Fabián Basabe sparks feud with Shevrin Jones over LGBTQ laws, local funding
Image via Florida House and Florida Politics (by way of Colin Hackley).

Basabe Jones FP
Those caught in the crossfire call it counterproductive.

In his short time in elected office, Rep. Fabián Basabe has quarreled with members of the Miami Beach Commission, a fellow House member from Miami and LGBTQ advocacy groups he says have mischaracterized him and legislation he supported.

Now he’s set his sights on Florida’s first openly gay Senator, Democrat Shevrin Jones, over credit for local funding earmarks in this year’s state budget and a pair of LGBTQ-targeted bills that passed with his support.

In a Wednesday letter, Basabe accused Jones of putting his “own name on all my hard work in securing record funding” for the areas where their districts overlap. He also complained Jones has refused to meet with him and challenged the Senator to specify which lines in a pair of laws the GOP pushed through earlier this year target LGBTQ people.

“You only provide a disservice to our constituents, and I do not appreciate your two-faced tactics towards our communities,” Basabe wrote in the letter, which bore the official Florida House seal.

A few sentences later, he invited Jones to work with him “for the benefit of all” in his district, “if you finally choose to do so.”

One of the measures Basabe referenced expanded Florida’s existing restrictions on classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation, adding further limits on preferred pronoun use and more ways to ban books in school.

The other punishes people and venues that admit minors to “lewd” live performances, including drag and burlesque shows with “prurient, shameful or morbid” content.

“I need to know from you directly, which lines of this bill target the LGBTQ+ communities as your partisan supporters continue to aggressively advocate for,” Basabe wrote. “Also, I want to know which lines affect the drag industry directly in any other bill.”

Basabe made similar demands Tuesday, when Jones met with Basabe, officials from North Bay Village and two employees of Ron Book, who lobbies for the municipality in Tallahassee. Jones attended the meeting by Zoom. Basabe and the others appeared in person.

Basabe told Florida Politics he requested the meeting to discuss the village’s current and future state priorities. By all accounts, things went well until Jones was about to sign off.

“It started with Rep. Basabe saying he’d been trying to meet with the Senator and hadn’t been able to for various reasons. He then accused the Senator of holding a ‘resign’ sign at a protest, or something like that,” said Leo Cosio, Chief of Staff to City Manager Ralph Rosado. “It got a little heated. They were yelling at each other” (for about two minutes). Then Jones said, ‘I’m done,’ and left.”

The meeting was not considered public and was not recorded, Cosio said.

The protest Basabe referred to could have been one of several held in response to the freshman Representative’s voting record and accusations he faces of sexually harassing a pair of former employees.

Jones didn’t take the bait then, he said, and he won’t now by responding to the letter, which he called “poorly written” and “a mischaracterization of who I am as an individual.”

“This letter is baffling to me, and it speaks more about who Rep. Basabe is than anyone else,” he said before taking a slight dig at Basabe’s short career in unscripted television. “I left the Zoom because there wasn’t any real business being done anymore. He just wanted to have a reality show, and I’m not going to be part of the show.”

The Aug. 9, 2023, letter Basabe sent Jones.

Jones said his Tuesday exchange with Basabe was the second time the Representative had gone after him in a public setting. After a Village Commission meeting they both attended in Bal Harbour, Jones said Basabe tried to confront him about his contention with the two aforementioned bills.

“I told him straight up yesterday that I’m not going to allow you to sit here and disrespect me twice in a public setting,” Jones said. “I have never been disrespected by any person on either side of the aisle the way he has disrespected me.”

Civil rights advocates and experts on the subject of LGBTQ inclusion warned the school bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, will create a chilling effect on teachers, nearly none of whom want to indoctrinate students. Dr. Nathaniel Frank of Cornell University’s Center of the Study of Inequality likened the law to America’s bygone “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned military members from saying they were gay.

“That policy was sold as a way to prevent the culture wars from infecting a key institution of American society,” Frank wrote in an April guest essay for the New York Times. “Yet in reality, it did the opposite, heightening divisions, undermining trust, hampering morale and driving capable people away.”

While the so-called “anti-drag show law” included no actual mention of drag or burlesque shows, its House sponsor said it was  inspired by drag performers reading at public libraries, and Gov. Ron DeSantis referenced drag shows when he signed bill, calling them “sexually explicit.”

Basabe maintains Democrats are using the measures as a cudgel to promote unrest among Floridians in order to drive voters their way — a strategy, he said, that has only backfired.

“I am sick of these grandstanding politicians,” he said in a statement. “The Democratic Party is not the same as it once was, and they are destroying (themselves) while at the same time … destroying the spirit of our communities.”

On the subject of funding, both men have done excellent work, according to North Bay Village Mayor Brent Latham, who called the feud between the two lawmakers “a tempest in a teapot.”

“I’ve told Basabe I think it’s all partisan nonsense, a waste of time and not particularly a service to our constituents,” he said. “I’d like our representatives to work together to improve our community. I don’t think they’ve necessarily done a good job of working together on either side, and it’s a two-way street.”

Latham noted the last Legislative Session — Basabe’s first and Jones’ 12th — resulted in a record level of funding and appropriations for North Bay Village.

He attributed it to the hard work of both Jones and Basabe and the many local funding requests they submitted this year. But it’s no coincidence it also happened after the village gained a Representative who belongs to the political party that has a stronghold on two-thirds of the Legislature and every statewide office.

“I’m telling you, as a Democrat, we have to be cognizant of how the state Legislature works, and having a Republican in terms of funding is helpful. There’s no way around it,” he said. “That’s not an endorsement of Rep. Basabe, his character or him as a person, although I haven’t ever had anything negative to say about that. The reality of the situation is that we had a record amount of funding this year, and we have to be realistic about where and how we got it.”

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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