Jim Mooney sails to victory over Adam Gentle in Keys-spanning HD 120

Mooney Gentle
The race was marked by mutual respect between the two candidates.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Jim Mooney won the right to represent south Miami-Dade and all of the Keys in Monroe County through 2024 on Tuesday, when he clinched a second term in the Legislature’s lower chamber.

With 101 of 102 precincts reporting, all in-person votes tallied and partial mail-in votes counted at 11 p.m., Mooney had about 61% of 52,424 votes cast compared to 39% for Adam Gentle, a Democratic lawyer who filed to run for office less than a year and a half after moving to South Florida.

While he was favored by political oddsmakers and had a better funded campaign, the win is undoubtedly relieving for Mooney, a lifelong Floridian and former Islamorada Mayor and Councilman who escaped a contentious Primary with just 90 more votes than his fellow GOP foe back in August.

His subsequent contest against Gentle, who would have made history as the first LGBTQ person elected to the Legislature from the Florida Keys, proved far more cordial.

“I am beyond honored to receive the support of the district,” Mooney told Florida Politics late Tuesday night. “I promised two years ago that I would represent with pride, dignity and quality, and I’m going to do it again.

“You know for me it’s simple. I know my district, I love my district and I will continue to serve the people of House District 120 to the best of my ability.”

Gentle accepted the loss. He said he was “looking forward to what comes next and to build upon” the foundation he developed while campaigning this year.

“Although this did not turn out as we wanted, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the love and support of everyone in this district,” he told Florida Politics. “The time and treasure you’ve invested has allowed us to reach thousands of people and share with them a hopeful vision for our future.”

HD 120 spans all of Monroe County, including the Keys and most of Everglades National Park, and the southernmost portion of Miami-Dade County, including Homestead Air Reserve Base and Biscayne National Park.

On the issues

In an interview with Florida Politics, Mooney, who works in real estate, described Gentle as “a levelheaded guy who just moved to the Florida Keys” who may not be well-versed enough in the issues facing the district to be effective as a lawmaker.

“But he’s very well-spoken, and I have nothing to say about him other than the fact that I’ve met him a couple times, he was a gentleman to me and vice versa,” he said.

Gentle, 41, is indeed a newer resident of Florida, having finalized his and his husband’s purchase of a home on the island of Big Coppitt Key in Monroe in October 2021, according to Monroe Property Appraise records.

Prior to the move, he lived in Los Angeles. He grew up in Michigan, he said, but spent a lot of time in the Keys throughout his life.

A self-described “anti-corruption lawyer” and member of the Florida Bar, Gentle originally filed in May 2021 to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart before switching to the HD 120 race in January.

He platform prioritized defending local governance and home rule, eliminating corruption in government, protecting voting rights, restoring the environment and safeguarding women’s health, including reproductive rights.

Those concerns should resonate with HD 120 voters, Gentle told Florida Politics, regardless of political allegiance.

“There are plenty of Republicans in HD 120, especially women, who believe women should have control over their own bodies. And there are plenty of Republicans in the district who know LGBTQ people, believe they shouldn’t be stigmatized and are concerned about the high suicide rate in the LGBTQ youth community,” he said.

“They resent the fact that in Tallahassee they’re talking about that rather than talking about the housing insurance rates, which are through the roof and out of control.”

In addition to passing protections for local governments and ecosystems, repealing anti-LGBTQ and restrictive abortion laws and strengthening voting rights, Gentle said he’d like to create a “tenants bill of rights” to guarantee legal representation for renters facing disputes with their landlords. Miami-Dade Commissioners passed a similar measure in May.

Everyday Floridians are feeling increasingly squeezed, Gentle argued, and new leadership is needed.

“If you come back from a Legislative Session in Tallahassee and you haven’t found funding for a domestic abuse clinic on Marathon or for children’s health care — if you haven’t addressed the affordable housing crisis or soaring property insurance rates — I think there’s a big problem,” he said.

Mooney, meanwhile, has proven himself something of a maverick, straying from the general party line of the Florida GOP — something for which his Primary opponent frequently criticized him.

The 71-year-old was one of the few Republican lawmakers to vote against the Parental Rights in Education law limiting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual preference. Mooney, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Miami in the early 1970s, explained he wasn’t opposed to the measure in principle but instead took exception with its vagueness, which he worried could attract lawsuits.

He was also the lone Republican state lawmaker to vote against overturning a measure Key West implemented limiting the size of cruise ships. Many HD 120 residents have openly opposed port calls by massive cruise vessels, which they complain dredge up sea beds and disturb marine life vital to the local environment and livelihoods of fishers there.

In a related move, he joined six other GOP house members in voting “no” on a bill that would provide a framework for businesses to sue local governments for lost profits. The Legislature ultimately passed the measure, which DeSantis promptly vetoed.

In another vote, Mooney supported a Republican-backed measure critics bashed as favoring sugar companies over Everglades restoration. DeSantis vetoed that bill too.

But on other issues, Mooney was in lockstep with his party. He supported Florida’s new ban on abortion after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking. He also maintained that Florida’s gun regulations are strict enough as they are and suggested the state prioritize mental health services.

He also voted with his district in mind. During the last full Legislative Session, he successfully backed legislation addressing derelict boats in the Keys and another bill bestowing more grant-distribution power to public-private agencies for sea-level-rise mitigation projects.

He sponsored a bill to enable coastal cities to create pilot programs regulating single-use plastic products, but the bill died with little movement.

Motivation and party support (or lack thereof)

When he announced plans to run for office last year, Gentle cited the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as inspiration. An early campaign ad said he supported “compassionate capitalism” and decried Republican conspiracy theories, including Donald Trump’s baseless lie that the election was stolen.

Asked about Trump supporters still flying the former President’s flags throughout upper Monroe, Gentle said he wasn’t that concerned about them.

“They’re certainly not my focus. A Trump flag in front of your house isn’t allegiance to a party; it’s allegiance to a man, and I certainly would never encourage our electorate or the citizens of this country to idolize any individual,” he said.

“There are politicians, and there are public servants. And to be a public servant, you have to use politics to get things done. The problem is when we lose the public service part and it becomes all about the politics.”

Party support (or lack thereof)

Mooney defeated Key Largo businesswoman Rhonda Rebman Lopez by 1 percentage point on Aug. 23, securing 45.3% of the total vote. He also beat a third Republican candidate, Big Pine Key-based house painter Robert Allen, who scored 10.2%.

It’s unknown how much Mooney can attribute his razor-thin win to an attack video the Florida House Republican Campaign Committee (FHRCC) aired in the district labeling Lopez as a “RINO” (Republican in name only) who accepted campaign help from the Democratic Party.

(She didn’t, and she told Florida Politics she was “considering a slander lawsuit” against the FRHCC over the misleading ad.)

The Florida GOP made clear whom it favored, giving Mooney more than $174,000 worth of in-kind assistance for campaign staff, consulting, phone banking and research costs through Nov. 3.

That’s in addition to more than $460,000 Mooney has raised this election cycle between his campaign account and political committee, Friends of Jim Mooney.

He headed to Election Day with endorsements from House Speaker-designate Paul Renner, future House Speaker Daniel Perez, Rep. Sam Garrison, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association and Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies, a group that represents homeowners’ associations.

He also held a joint fundraiser with Republican Monroe County Commissioner Holly Raschein in May. Raschein served in HD 120 immediately before Mooney.

Gentle bested former congressional Chief of Staff Dan Horton-Diaz in the Democratic Primary, scoring 55.6% of the vote to best the lesser funded opponent.

He’s been endorsed by Key West Mayor Teri Johnston and LGBTQ Victory Fund. If elected, Gentle will be the eighth openly gay person to serve in the Legislature.

But unlike Mooney, Gentle — who holds a bachelor of arts from Columbia University and a juris doctor from the George Washington University Law School — had scant support from his party. Gentle’s campaign filings show he received no contributions from the Florida Democratic Party or any of its fundraising or spending arms.

That’s not the only way Gentle’s campaign finances differ. While Mooney has consistently leaned on businesses and political organizations for donations — only a fraction of his gains came through personal checks — Gentle’s fundraising approach has been exclusively grassroots.

The strategy yielded him considerably less money. Through early November, Gentle raised about $180,000 between his campaign account and political committee, Adam for Democracy.

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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