Seven currently serving lawmakers in the Florida Legislature are throwing their support behind former state Rep. Joe Saunders’ bid to flip House District 106 back to blue.
All are fellow Democrats who hope to see Saunders, a senior director for Equality Florida, unseat embattled Republican state Rep. Fabián Basabe next year.
Leading the list of new backers is state Sen. Shevrin Jones, whose district overlaps with large portions of coastal HD 106 in Miami-Dade County and who has had a less-than-pleasant relationship with the incumbent.
“I am proud to endorse Joe Saunders,” Jones said in a statement. “Throughout his career, Joe has shown a deep commitment to fighting for all Floridians. I have full confidence that he will put the needs of our district above politics and continue to be a fierce advocate for the people we serve in the Florida Legislature.”
Saunders also welcomed endorsements from half a dozen women serving in the House, including state Reps. Kristen Arrington, Anna Eskamani, Ashley Gantt, Rita Harris, Michele Rayner and Kelly Skidmore.
Arrington called him a “proven champion for everyday Floridians.” Eskamani described him as a “tireless advocate and true warrior for the needs of his community.” Gantt, meanwhile, highlighted Saunders’ focus on providing for Miami-Dade residents and fighting spirit “in the face of division and blatant disregard for the issues people are facing around the state.”
Harris said he is a “principled leader,” while Rayner described him as a “effective bridge-builder, bringing people together to find common ground and create solutions that benefit everyday Floridians.”
Skidmore cited Saunders’ position on gun control, climate change and safety among the reasons she supports him.
“I know Joe will fight against extremist policies and work to keep all Floridians healthy, prosperous and safe,” she said.
Born in South Florida, Saunders made history in 2012 as one of the first openly gay state lawmakers to take office. During his single two-year term in the House, when he served as Democratic Deputy Whip, he successfully sponsored three bills but helped as a co-sponsor to pass many others concerning education, health care, homelessness and lowering the barrier for medical marijuana use.
His challenge to Basabe comes after a Legislative Session in which the self-described moderate and “anti-politician” supported successful measures restricting LGBTQ inclusion in public schools, allowing the concealed carry of a firearm without a permit and a failed bill that would have repealed a post-Parkland ban on under-21 long rifle purchases.
Last month, two former staffers sued Basabe for battery and defamation following what they described as a pattern of sexual harassment and unwanted touching. The suit followed the conclusion of an investigation into whether Basabe had slapped one of the two men in January that prompted calls for Basabe’s resignation.
His attorney called the lawsuit “frivolous and meritless.”
Basabe’s favorability among his constituents sat at less than 4% in May, according to a Public Communicators Group poll.
Basabe maintains he’s been unduly maligned, pointing to millions he secured in local budget appropriations and a successful behind-the-scenes effort to stop legislation that would have stripped local protections of historic buildings in storm-prone areas as evidence he’s done good work while in office.
The nods from Jones, Arington, Eskamani, Gantt, Harris, Rayner and Skidmore join prior endorsements from U.S. Reps. Maxwell Frost and Jared Moskowitz, Senate Democratic Leader-designate Jason Pizzo, House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and former U.S. Reps. Joe Garcia, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala.
So far, only Basabe and Saunders are running for the seat representing HD 106, which covers a coastal strip of Miami-Dade including all or part of the municipalities of Aventura, Bay Harbor Islands, Miami Beach, North Bay Village, North Miami Beach and Sunny Isles. Between May 1 and July 31, the most recent date for which campaign finance activity is available, Saunders amassed about $102,000 toward ousting the incumbent.
Basabe, meanwhile, raised roughly $21,000 since winning the HD 106 seat by just 240 votes in November.
The 2024 Primary Election is on Aug. 20, followed by the General Election Nov. 5.