Familiar faces, newcomers compete to unseat Jim Mooney in HD 120

Election-Day---Jim-Mooney-vs-Rhonda-Rebman-Lopez.
Mooney has enjoyed Florida GOP support despite breaking from the party on key legislation last Session.

Florida’s southernmost House district is battleground Tuesday to two Primary contests to represent the Keys in Monroe County and lower Miami-Dade County, including part of Homestead.

On the Republican side, incumbent Rep. Jim Mooney again faces Key Largo businesswoman Rhonda Rebman Lopez in a rematch of their 2020 showdown for House District 120, which Mooney won fewer than 150 votes. Housepainter Robert Allen of Big Pine Key also is running in the race, which marks the first time in eight years a Republican state Representative from the area has received Primary challenges.

In the Democratic Primary, lawyer Adam Gentle and former congressional Chief of Staff Dan Horton-Diaz, who also ran for the district in 2016, are competing for the right to run in the General Election.

Republican Primary

A real estate adviser by trade, Mooney is a lifelong Floridian born in Miami. He previously served as a Mayor and Council member in Islamorada, a small village comprising six islands just south of Miami-Dade that he still calls home today.

This election cycle, he received endorsements from House Speaker-designate Paul Renner, future Speaker Daniel Perez and Rep. Sam Garrison. The Florida Chamber of Commerce also named him as one of many endorsees.

In May, he and Republican Monroe County Commissioner Holly Raschein, who represented HD 120 right before Mooney, held a joint fundraiser.

He raised more than $325,000 this cycle through early August. As of Aug. 5, he had $60,500 remaining after heavy spending on advertising, signage, various consulting and accounting costs, and campaign apparel.

Mooney’s support from state Republican leadership in the chamber came despite his opposition to a few GOP-backed bills last Session, including the Parental Rights in Education law that critics refer to as “Don’t Say Gay,” which restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mooney said he wasn’t opposed to the measure’s premise but instead took exception with its vagueness, which he argued could attract lawsuits.

Both his Primary challengers this year expressed full support of the new law and join Mooney in favoring Florida’s new ban on abortion after 15 weeks. They all also said the state’s gun regulations are strict enough as-is and suggested more priority should be placed on mental health services.

Mooney successfully shepherded through several measures last Session, including one addressing derelict boats in the Florida Keys and another bestowing more grant-distribution power to public-private agencies for state and federally funded residential flooding and sea-level-rise mitigation projects.

While HD 120 leans Republican, the district remains more moderate than many of its North Florida counterparts, and its residents are big on environmental protections. Key West residents have strongly opposed port calls by massive cruise vessels, which they complain dredge up sea beds and disturb marine life vital to the local ecosystem and livelihoods of fishers in the area.

Mooney was the lone Republican state lawmaker to oppose overturning of a Key West vote limiting the size of cruise ships. He also was among six Republican members of the House to vote “no” on a bill that would provide a route for businesses to seek damages from local governments if they can prove a new law caused a 15% income loss in one year.

While the Legislature passed the bill, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it.

In another vote, Mooney supported a measure critics decried as favoring agricultural interests, particularly sugar companies, over Everglades restoration. DeSantis vetoed that bill too.

Formerly a flight attendant with Delta Airlines for more than two decades, Lopez now runs a Miami-based electric company with her husband called PECO International Electric.

She’s long been politically involved and has been a member of the Monroe Republican Executive Committee and Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Miami-Dade. She remains active in community groups like the Ocean Reef Community Association and the Bonefish Bonnies, an all-women anglers organization.

Lopez said she’s running against Mooney again because he “has not shown the enthusiasm and attention to detail” HD 120 constituents need, adding that she will provide “engaged and active leadership.”

Prior to running in HD 120, she campaigned in 2018 for House District 115, the seat which went to Miami Rep. Vance Aloupis. Last September, she was one of several Monroe residents who applied to replace late County Commissioner Mike Forster. That job ultimately went to Raschein.

Lopez is running on a platform that includes protecting parental rights, ensuring HD 120 receives a fair share of state tax dollars, helping small businesses thrive, adding jobs and cutting “burdensome” regulations and “unnecessary” taxes.

Regarding the new Parental Rights in Education law, which among other things bans all classroom instruction on sex and gender through third grade, Lopez said she’d like to see those portions expanded to additional grade levels.

Lopez raised nearly $174,000 through early August. More than $44,000 of that was either self-loaned or given by family members and her business.

As of Aug. 5, she had almost $70,000 remaining after spending on advertising, supplies, consulting, campaign materials, canvassing and phone banking.

She’s been endorsed by Florida Right to Life and the South Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Lopez’s run for HD 120 this year hasn’t been without its problems. In July, her campaign funded TV spots conspicuously similar to attack ads paid for by political committees linked to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s treasurer, Yolanda Brown, that were pulled from the airwaves for false statements.

The Florida House Republican Campaign Committee, in turn, funded ads labeling Lopez as a “RINO” (Republican in name only) who has been “paid for by Democrats.”

Lopez also broke state campaign fundraising rules by miswording a disclaimer at the bottom of an event invitation.

Trailing in distant third in terms of fundraising and endorsements is Allen, whose political aspirations date back 20 years to a brief run at the Monroe County Commission.

He’s running to reverse legislation lawmakers passed last year preempting local governments from issuing licenses, end the use of machines in vote counting and strengthen protection against water impacts from Lake Okeechobee.

Through Aug. 5, he raised $6,350 — all but $100 came from his own bank account — and spent about 65% of that sum on ads, photos, website costs and legal fees.

Democratic Primary

In terms of fundraising, Gentle leads the race with more than $102,000 collected through the end of July. That includes $8,000 of his own money and another $4,000 transferred from a canceled bid to supplant Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart.

Gentle, a Los Angeles-to-Monroe County transplant, spent all but $30,600 of those funds on advertising, text messaging, consulting, supplies, database management, web design and other costs.

Adam Gentle has led fundraising in the Democratic Primary. Image via Adam Gentle.

A self-described “anti-corruption” lawyer, Gentle’s campaign platform includes defending local governance and home rule, eliminating corruption in government, protecting voting rights, restoring the environment and safeguarding women’s health, including reproductive rights.

He’s a member of the LGBTQ community and has received endorsements from LGBTQ Victory Fund and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston.

While trailing in funds, Horton-Diaz boasts far more governmental experience and local endorsements.

Born in Georgia, Horton-Diaz worked for years as a Democratic staffer, including stints as a district Chief of Staff to former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and a legislative aide to state Sen. Annette Taddeo.

He also served as director of the voting rights group All Voting is Local.

Horton-Diaz is also a lawyer by training and is licensed by the Florida Bar. He is currently nonpracticing.

He’s raised about $80,000 since filing to run in January, including a $16,000 self-loan. As of Aug. 5, he had $35,000 remaining after spending on digital, radio and print advertising, web maintenance, voter outreach and various campaign volunteer costs.

Dan Horton-Diaz is making his third run at elected state office. Image via Dan Horton-Diaz.

Horton-Diaz first ran for HD 120 in 2016, winning the Primary handily but losing to the Republican incumbent, Raschein. Four years later, he vied for the seat representing Senate District 39. He lost the Primary to former Democratic Rep. Javier Fernandez, who is now running to be the Mayor of South Miami.

His platform this cycle includes fighting for environmental protection and clean water, combating the climate crisis, restoring the flow of Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades and into the Florida Bay, protecting local governance, reducing tolls and traffic, supporting the southward expansion of the Miami-Dade Metrorail, protecting property rights, fully funding the Sadowski Trust and other affordable housing initiatives, supporting teachers, protecting the rights of LGBTQ students, expanding health care and supporting women’s health and patient autonomy.

Horton-Diaz has received endorsements from Key West Vice Mayor Sam Kaufman, Key West Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, South Bay Community Council members Marjorie Murillo, Christina Farias and Enid Demps, former Monroe Mayor Shirley Freeman, two chapters of the Young Democrats, two local chapters of the Communication Workers of America and a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, among others.

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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