Florida Democrats want a new election in Senate District 37 after former GOP Sen. Frank Artiles was charged with illegally funding a third-party candidate to help Republicans win the seat in November.
Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia defeated former Sen. José Javier Rodríguez by just 32 votes of the nearly 216,000 votes cast. Non-party affiliated candidate Alex Rodriguez, who shares a last name with the former Democratic Senator, courted close to 6,400 votes.
Investigators say Rodriguez, the third-party candidate, was propped up by money from Artiles. Both individuals are now facing charges, though the attorney for Rodriguez says he’s cooperating with authorities and was taken advantage of by Artiles.
Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair Manny A. Diaz is calling for Garcia to resign her seat after the 2021 Legislative Session and face a Special Election to decide the race without any potential foul play.
Democrats have also pointed fingers at Senate leadership, pushing prosecutors to dive into how much the GOP’s fundraising arm was involved with Artiles’ actions. Asked whether he had any clear evidence of such a scheme, Diaz demurred, pointing to the ongoing investigation. But he did argue the Artiles “lone wolf” theory appears unlikely.
“It would just seem to me to be very odd that this would continue to occur statewide for as long as it has without … the tacit approval of the leadership,” Diaz told reporters on a Friday Zoom call regarding the recent arrests.
Friday morning, Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer accused Republicans of hypocrisy. He pointed to Republicans’ months-long hand-wringing over false claims of widespread election fraud during the 2020 presidential election.
“Two months ago, we heard repeated charges over and over and over again from then-President [Donald] Trump and Republican leaders from around the country about fraud in the presidential election,” Farmer said.
“They took those false complaints and they ginned up their base to the point where a violent insurrection occurred in our nation’s capital. Now, we have evidence of actual fraud,” he added, pointing to Artiles’ arrest. “What are our Republicans going to do now?”
Former Democratic Rep. Javier Fernández also accused Republicans of backing a third-party candidate in his 2018 Special Election win in House District 114. He seconded Farmer’s push for follow-up by the Republican-controlled Legislature, even asking for broader changes than just reacting to Artiles’ arrest.
“What we need is election reform in terms of financial transparency, and investigations into the abuses like the ones that were laid bare by yesterday’s arrest,” Fernández said.
Sen. Perry Thurston said he’s supporting legislation aimed at vetting potential spoiler candidates, but seemed skeptical Republicans would play ball.
“I have a bill right now that we’re working on that requires that individuals disclose a lot more information about where they’re receiving their funds,” Thurston said.
“I think there are about three or four bills that are out there right now addressing this procedure. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of them getting any traction as of right now. Maybe this occurrence of what we’re dealing with may spark a little more interest in actually bringing some of those bills to the agenda.”
Garcia, for her part, denied any involvement in the scheme being probed by prosecutors.
“I can’t attest, I can’t say, and I can’t answer for someone I don’t know and for something that I haven’t done. I am not the focal point of this,” Garcia said.
“I didn’t know of him until this happened,” Garcia added, referencing a December report from the Miami Herald on Artiles’ possible involvement. “I hope he doesn’t get offended if he ever sees this because I just really didn’t.”
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Rodriguez, the third-party candidate, was facing financial trouble when he was approached by Artiles to run.
“Artiles allegedly discussed a, ‘You help me, and I can help you’ scenario,” Rundle said in a Thursday new conference.
FDP Chair Diaz said Democrats may push for an expanded investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether any laws have been broken in other races featuring third-party candidates.
“We’re exploring every option,” Diaz said.