As state officials investigate whether a third-party Senate District 37 candidate mounted a legal candidacy, Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia criticizes her Democratic predecessor for implying the stunt candidacy may have cost Democrats the seat.
Nonparty affiliated candidate Alex Rodriguez shares a last name with now-former Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez. Garcia ousted the incumbent by only 34 votes out of more than 215,000 cast after a recount in this year’s SD 37 race.
Alex Rodriguez received more than 6,300 votes. Garcia, however, is pushing back against claims her win was tainted.
“In the 2016 election in Senate District 37, an NPA candidate received 9,979 votes when the former Senator won,” Garcia said, referencing a 2016 race her predecessor won by more than 5,800 votes.
“There was no outrage at the time,” Garcia continued. “What’s the difference now? The difference is he lost. I will not allow this temper tantrum to distract from the important work ahead.”
But further investigation of this year’s race has shown the third-party candidate was renting a home in Palm Beach County. Senate rules state candidates must “be a legal resident and elector of his or her district at the time of the election.” SD 37 is located two counties south in Miami-Dade, spanning Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest.
Moreover, it’s unclear who funded the NPA candidate’s bid. He lent his campaign enough cash to pay the filing fee in June, then failed to actively fundraise for the campaign’s duration. Several mailers featuring his name were sent to SD 37 residents but weren’t paid for by his campaign.
A group called “Proclivity” was responsible for that mail effort, but it’s not clear who is behind that organization. The group also made plays in competitive contests in SD 9 and SD 39.
The shadowy circumstances have led the state to investigate the SD 37 third-party candidate and whether he had properly qualified. It’s unclear in state law what penalties might exist for any potential violation. A new election appears out of the question.
As for Garcia’s charges of a so-called “temper tantrum,” former Sen. Rodríguez congratulated her after a recount that handed her the win.
“I wished Senator-elect Garcia well and remain committed to the issues that most impact us,” the ex-Senator said.
However, he also called for reforms in the future to avoid any foul play.
“Going forward, I urge an investigation into the straw candidate propped up by Republicans in this election,” former Sen. Rodríguez added. “Confidence in future elections cannot be eroded.”
That investigation appears to be underway, however toothless it may be in terms of changing November’s result. However, Garcia isn’t a fan of those calls and instead blamed her predecessor’s loss on his own performance.
“Mr. Rodríguez failed to move the needle on the issues that matter most to the hardworking people of Miami — cleaning up Biscayne Bay and expanding access to opportunity scholarships for students who desperately need them — and they responded by sending him home,” Garcia asserted.
“My father, who passed away just before the election, would say, ‘As you age, you learn to lose gracefully. I’ve learned that adversary and failures can actually catapult you into your greater successes. Success being integrity and peace of mind that you did your best and learned something on the way.’ It’s never easy to lose, so I will extend Mr. Rodríguez the grace he has been unable to muster for himself,” Garcia added, framing the pointed statement as an act of “grace.”
The remarks add to a bitter back-and-forth that extended into the recount. While Democrats have repeatedly spotlighted the third-party candidacy, Republicans accused Democrats of interfering in the vote-curing process as a recount was on the horizon.
A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Office said no such fraud claims had reached their office.