Former GOP operative turned business owner Juan Carlos Porras has won a five-way Republican Primary for House District 119, which covers a strip of unincorporated Miami-Dade County encompassing parts of West Kendall, Country Walk and The Crossings.
With early and mail-in voting totals tabulated and all 49 precincts reporting at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Porras had 48% of the vote compared to 20% for lawyer Rob Gonzalez, 15% for West Kendall Community Council Vice Chair Ashley Alvarez, 13% for hotelier Ricky Tsay and 4% for West Kendall Community Council at large member Jose Soto.
Porras will now face activist Gabriel Gonzalez in the Nov. 8 General Election. Gonzalez defeated lawyer James Cueva with 56% of the vote in the Democratic Primary.
No Primary candidate running in HD 119 to succeed outgoing state Rep. Anthony Rodriguez held 100% of the cards in the race, though some had significant advantages.
In terms of government experience and party endorsements, Porras and Alvarez had an edge.
Porras, a self-described “principled conservative,” got his start interning in Rubio’s office. After serving as chapter president of Turning Point USA, Chair of the FIU College Republicans and southern regional director of the Florida Federation of College Republicans, he worked in the offices of U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and state Reps. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, Alex Rizo and Spencer Roach.
Fernandez-Barquin endorsed Porras for the HD 119 seat, as did Doral state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, the Fraternal Order of Police, South Florida Council of Firefighters, LIBRE Initiative, Americans for Prosperity and Associated Builders and Contractors, among others.
Porras also received maximum donations from the political committees of state Reps. Demi Busatta Cabrera and Vance Aloupis, who announced in March he will forgo seeking a third House term.
Porras’ campaign platform prioritizes efforts to stop spread of socialism, fight inflation, lower gas prices, address South Florida’s housing affordability crisis, cut taxes for businesses and “safeguard personal freedoms from overreaching government.
Alvarez worked in politics for close to nine years. Her past bosses include U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez, U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Robert Luck, Education Commissioner Manny Díaz Jr. and the Republican Party of Florida.
In addition to her elected position on her local Community Council, she is also a committeewoman with the Miami-Dade GOP.
Alvarez’s campaign platform included messaging “rejecting progressive public safety policies that undermine our law enforcement community,” education laws favoring parents over teachers, and Everglades restoration.
She said she wants to see completion of the Kendall Parkway, a $1 billion, 13-mile extension of the Dolphin Expressway proponents say will alleviate traffic congestion in the area. Detractors argue it will only invite more cars onto the roadway and point to a study showing it would only cut about six minutes on a typical round-trip commute from West Kendall to downtown Miami.
Alvarez received endorsements from Hialeah Mayor Steve Bovo, the Hispanic Police Officers Association and Marili Cancio Johnson, a lawyer and previous state Senate candidate whom Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed to the Greater Miami Expressway Agency in 2019.
Since filing to run in May, Alvarez raised about $16,000. Of that, she had about $7,000 left by early August after covering campaign printing and text messaging costs.
Porras, who filed as a candidate for state office one month earlier, amassed nearly $107,000. He had about $31,000 remaining as of Aug. 5 thanks to ample spending on various voter outreach efforts, campaign advertising and accounting fees.
No candidate came close to Tsay in funding.
Tsay (pronounced “sigh”) works in his family’s real estate and hotel business, Tsay International, which owns and operates the International Inn on Miami Beach and the Parkway Inn in Miami.
He’s a former chair of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans. If elected, Tsay vowed to lower home property insurance premiums, curb inflation, increase police training, payment and recruitment efforts, and further reform schools by “keeping ‘woke’ agendas out of the classroom and expanding workforce development and technical education.”
Tsay added more than $434,000 to his campaign coffers since launching his campaign for the House in late December. Almost all of it came either from his bank account or the family business.
He had about $42,000 left by early August after massive rounds of spending in recent months on digital and physical campaign advertising.
Gonzalez, the runner-up in campaign gains, added $148,000 between mid-April and early August as a result of broad support from the legal profession and a $17,000 self-loan.
Of that, he had $25,000 left following a spending blend of canvassing, advertising, phone banking and direct mail expenditures.
A personal injury, labor and homeowners’ insurance lawyer, Gonzalez is a founding partner of PereGonza, a law firm headquartered in West Miami-Dade between the city of Doral and the unincorporated Fontainebleau neighborhood. From 2016 to 2020, he was a member of the Miami-Dade GOP Executive Committee.
In a promotional video from Gonzalez’s campaign, Republican state Rep. David Borrero of Sweetwater described him as someone “who will support the Gov. DeSantis and President (Donald) Trump agenda to make our state strong and oppose liberal and socialist movements.”
Gonzalez also received endorsements from the Police Benevolent Association and Florida Family Action. His campaign website lists priorities including supporting law enforcement, funding Florida’s education system, supporting school choice, opposing tax increases, using state solutions to address traffic issues and protecting individual liberty and small businesses against regulations.
Soto, a retired social studies teacher, trailed the GOP field in fundraising, endorsements and — judging from his spending ledger — overall campaign effort.
Between March and late July, Soto raised just shy of $6,000 through 25 contributions, including a $1,500 self-loan. Aside from covering about $280 worth of food and supplies for a May campaign fundraising event, his only major bit of spending was the $1,782 qualifying fee candidates must pay the Division of Elections.
Soto’s campaign website is also the sparsest among the Republican HD 119 field, displaying only an option to donate. His Facebook and Twitter pages provide little extra information.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Soto spoke of improving school safety and moving Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary to allow construction closer to the Everglades.
While Soto’s gains may appear paltry compared to his Primary opponents, it still exceeds both Democratic candidates’ hauls.
A Miami-Dade Youth Commissioner for three years, Gonzalez won a Miami Herald Silver Knight Award in 2018 for a nonprofit he founded called HPACC that collects toys and books for children battling cancer. He also worked for two years as an intern to former Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan Zapata and spent four months interning in Washington, where he says he wrote legislative language now being considered on the Senate floor.
According to his campaign website, Gonzalez logged more than 10,000 hours of community service.
He pledged, if elected, to fight energy monopolies to make it easier for Floridians to transition to clean and renewable energy sources, protect the Urban Development Boundary while working to invest in affordable housing and take a multifaceted approach to stimulating the economy and supporting small businesses.
He cited Florida’s teacher shortage, gun violence, access to health care, threats to women’s reproductive rights and electoral fairness as points of concern.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he also promised to fight for strong state protections for LGBTQ+ rights and to oppose trans sports bans and the “Parental Rights in Education” law critics decry as “Don’t Say Gay,” which among other things limits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual preference.
Upon winning the Primary, Gonzalez wrote on Twitter: “Tonight, a 22 year old gay progressive won a primary race in South Florida. Tonight, the people of South Florida spoke and overwhelmingly demanded change. Tonight, we caught a glimpse of what a brighter future could look like for our state.
“Thank you, Miami, for #choosingchange, and for making history with the youngest Democrat in Florida History winning a state legislature primary.”
Cueva led the fundraising contest slightly on the Democratic side with almost $7,000 gathered between mid-June and early August. That included $2,000 he loaned his campaign and $20 or so in grassroots donations.
Most of his spending went to the state’s qualifying fee, photos and website costs. As of Aug. 5, he had about $4,000 left.
Cueva proffered a long list of campaign priorities, including transit development, Medicaid expansion and environmental protections. He wants to strengthen and diversify Florida’s economy by attracting federal dollars under the newly enacted CHIPS Act, promote the expansion of solar panel use, harness natural energy through offshore wind farming and invest in vocational and technical education.
He also had ideas on how to address the state’s housing affordability crisis, wants to protect civil and voting rights, and opposes laws restricting classroom discussions of race, ethnicity, bigotry, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Like his Primary opponent, Gonzalez also chipped $2,000 of his own money into his campaign account while raising just under $4,000 since late May. He spent close to all of it on fees and signage.