‘I’m an activist who simply got frustrated’: Martha Bueno explains Miami-Dade Commission bid

Martha Bueno
'We’re not asking the right questions. We’re not using our business mind.'

Miami-Dade residents have a great choice next November in deciding who should lead District 10 from the County Commission, according to Martha Bueno, one of two candidates vying for to succeed term-limited Commissioner Javier Souto.

On one hand, she said, there’s Anthony Rodriguez, a state Representative who is leaving the Legislature early to run for office in his home county. He’s done a sufficient job legislating in Tallahassee, Bueno said. But she wants to see something different.

“I’m sick of politics as usual,” she told Florida Politics.

For Bueno, such typical politics involve candidates amassing huge sums of campaign cash, the majority of which comes from corporate donors and special interest groups to whom the recipient may be beholden for future favors.

That’s not a route she is interested in taking, as evidenced by her and Rodriguez’s respective fundraising practices.

“That’s part of the problem for me. Why is it that a candidate needs to raise $750,000 for a $6,000-a-year job? The reason people are willing to pay it is because there’s so much power that comes with this seat,” she said. “One gets elected into the seat to serve the people but to serve those people who are paying or giving us money to do the job.

“Either way District 10 votes, they’re going to have somebody who represents them. I just believe I will be representing people’s issues, the things that matter to us as residents. Real people are tired of what’s been happening, and I offer them that choice. You can go with politics as usual or something different.”

Bueno is indeed not a cookie-cutter candidate. The elected chair of the Miami-Dade Community Council Area 11 is a member of the Libertarian Party and was vice-chair of its local county chapter. A hemp farmer and outspoken cannabis and cryptocurrency advocate, she co-founded her first business at age 17.

As has been seen with increased cannabis legalization, marriage equality and other advancements over the last decade, few things in society are immutable, she said, and oftentimes the greatest obstacle to positive change is the perception of permanence.

“I’m a person who’s going to look at the issues and not just go, ‘Oh well, that’s how it’s always been done.’ I’ll try and find a solution or compromise, something that works better for people,” she said. “And I don’t have political ambitions. I never thought of myself as a politician. I’m an activist who simply got frustrated with the situation.”

Bueno sat down with Florida Politics to discuss her bid. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

Florida Politics: Briefly walk me through your career in both the private sector and in political life. How’d you get here?

Bueno: I started working when I was about 14 at various jobs — the mall, all the things that teenagers generally do. Then I started a company with my mother when I was 17. It was called Florida Genetic Center.

She was being laid off from her job selling veterinary supplies, and she said to me one day, “You know, I really don’t need to work at this company. I can do the same thing for myself.” I had been saving money for a car, and so I gave her the money, and we worked at it.

I was there until I had my first child, when I thought I was going to retire and be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t want someone else taking care of my son. After some time being at home and realizing I needed to make money and do something, I started a company on my dining room table called VetAmerica.

We pretty much sold the same things my mother and I sold at Florida Genetics, but for pets — flea and tick medication and all that good stuff. That became my full-time job shortly thereafter, and it wasn’t until the three hurricanes that came through Miami — Rita, Wilma and Katrina — that the business was almost completely decimated and my then-business partner and ex-husband and I moved from veterinary to human products.

We started a company that is still functioning — I’m still part owner; my ex-husband runs it — called PureFormulas.com. I was there officially until 2013, when we started our divorce. Since then, I bought Florida Genetics from my parents. That company became all veterinary supplies. It’s still going. My sister’s the owner.

The iteration I bought was a farm, my father’s farm, and I have now converted it into a hemp farm. I’m hoping to apply for a cannabis license here shortly.

But that’s my professional career. In terms of my political career, I joined the Libertarian Party and became its vice chair in Miami-Dade. I did that for four years.

In 2018, I became a member of the Miami-Dade Community Council for Area 11 in West Kendall. For the past year and some change, I was the vice chair. Now I’m the chair.

What is your opinion of the Miami-Dade Commission as it stands today? What are its strengths, and how can it be improved?

That’s a pretty big question. The reason I’m running is because I went to speak before the commissioners several times, and by the time we the citizens go in front of them and have the opportunity to speak and tell them why something is or isn’t good, they’ve already pretty much made their decisions.

In part, this happened when I became a Community Council member. They changed the name of our board. We are no longer the Community Council. We’re now known as a zoning advisory board.

They’ve been changing, over the years, the function of the Community Council. It was supposed to do the job of mostly what the Miami-Dade Commission does. We’re supposed to review and take into account what our neighbors need, and it was in our own area, so we have to live with the decisions we made.

That has all been moved into the Commission role. For example, we see that now with Calusa. That should have been something that was seen in the Community Council, but instead it was bypassed.

People in the community now have less of an opportunity to go speak. Ron Magill, a wildlife expert who lives in Calusa, took a day off and went to testify in front of the commissioners, and they shut him down after 60 seconds.

I feel lucky that two years ago — I say this in jest — the last time I went and spoke in person at a Commission meeting before COVID, I had two minutes to make my point.

The Commission is too big. It takes the power from the citizens and has now consolidated it over there. I’m not saying this is about the commissioners. I’m just saying it about the general rule. That needs to be reversed to what it was before.

Miami-Dade County is too big. There are too many people. We’re approaching 3 million people. There’s no way for 13 individuals to know everything that’s going on in our neighborhoods and to take account of it. And it’s noticeable now. People are upset.

There are things going on within Miami-Dade County we can’t get resolved. We can’t get the satisfaction that we deserve, especially considering the amount of money we pay in taxes. And more and more dissatisfaction is seen in the community because people are paying these large sums of money.

Our housing — we used to have things like efficiencies that were our low-income housing. Now what we do is gift properties that in some cases were eminently domained from other people to builders for low-income housing.

We’re not asking the right questions. We’re not using our business mind. It’s like, “Oh well, that’s just the way things are,” and we continue going. I would love to see a change in that sense.

As for what the Commission’s strong suits are, that’s a difficult question for me. The commissioners do have a lot of good roles, and they’ve done a lot of good deeds. But it’s becoming harder and harder to identify them.

There are processes underway to incorporate additional cities within Miami-Dade, which would help to localize regulation like you were saying. But doing that brings with it a host of other issues, increased taxes among them. Where do you stand on further incorporations like those being contemplated for Biscayne Gardens and a proposed city of Westchester in your district?

That is something each neighborhood should take into account. Having this idea that one size fits all is part of the problem with government in general. How do I see it in Westchester? I don’t believe it’s needed at all. Most people in that area believe it may have been a power grab.

I don’t live in Westchester, and I would defer to the people of Westchester to make that decision. For my own area, though I live in the unincorporated municipal service area, I would never be in favor of incorporation. We just don’t need it, and I don’t think our neighbors feel they need it.

Oftentimes, when we look at incorporation, we see things like Sweetwater, where it’s very controversial, or Palmetto Bay, which is having its own issues. So, it’s on a case-by-case basis.

What are District 10’s most urgent needs now?

District 10 is very lucky. We have a lot of good things, a lot of fortunate things. What most people want to see are maybe things along the lines of more cleanup, certain areas that need more trees. I’ve been listening to a lot of the residents talk about maybe 137th Avenue needing some cleanup.

We have an area that is very low poverty. Realistically, for District 10, it’s maybe more of a streamlining and more transportation for people. Traffic is a big issue in this area.

What are the district’s greatest strengths, and how could those strengths be better utilized?

This district is where we house people. We don’t necessarily have many industries in this area. We don’t necessarily have that many businesses. We have a lot of restaurants, a lot of small businesses, but we don’t necessarily have industry.

One of the issues that came up in the last Community Council meeting was an area that was requesting authorization so they could proceed with a more localized community, an area where people could work and live. Those are the type of things we need to start looking at.

Miami was designed for when things were very different, when you had to go downtown and work somewhere else. That’s kind of changing. The challenges for Miami, or at least particularly in this area, are going to be listening to how we do things differently and adapting to that, to our new reality, which is that most people now work from home.

So, what do they need nearby? We need to start thinking about the future and all these things that are changing so rapidly versus doing things they way they’ve always been done.

For Miami-Dade at large, what are your three or four biggest goals if elected?

Definitely property taxes. That would be the largest one. Property tax is one of those issues that affects everybody. Property taxes are just raised, and it’s almost arbitrary. And low-income housing starts with property taxes. This is something I have a lot of knowledge about from being a real estate agent.

When you buy a house, sure, there’s a limit to how much they can raise your property taxes. But when you buy a piece of land as a business or additional home for income, you have no way of understanding, of projecting, where your costs are going to be next year because of the property taxes.

That increases rent a lot. A few $1,000 a year in rent is a lot of money, especially for being able to be an affordable area. For a lot of people, it’s killing their income, their ability to pay for things. If you’re not on Social Security, property taxes are rising and not at the same level that rents are.

Miami-Dade commissioners, by and large, their biggest task is financial. We have a large budget, $9 billion per year, and allowing more people to keep their money rather than politicians spending it is my top goal.

Every one of my goals is going to be mostly financial, on how to improve people’s lives by allowing them to retain money. Because at the end of the day, we’ve seen what happens when we have a half-penny sales tax for transportation for 20-plus years. It’s collected over $1 billion, and yet our transportation is the same as it was.

This whole concept of politicians taking more and more money and you’re supposed to live with it is something I find extremely important to deal with. I know you asked me for three things, but I feel like it’s all tied into financial. It’s all going to be in the budget. It’s all going to be in property taxes and making sure Miami is a place where people can continue to live, where it’s affordable to live.

You were a real estate agent, a good job in a booming South Florida industry. But you put things on hold last year. Why?

It’s just not my passion. I’m an entrepreneur through and through. I’m not at a point in my life where I have to do a job just to do a job. The last company I was involved with, the one I am still semi-involved with, pays me a dividend for my portion of involvement in it for the next few years, which is why I also have the luxury of being able to take the time to run for the Commission.

That’s a huge issue as well. Being a Miami-Dade Commissioner pays $6,000 a year. That is, of course, if you’re only taking the money that the Commission pays and not taking money from other entities or into your campaign accounts.

If you are going to ask somebody to take a full-time job but only be paid $6,000 a year, you have to understand you’re either going to get extremely corrupt individuals or people who are independently wealthy.

In my case, I’m not rich. I’m not a millionaire. I don’t consider myself extremely wealthy. But I was able to put enough money aside to run this race and have this job for four years, which is what I intend to do if I am elected to this position.

I got the real estate license because I wanted to invest in my own properties, and I was able to help a few people. I honestly have an issue with the licensing of real estate agents, the test that agents take. It doesn’t teach them about how to sell a property. It only teaches them certain laws.

They teach you how to measure property with just metes and bounds. We haven’t had that system in 40 years. That’s an overall problem, again, with government. They impose these rules and regulations that don’t actually help consumers. It doesn’t improve. Government establishes a process, and it stays there forever.

So, being a real estate agent wasn’t for me. Cannabis and hemp is something I’m passionate about. I’ve been an activist for years, and I decided to have a career change and move into something I’m infinitely more passionate about.

You’re among a growing number of elected officials in favor of cryptocurrency. What are its benefits, and what are the risks?

It’s a funny thing to ask someone running for a Commission position, because cryptocurrency should not be something Commissioners are necessarily involved with other than saying private businesses should be able to accept any currency they wish.

With that said, I am a huge fan of cryptocurrency in general. I’ve been a longtime supporter. Ross Ulbricht, who was the person who gave us a use case for Bitcoin with the Silk Road, his mom has been living here with me for a few months.

I believe it’s the future. It’s a currency that will compete with the American dollar. The American dollar has been overprinted, and inflation is going up. The government, the Federal Reserve, has continuously printed money. We don’t have any control over it as our inflation goes up and every dollar is worth less and less.

I spent six years in Venezuela, actually more than that. I’ve been going back and forth since I was born until I turned about 15. I lived through the years from when Venezuela’s exchange for the dollar was 425. When I left, it was 1000s of bolívars to $1.

We’re not exactly exempt from that happening in the United States. It can happen here. It’s happening here, and it starts to slowly tick up, as we’re seeing now — 5% in a quarter. Then it gets greater and greater. Then it’s a runaway train we can’t stop.

Cryptocurrency offers a hedge against that, a way to get out of this fiat system and move into a system that is worldwide. You can transfer it among people. You don’t need a bank. It’s decentralized. It’s just the future.

We look back now, after Uber and Lyft and everything came in, and we’re like, “Who ever thought that we would only just use taxis forever?” It revolutionized how we get around. That’s the same for money and cryptocurrency.

Once we all adopt it, it’s going to be so much easier, just like the credit card made our lives easier. Before, we had to haul around all our cash. Now we can just use this one card.

In terms of COVID-19 safety measures and personal freedoms, what is the ideal balance with regard to vaccine and mask mandates, capacity restrictions on businesses, etc.?

It’s a super controversial issue when it should not have been. The government should have given us the information as they knew it when they knew it, without politicizing it, and then allowed people to make decisions as they saw fit.

As I mentioned, I have a farm down south. It’s just outside my district, on the edge of it, at about 160th and Krome Avenue. When COVID was in full swing, right when it started, you could go to that area and you couldn’t tell. People still had to work. They still had to plow the land and farm.

To apply a measure all around for everyone in Miami-Dade without taking into consideration people’s individual circumstances is wrong. Our government made the decision to force us to do things, which they did not have the right to do. With the mandates on vaccines — we’ve gone from two doses to several boosters — everyone should be able to make the decision that best works for them.

I don’t want to force people to do things, but I do think they have the right to have all the available facts presented to them. The state of Florida opened except for Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and that did not improve anything for us. A lot of small businesses closed and will never come back.

At the same time, we’re seeing the city of Miami Mayor, Francis Suarez, tell people in California, “Come move here. Bring your dollars. Bring your business. We want the tech industry here. We’re going to give you all these benefits.” All those mom-and-pop companies that were shut down and will never reopen, they’re getting nothing.

They have no incentives. They didn’t get any tax breaks. Government got in the way of small businesses. Government needs to get out of the way.

What should the United States’ role be in helping to bring democracy to countries like Cuba and Venezuela?

I don’t think we should be involved in other people’s disputes. Obviously, if we see things like what happened in Cuba, for example, where we saw protests and repression against people, the United Nations — that’s their whole reason for existing, to provide peacekeeping troops and make sure this doesn’t happen. And the UN hasn’t stepped in.

The United States should pressure the UN to offer peacekeeping troops, medical assistance and such, but I do not believe it is the role of the United States to invade other countries and decide what their democracy should look like. That’s a huge mistake the United States keeps making.

I’m all about Cuba, and I’m Cuban. My family still lives there. I have a lot of family still living there. But I believe Cuba needs to figure it out. They need to work on it. The international community can help. The United States can help. But it’s not upon the United States to solve Cuba’s problems, Venezuela’s problems or any other country’s problems. The way we’ve been handling it has been a mistake.

We saw it with Afghanistan for the last 20 years. Now we’ve pulled out, and more Americans are aware that it was a mistake. We should never have been there. It’s growing amongst people who are finding out what happened, why we were there, etc. They’re realizing we’ve wasted billions of dollars and have nothing to show for it.

So, we need to realistically have a conversation or at least make better decisions as to what we’re going to do in the future with the United States. But again, I’m running for the Miami-Dade Commission, and those are questions that are more suited for our senators and those who are in that position to make those decisions.

You’re an advocate for cannabis, and it’s growing in acceptance — many would say rightly so. Where should it be in terms of legalization? Should it be just for medical use, or should it be legalized across the board in the same way alcohol is?

I would love to see it decriminalized altogether. I understand we’re not there yet in terms of public perception, but it’s an education campaign away from being widely accepted.

I don’t think people have an issue if you say, “Hey, I have a headache,” and you go and take a Tylenol. Most people see that as absolutely acceptable and benign. And yet when someone says, “I don’t feel well; I’m going to smoke a joint, take a tincture, apply a patch” or whatever, people have this reaction to it.

And it’s not necessarily based on facts. It’s based on this notion for the past 80-plus years that the United States has been on this warpath with drugs. To be honest, it should be more normal to make yourself tea with cannabis than it is to take a Tylenol if you have a headache.

I was anti-cannabis — not necessarily anti; I just didn’t have an opinion until maybe 10 years ago. What changed my mind was becoming more involved and learning more about this plant.

There’s an advocate, Jacel Delgadillo, whose son is Bruno. He has Dravet syndrome. I listened to her speak, and it turned me into not only a cannabis believer, but an advocate. I saw a mother whose son was having over 300 seizures a day, and she found out because somebody flew her and her son to California and gave them a high level of CBD with a low level of THC. He went from having 300 seizers a day with medication — they just couldn’t control it — to having a seizure a week maximum, such a huge improvement.

He was able to start eating, gaining weight, growing and getting off other medications. She’s a single mother, has another child, and had to risk going to jail every time she had to illegally bring in cannabis for her child.

She’s one of the reasons we now have medical marijuana in Florida. She worked tirelessly to get that through — her and other moms, they’re part of a group, CannaMoms. Many people worked on this issue, but somebody like her hit the nail on the head for me.

As the mother of four children myself, if one day I knew there was an item, a medication, a plant that my child needed that would improve the quality of life and there was some bureaucrat somewhere standing between me and my ability to get this for my child, there would be nothing stopping me from doing it.

So, I took on Jacel’s fight. As moms, that to me was just disgusting, that her son would be put into that position of suffering just so other people could have this notion that they are doing something good for humanity. To this day, in over 8,000 years of recorded history, that plant has not killed a single person.

What are your community involvements — with which groups and organizations are you active?

Currently, Make-A-Wish is probably my biggest active involvement. I absolutely adore Make-A-Wish. I had a bit of an issue with a decision they made over COVID. The children, in order to travel, needed to be vaccinated. I thought the doctors in charge of the children should make that decision, not Make-A-Wish. But other than that, I believe the organization is so worthy, and I am involved with them, especially here in South Florida.

There aren’t a whole lot of wish-granters who speak Spanish, and we need a lot more of those.

Politically, I was involved with the Libertarian Party and am very interested in helping the cannabis movement. The psychedelic movement is also part of that.

The psychedelic movement, that’s psilocybin therapy and things like that, correct?

Yes. And in full disclosure, I have a child who had issues with depression and such. Seeing a therapist with these types of things has vastly improved his mental state. Especially now, with COVID and people being locked in their homes in this unnatural situation — again, it’s that same process of government telling you that you can’t have this thing because we decided not to.

We’re OK giving children, young children, Ritalin and these drugs that are basically meth, and we don’t look at plants that grow naturally — for those who are religious, God-given plants. We’re not looking at these things because government, the pharmaceutical industry, or whatever, have told us that’s the opposite of what we need.

I’m a big believer in psilocybin and all these alternatives. It would be funny if it wasn’t so cruel; in the ’50s, there were studies that showed psilocybin was one of the most effective things we have found for PTSD — we didn’t call it PTSD; we called it trauma.

And we’ve been keeping this from people for so many years. It goes back to the notion that government needs to step out of the way of people.

Which person from history do you most admire?

There’s an attraction at Disney, the Hall of Presidents. I’m probably one of those people who cries every time George Washington makes a speech about giving over the power, that he wasn’t going to stay in power despite people wanting him to, that he was going to transfer power on.

That was the legacy of the United States, and it’s what separates us from the rest of the world. Maybe I should have named a woman, but I think it’s George Washington. He had a lot of faults, but he also did a lot of things really well.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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