Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera has secured a second term in the Florida Legislature after fending off a challenge for her House District 114 seat from a first-time Democratic candidate.
With all 80 precincts reporting, all early in-person votes counted and a full mail-in ballot tally, Busatta Cabrera had 56.4% of 58,992 votes cast compared to 43.6% for Adam Benna, a 34-year-old lawyer and former political staffer.
Busatta Cabrera, 32, headed into Election Day with several advantages over Benna, a fellow lifelong Floridian. She enjoyed far better funding, significantly more help from her party and had two years of lawmaking to lean on.
Consequently, she was the better known of the two among voters in HD 114, which covers a largely coastal area in Miami-Dade County that includes parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Cutler Bay and West Miami.
It turns out Benna, 34, couldn’t keep up.
On the issues
Benna ran on an ambitious campaign platform. In addition to lowering costs for residents, he vowed to protect consumers from fraud, assist small businesses hurt by the pandemic, increase teacher pay, reform and expand education, invest in sustainable infrastructure, implement “green” standards in development, protect natural resources, accelerate transitions to renewable energy, protect women’s reproductive rights and codify anti-discrimination laws.
Busatta Cabrera’s platform included many of the same priorities. She also listed boosting teacher pay, freezing taxes and business fees, combating inflation, promoting restoration projects that improve local ecological values and aesthetics, and prohibiting “oversized developments” that change the character of neighborhoods as issues she would tackle in a second term.
Since winning office in 2020, she proved herself a deft lawmaker. She successfully sponsored legislation increasing legal protections for firefighters, requiring high school students to take financial literacy and management classes and updating the state foster care system to prioritize finding permanent homes for minors.
She saw through a measure formalizing a Statewide Office of Resiliency one year after backing a bill that created the Resilient Florida Grant Program to fund projects that inform a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan.
In the most recent budget, Busatta Cabrera brought back millions to her district for septic-to-sewer conversion and water-management projects in Coral Gables and West Miami, a study of regional flood control conditions and electric vehicle-charging and solar-power components at a Coral Gables mobility hub, among other earmarks.
She also joined fellow GOP lawmakers in voting for Florida’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks with no exception for rape or incest and the so-called “Stop WOKE Act,” which bars classroom and workplace lessons that tell students and employees they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressed because of their race, color, sex or national origin.
And while she was among just a few Republican members of the House to vote in February against the Parental Rights in Education law restricting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual preference, she later joined 70 GOP Representatives in voting to dissolve Disney’s special Reedy Creek district after company executives spoke out against the measure.
Political and pocketbook support
This election cycle, Busatta Cabrera raised more than $820,000. A large portion came from political organizations and corporations representing industries including real estate, pharmaceuticals, health care, sugar and energy.
She had $347,000 in her campaign account and political committee, People Above Politics, by early November.
Benna raised $204,000 between his campaign account and political committee, Sunshine Priorities, since June 2021. Less than a week from Election Day, he had about $12,000 left.
Benna’s fundraising overwhelmingly came through grassroots donations. Most personal checks were for three-figure sums or less.
Busatta Cabrera also enjoyed far more help from her political party. She received nearly $166,000 worth of in-kind aid, almost all of it from the Republican Party of Florida for staff, polling and research costs. That doesn’t count monetary donations the party also gave.
She received endorsements from the political arms of the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, the International Association of Firefighters, AFSCME Florida, United Faculty of Miami Dade College, Associated Builders and Contractors, Metro-Dade Firefighters, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Dade County Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which named her its “2022 Legislative Champion.”
She also received indirect endorsements, by way of campaign contributions, from Jacksonville Rep. Lake Ray, Walton Beach Rep. Patt Maney, Miami Rep. Vance Aloupis, Fleming Island Rep. Sam Garrison and Putnam County Rep. Bobby Payne, among others.
Benna received about $41,000 worth of in-kind assistance, mostly from the Democratic Party, for staffing, taxes, research and insurance expenditures.
He carried endorsements from the South Florida AFL-CIO and indirect endorsements from Miami Sen. Jason Pizzo, Pinecrest Councilwoman Anna Hochkammer, former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, former Pinecrest Mayor and state Rep. Cindy Lerner, former Miami-Dade Commissioner Kathryn Sorenseon, former South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, state Senate candidate Raquel Pacheco, state House candidate Adam Gentle and former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, the founder and chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida.
In private life, Busatta Cabrera is a development director for ADE Miami, a nonprofit that works with adults with disabilities. She took her first swing at elected office in 2020 and succeeded, winning by nearly 9 percentage points to flip the HD 114 seat red for the first time in six years.
She entered politics as a Chief of Staff to former Republican state Rep. Anitere Flores. She now serves as vice chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Her husband is lobbyist Kevin Marino Cabrera, who is competing in a runoff for the District 6 seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission. She appeared beside him in a 30-second video ad touting his ties to Donald Trump while decrying “do-nothing” politicians representing voters in the area.
Benna moved to South Florida in 2012 — four years after his entry to politics as an intern on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. He’s also worked in the Mayor’s Office of his hometown of Daytona Beach, on the re-election campaigns of Obama and former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and as an Assistant State Attorney under Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
He officially launched his campaign in January, saying he wanted to provide leadership focused on local issues such as property insurance rates, utility bills, affordable housing and septic-to-sewer conversions.
Busatta Cabrera and others in the Legislature “are way off base,” he argued, “fighting ridiculous culture wars that won’t improve the lives of people who live here in Miami-Dade.”