Another Democrat joins the Primary fight for still-unscheduled HD 35 Special Election

Marucci Guzman
The opening to represent east Orange County comes as a result of Fred Hawkins' exit from the Legislature.

A nonprofit leader is now the third Democrat entering a Primary contest to replace Republican state Rep. Fred Hawkins — in a Special Election for which a date has not been set for House District 35.

Marucci Guzmán, executive director of Latino Leadership, has joined the Democratic field. Rishi Bagga, the Democrat Hawkins defeated in November, has filed for the seat in east Orange County, as has Tom Keen, who narrowly lost in the 2022 Democratic Primary.

Apparently, Democrats see a pickup opportunity after Hawkins was named as President of South Florida State College. Multiple Republicans are also running, including Erika Booth, Ken Davenport and Scotty Moore.

Even though Bagga lost to Hawkins by 10 percentage points as Republicans overperformed throughout the state in 2022, election data shows the district does have all the makings of a potential Democratic pickup.

In the 2020 Presidential Election, nearly 52% of the district’s voters supported Joe Biden over Donald Trump. As of book closing for the 2022 elections, the district served as home to 40,746 no-party voters, compared to 40,464 registered Democrats and 37,534 Republicans.

HD 35 is roughly defined by the Seminole County line to the north, the Brevard County line to the east and the Osceola County line to the south.

Guzmán’s announcement cites her accomplishments spearheading the creation of a free medical clinic, Clinica Mi Salud, disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Haiti and El Salvador, a mental health care initiative addressing trauma of Hurricane Maria, as well as lobbying to improve services for children on the autism spectrum.

“Working families in Orange and Osceola Counties deserve an experienced leader who fights for them and not for Tallahassee elites, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work earning their trust and support,” said Guzmán, the mother of two daughters. “I have seen time and time again our community’s disenfranchisement. We deserve better.”

Historically, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been slow to move on other Special Elections, many of which had clear Democratic majorities. When U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings died in office in 2021, a lawsuit was filed over the Governor’s delay in setting an election before it was scheduled. And to replace three lawmakers who filed to succeed Hastings, another lawsuit was filed before the Governor acted, leaving the Democrats down three votes for a sizable portion of the 2022 Session.

Guzmán’s prepared statement said she’s ready for action — whenever that happens.

“This Special Election is a critical opportunity to flip this seat from Republican control and ensure that the people here at home have a strong Democrat fighting for them every day,” her statement said. “That’s exactly what I plan to do, and I am excited to bring all of us together and run a strong race that puts the people back in charge.”

Even if Guzmán doesn’t have “elected office” on her résumé, politics are all in the family. She is married to former Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia, who resigned a few months before his last term was up in 2022. And her sister-in-law, Republican state Rep. Susan Plasencia, was elected to represent House District 37 in 2022 and is currently filed to run for re-election.


Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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  • Jim Jackson

    July 19, 2023 at 8:45 pm

    She does not live in the district and her family hates servicemen and women. Her father, a leader in her organization called servicemenbets that died fighting in a war suckers and she did nothing. She doubled down on his statement. She is only running to funnel money to her nonprofit.

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