Eleuterio Salazar Jr. thought he’d be running for a Soil and Water Conservation job right now. Instead, legislation passed this year severely limited who could hold that volunteer job. Now, he’s gunning for a seat in the same Legislature that took that opportunity away.
As it happens, the same Session when soil boards came into lawmakers’ sights was also a redistricting year. Salazar said he can’t ignore an opportunity he was literally drawn into. The finance professional now lives in Ruskin, in south Hillsborough County, but has been active for years in Manatee County, where he ran for Bradenton Mayor. The new configuration for House District 70 runs from Apollo Beach south around Interstate 75 to Terra Ceia.
“It just made sense,” he said. “I’m a native of Manatee. I live in Ruskin. I have family in Ruskin and Wimauma.”
The issues of Black and Brown people in the rural outskirts of Tampa Bay are the ones he and his family cared about his whole life.
And as an openly queer father with a child in elementary school, Salazar also felt a siren call to the race after the Legislature passed a controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law, derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“This bill directly impacts my family,” he said. “The people who supported this bill, their kids don’t even attend public school. They all attend charter and private schools. This affects my child and her ability to talk about her gay father and the family lifestyle at home.
“Our children deserve a safe space at school. The fact we are stripping that away piece by piece, and we may not allow all conversations to occur, and may open lawsuits if they do, there are just so many things wrong with this bill.”
Rep. Mike Beltran, a Hillsborough Republican, was among the 69 lawmakers who voted to pass that bill. Beltran has said he will run for re-election in HD 70, but that would require a move out of his current home in FishHawk.
Of note, ongoing discussions regarding congressional redistricting loom over this race. After Gov. Ron DeSantis submitted a congressional map during Session, House leadership pulled Beltran from the Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee because that proposal (P 0094) included a Manatee-south Hillsborough seat that’s potentially open. It could create an opportunity for Beltran to run for Congress.
Lawmakers have now said they will let Gov. DeSantis dictate the congressional map after he vetoed one approved by the Legislature. That could prove consequential for the HD 70 race. Ellenton businessman Dennis Cooley announced in January he wanted to run in HD 70, but he put the brakes on fundraising after Beltran announced his intention to run there. His campaign accounts, though, have stayed open while the Beltran situation remains in the air.
Since opening his campaign account in March, Salazar only raised a modest $275 but plans to announce a formal campaign launch in coming weeks and to step up activity.
By comparison, Beltran has raised $105,790 should he run for re-election, with $88,288 still available in cash on hand. Cooley, for his part, has raised $62,513, on top of a $50,000 candidate loan, and has about $111,250 still in the bank for a run.
Cash isn’t the only advantage Republicans have. A partisan performance analysis of the new House seat shows 54.29% of voters in HD 70 voted for Republican Donald Trump in the last Presidential Election and just 44.54% voted for Democrat Joe Biden.
Still, Salazar feels confident because he has the longest history in the region. He’s a two-time chair of the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce with 15 years of experience in the banking sector. He’s participated in political marches in Bradenton like a Black Lives Matter walk after the Breonna Taylor decision and gathered the public for meetings in support of Hispanic causes in Manatee County. But he also received a Points of Light honor from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and a public service award from former President George W. Bush, both Republicans.
He’s also served on advisory boards for the Manatee County Commission and Manatee County School Board and knows his way around a government budget.
“Most important, I’m just the best fit for this position,” he said.
April 13, 2022 at 11:26 am
Please define membership requirements for being Black or Brown.
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