The race to succeed Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book in Senate District 35 is now a two-person contest.
Miramar resident Rodney Jacobs Jr., who leads Miami’s official civilian-controlled police watchdog board, has filed to run for Book’s seat representing southwest Broward County.
He faces fellow Democrat Barbara Sharief, a former Broward Mayor, Broward Commissioner and Miramar City Commissioner who last September renewed her candidacy for SD 35 less than a month after losing to Book, who reaches term limits next year.
It’s Jacobs’ first time seeking public office — a move, he said, motivated by a desire to address changes to Florida’s laws and government in recent years.
“Florida has really made a turn that has not only concerned me but a lot of other people that live in, vote in and visit the state. I looked at the landscape, did an internal search and asked myself, ‘Are the things we’re seeing now really representative of the state of Florida or where we can be?’” he told Florida Politics on Tuesday.
“I took a gut check and said, ‘If no, there’s two options: leave the state or be part of the change.’ I’m willing to fight for Florida. I have a two-year-old son and a baby on the way, and I want to create a state that they deserve.”
Jacobs, 33, is hardly a stranger to public service. He works full-time as executive director of the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), which reviews complaints against city police officers. He joined the organization in 2017 and worked as an assistant director until November, when he was appointed to head up its operations.
He also serves as headquarters company commander for the 436th Civil Affairs Battalion in the U.S. Army Reserve, where he holds the rank of captain. A lawyer by training, he is an adjunct professor at Florida International University, where he teaches courses on criminal justice, law and public administration.
In addition to leading the CIP, he is Vice Chair of the Executive Board of Engage Miami, a youth- and minority-focused group whose mission is to build “civic equity and power through voter engagement, civic education, leadership development, and local state issue organizing.”
He said his campaign will have two primary focuses. The first is what he calls “economics for the dinner table,” real issues that impact how Floridians can feed and house themselves.
“Right now, we’re dealing with a crisis not only with insurance but property taxes, at least in my district, and it’s forcing people out of their homes,” he said. “Some of these people have already paid off their mortgages. If we don’t figure out a way to address our insurance crisis here in the state, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
The second issue is education. Jacobs, who is Black, cited the state’s recently adopted K-12 curriculum for African American history — which includes new guidance framing labor skills slaves developed could have potentially been “applied for their personal benefit” — as particularly troubling.
“Seeing that our education system may be promoting curriculums and ethics that aren’t really historical facts is extremely concerning,” he said.
“We need to have an education system that promotes prosperity, no matter if you’re going to college or if you’re going to a trade school. I want to be part of the change that allows people to show up in a space and get the knowledge necessary for them to thrive and not litigate or legislate issues that aren’t real issues.”
Effecting those changes requires that he run for state office and not a local position, he said, because of how much control the Florida Legislature has wrested from county and municipal governments.
“Up until recently, I always felt the best way to change our community is through administrative law or running an administrative department,” he said. “Over the last two to three years, with the consolidation of power in Tallahassee and erosion of home rule, it’s become a lot harder to do that in a meaningful way.”
SD 35 spans a large area of Broward stretching westward into Alligator Alley, including Cooper City, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Southwest Ranches and parts of Davie and Hollywood.
The district leans heavily Democratic, with 43% of all registered voters there belonging to the Democratic Party compared to 32% who belong to no party, 23% who are Republican and 1% who are part of the Independent Party.
Jacobs said he plans to open a political committee to fundraise for the SD 35 race, which he expects will be pricey.
“I’m not naïve,” he said. “I know it’s going to take a lot of money to win, but that’s not dissuading me. I think if I get out there, inspire people and give them hope with real policies that it will be the difference, and people will show up, donate and give their time and talent.”
In her run last year, Sharief — a doctor of nursing practice and health care executive — raised and spent $680,000 through her campaign and a now-closed political committee. More than 92% of the money came from her bank account.
Book, meanwhile, spent about $2.5 million to keep her seat with 60% of the vote.
The Primary Election in 2024 is on Aug. 20, followed by the General Election Nov. 5.