody who’s actually been in that position. My opponent simply seems like she’s adopting whatever the platform of the day is on the Republican side.”
Busatta Cabrera explained that she would look to respond to the needs of law enforcement in the Legislature, citing her family’s law enforcement background.
“My dad was a homicide detective. He was a cop for 22 years. My brother is a cop. It’s not something that I’ve ever hidden from,” Busatta Cabrera said.
“Making sure that our first responders have the resources necessary to keep our communities safe is important to me. Of course, there are bad actors in every profession and we need to get rid of them and we need to weed them out. But at the end of the day, our firefighters, our law enforcement officers, our first responders as a whole, they’re the ones who are running to the danger when we’re running away. We need to make sure that we have their back just like they do with us.”
She also rejected the charge she would toe the party line, insisting her policy agenda responds to her constituents’ needs.
“These are policies that I have developed through talking to our community,” Busatta Cabrera said.
“If you have the honor and privilege to serve your community, you have to be a voice for them, and you’re not a voice for one type of person, one party or one type of individual. You’re a voice for the entire community.”
As for some of her other top issues, Busatta Cabrera cited the need to slow over-development as well as a desire to provide more help for the developmentally disabled.
For Bado, climate change led the way. He said he’ll push for South Florida to receive funding for water infrastructure similar to the large funding packages provided to the Everglades under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Bado said that Everglades funding is welcome, but more needs to be done.
“I would humbly suggest that cleaning up the water quality at the source isn’t as strong a proposition as it could be if that water then has to travel over miles of neglected and atrophied infrastructure before it gets to our faucets,” Bado said.
“Pinecrest in particular is one area of the district that is crying out for matching state dollars to go from septic to sewer.”
Both Bado and Busatta Cabrera said they’ve also heard plenty from the community on the impact of COVID-19.
“Talking to people in the district, the number one topic absolutely is the coronavirus,” Bado said.
He said his number one issue would be fixing the state’s unemployment system, arguing constituents have consistently raised concerns. He attacks the CONNECT system set up under then-Gov. Rick Scott. Even Gov. DeSantis has blamed that structure for buckling under the surge of unemployment applications prompted by the economic shutdown.
“We need to reform not only the benefits that we offer and the length of time that we offer them but also, at the most basic level, the system for how we provide those benefits, from the website on up,” Bado argued.
Busatta Cabrera also honed in on the economic impact, though argued the solution was safely reopening the economy.
“I come from a family of small business owners,” Busatta Cabrera said, citing her grandparents’ store in Miami-Dade. “Those small businesses, their employees, they’re the backbone of our community.”
The Governor approved Miami-Dade County to move into Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan beginning Monday. That would seem to address some of the concerns Busatta Cabrera says she has heard from constituents.
“I’ve had people say that they’re having a hard time figuring out how they’re going to keep a roof over their head or feed their families. Of course, public health is important, but we need to balance that with people also being able to provide for their families.”