Republicans building slate of ‘viable’ candidates for Miami-Dade countywide offices
Image via Facebook.

Kevin Marino Cabrera Facebook
‘Republicans should compete — they have an opportunity and a message that will resonate better — but you cannot win if you don’t buy a ticket.’

There’s a Republican effort underway to build a roster of 2024 candidates for countywide offices in Miami-Dade, including two positions — Sheriff and Supervisor of Elections — appearing on the ballot for the first time in decades.

It’s still in its early stages, with several names being tossed around for Sheriff and Doral Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez eying more than one post.

“It’s important we field a class of good candidates, and that means they’ve got to be viable, have a pathway forward and are able to raise money. Some of these potential candidates are elected officials already, which makes it easier. They might have political committees. They might already have some funding there,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Kevin Marino Cabrera, a former lobbyist and state director for Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee whom multiple sources say is behind the effort.

Cabrera did not confirm or deny those assertions.

With the right people running, Republicans have an opportunity to further solidify the red shift seen statewide in recent elections that has gradually seeped into Florida’s most populous county, said consultant and strategist Jesse Manzano-Plaza.

“Republicans should compete — they have an opportunity and a message that will resonate better — but you cannot win if you don’t buy a ticket,” he said. “Fears of being overwhelmed by a Democratic turnout should not dissuade them.”

The GOP is “definitely” prioritizing the Supervisor of Elections race, Manzano-Plaza said, because ceding the office to Republican-turned-Democrat lawyer Juan-Carlos “J.C.” Planas is “not going to sit well” with the party.

Two others are running to succeed the Elections Supervisor, Christina White, who said she will not seek election next year. One is Democrat political consultant and North Miami Beach political mainstay Willis Howard. The other is Republican Ruth Swanson, a 2020 election denier who last year mounted an unsuccessful congressional bid.

Like the Sheriff, elections for the Supervisor of Elections ended more than half a century ago, but for different reasons. Miami-Dade voters made the post an appointed position in 1957 through the adoption of the county’s Home Rule Charter, which also abolished the elected offices of Tax Collector and Property Appraiser. Their powers were delegated to the county manager, who is now Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Democratic Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who is running for re-election next year, will hold less sway over the county’s law enforcement and elections operations if voters keep her in office. Image via Facebook.

In 2018, however, 58% of Miami-Dade voters joined a statewide supermajority in approving a constitutional amendment requiring all 67 counties in Florida to have an elected Sheriff, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Clerk of Courts by early 2025.

The Property Appraiser is already an elected position in Miami-Dade, following 2008 recommendations from a Charter Review Task Force that determined the Elections Supervisor and Tax Collector roles should still be appointed.

Pedro Garcia has been the county’s Property Appraiser since. But so far, neither he nor anyone else has filed to run for the job next year, county records show.

Rodriguez’s professional background in real estate could suit her for the role. She said she is “seriously considering” a run for county office, but weighing “several options.”

“I’m humbled to have been asked to consider running for one of the constitutional officer positions in 2024,” she said by text. “I’ve been approached by community leaders, friends and families — all are confident that my private and public sector experience would be beneficial among any number of the countywide constitutional offices.”

Another rumored Republican candidate for several constitutional offices, restaurateur and former congressional candidate Irina Vilariño, said she had conversations with “people in the political realm” about the prospect of running but decided to hold off until at least the next election cycle.

“I have more to do in the private sector, where I could be most useful at this moment,” she said. “I may come in at a later time when I’m not as occupied privately and dedicate more time to my public responsibilities.”

A decade after the county adopted its Charter, Miami-Dade voters eliminated their elected Sheriff in the wake of a damning 1966 grand jury report that revealed rampant racketeering and bribery within the office.

In its place, they approved an appointed Police Director, which the county Mayor currently fills. The officeholder today is Democrat Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez, a former Republican and one of five people so far, including two Republicans who have yet to receive direct financial support from the state or county GOP, to file for the Sheriff race. However, a domestic dispute involving Ramirez and his wife in Tampa late last month that ended with Ramirez shooting himself in the head has raised questions about the future of his candidacy.

Ramirez survived. But the situation is still raw, and the GOP remains hesitant to officially back any candidate against him.

Four candidates filed to run for Sheriff before the shooting. Three are Republican: Homestead resident Jaspen Bishop, Miami Police officer Ruamen de la Rua, and Mario Knapp, a 27-year Miami-Dade Police veteran who served as the post-incident commander in the aftermath of the Surfside condo collapse. On the Democratic side is retired Miami-Dade Police officer Rickey Mitchell.

Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez is weighing several options for runs at Miami-Dade constitutional offices. Image via Florida TaxWatch.

Jorge Colina, a former Miami Police Chief and registered Indpendent, said he’s been approached by several people to explore his interest in running for Sheriff.

“I’m a supporter of Freddy Ramirez,” he said, “and I don’t feel it’s appropriate to consider the position at this moment.”

Other potential candidates include Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak and John Rivera, a retired Miami-Dade Police sergeant and former President of the Florida Police Benevolent Association and Dade County Police Benevolent Association. In an episode of “Mega TV,” he told host and former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado he was thinking of running.

Just one candidate has filed to run for Tax Collector this cycle: Democratic Miami Beach Commissioner David Richardson, an accountant and former state Representative. For his 2024 run, he’s resurrected old nickname, “the budget guy.”

Also up for grabs, though not a constitutional office, is Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts. Democrat Harvey Ruvin, arguably the most well-regarded local politician in Miami-Dade, held the job for more than three decades until his death on New Year’s Eve.

In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped then-Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin to replace him. Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado, Tomás Regalado’s daughter and a fellow Republican, had been planning a run for Clerk until Fernandez-Barquin’s appointment.

She said GOP leadership urged her to seek other offices, but the Clerk job was the only one that interested her.

“I met with the party, and I appreciate and am flattered they reached out to me about running for a constitutional office — there aren’t many people who can run countywide, and I’m one of them — but I’m running for re-election,” she said. “I’ve done a lot for my district, but there are still needs, and I still have a lot more I can do. But I’m happy to help the party with their slate.”

Fernandez-Barquin is now running to stay in the Clerk’s Office in 2024. No one has launched a bid against him.

That might not be for long. Last week, former Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat, said she has her sights set on a run.

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.


One comment

  • PeterH

    August 24, 2023 at 8:47 pm

    Republicans are America’s biggest problem!

    Vote all Republicans out of office!

Comments are closed.


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