Juan Fernandez-Barquin safely poised to repel Primary challengers in HD 118

He holds the advantage in experience, legislative achievement, name recognition, fundraising, party support and political nuance.

Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin faces two Primary challengers this year in his second bid for re-election to the House. One is something of a perennial candidate who has yet to win an election. The other is running for the first time.

Neither has much of a chance at beating him.

Fernandez-Barquin is running in newly mapped House District 118, which covers a narrow strip of Miami-Dade County west of the Florida Turnpike that includes portions of the unincorporated Kendall, Perrine, Sunset and Westchester neighborhoods.

A lawyer by training who sits on the Public Health Trust — the body that oversees Miami-Dade’s hospital network, Jackson Health System — Fernandez-Barquin has established himself as one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ most loyal legislative allies.

In 2021, Fernandez-Barquin sponsored an “anti-riot” bill stiffening penalties against violent protests, including so-called “mob intimidation.” A federal judge later blocked the measure.

He followed that up this year with other controversial items in line with DeSantis’ governing priorities, including the “Stop Woke Act,” which prohibits lessons in public school and workplaces that say some people are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin, and a new measure critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which limits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual preference.

He also successfully backed bills bringing millions of dollars in state funds back to his district.

His re-election campaign website lists the following priorities: fighting to eliminate wasteful spending, helping small businesses create well-paying jobs, bringing integrity and conservative values to Tallahassee, ensuring that families feel safe in neighborhoods, helping schools provide the best education options and developing solutions to reduce traffic and tolls.

Fernandez-Barquin defeated three Republican Primary opponents and two others in the General Election to win election to the House in 2018 with 53% of the vote. He retained office two years later with more than 65% of ballots cast in his favor.

One of his 2018 opponents was small business owner Daniel Sotelo, a U.S. Air Force veteran who ran then as a no-party candidate but has since registered with the GOP. Sotelo is again vying for the seat Fernandez-Barquin occupies.

Also running in the Republican Primary this year is Francisco Rodriguez, a systems analyst with Miami-Dade Public Schools who worked as a volunteer on DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

Sotelo has mounted several unsuccessful campaigns for public office since winning just 4% of the vote against Fernandez-Barquin four years ago. He briefly ran in 2019 for the House seat now held by Republican Rep. David Borrero. A year later, he sought election to a Miami-Dade Community Council but lost again.

Sotelo’s campaign website lists priorities including school choice, creating “a business-friendly environment that also helps create jobs,” supporting law enforcement, keeping taxes low, housing affordability, improving traffic in West Kendall and upholding “values and freedoms.”

When he filed to run in June 2021, Sotelo originally declared candidacy for Senate District 39 before swapping over for another run at the House.

He raised nearly $221,000 through early August toward his HD 118 campaign this year. That includes a $50,000 self-loan, multiple donations from companies registered under his name and numerous contributions from tenants of properties he owns.

By early August, he had about $68,500 remaining after heaving spending on advertising, mailers, text messages, door hangers and other campaign paraphernalia.

Rodriguez received no outside donations since filing to run in early June this year. Of about $2,000 he loaned his campaign, $89 was left by Aug. 5 after covering the state’s qualifying fee of $1,782 and buying $110 worth of business cards.

Rodriguez has no campaign website. In an interview with the Miami Herald, he said wants to “continue the fight that (Republicans) have started in Tallahassee and carry the torch forward.” He said he wants to file legislation establishing life as beginning at conception, allowing Floridians to carry firearms without permits, tightening voting restrictions to improve election integrity and broadening school choice options for families.

Neither Sotelo nor Rodriguez believe there should be any exceptions in Florida’s new ban on abortion after 15 weeks, according to the Herald. They also expressed ignorance and ambivalence about the Proud Boys, a far-right organization of self-proclaimed “western chauvinists” the FBI categorized as an extremist group in 2018.

Conversely, Fernandez-Barquin offered a more nuanced take, asserting that while he didn’t personally know anyone from the group — despite their infiltration of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade — any of their members who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol should be held legally liable.

He also said that while he is anti-abortion, he remained “open-minded” on situations of rape and would consider exceptions for mentally incapacitated people incapable of reporting being raped.

Fernandez-Barquin carries a considerable war chest. Through early August, he raised nearly $516,000 this election cycle and still had more than $278,000 left after covering campaigning, advertising, consulting and staff salary costs.

He enjoys backing from some of the Florida GOP’s most prominent figures, including DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and House Speaker-designate Paul Renner.

The winner of the Republican Primary will face the lone Democrat running in HD 118, Johnny Farias, an electrician who previously represented South Bay as an elected Miami-Dade Community Council member.

The Primary Election is on Aug. 23, followed by the General Election on Nov. 8.

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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