Rishi Bagga says voters should know about Marucci Guzmán’s marriage to Rene Plasencia

Bagga guzman placencia
The candidates face off in a Nov. 7 Democratic Primary.

A Democratic candidate’s marriage to a Republican politician has one opponent questioning her message to Primary voters.

Lawyer Rishi Bagga told Florida Politics that nonprofit leader Marucci Guzmán has selectively promoted her marriage to former Rep. Rene Plasencia.

“She is trying to play it both ways, to be very honest,” Bagga said. “Rene appears on her campaign website and on her palm cards she hands out at doors, but on all the mailers to Democratic voters, he does not appear.”

For Guzmán’s part, she considers criticism involving her marriage out of bounds.

“My husband is not the one who is running,” she said. “No one else gets asked about their spouse. But we, in 2023, are still having a conversation as if women don’t have the ability to think critically and think on their own.”

Bagga voiced frustration after the Orlando Sentinel endorsed Guzmán over Bagga and Tom Keen in a Democratic Primary to fill a vacant House District 35 seat. The write-up specifically cites her connection to Plasencia and members of his family.

“This is what gives Guzmán her slight edge. She knows this district well: She’s married to former Rep. Rene Plasencia, a Republican who represented part of District 35 prior to redistricting. That makes her sister-in-law to current Rep. Susan Plasencia, who is also a Republican,” The editorial notes.

After the op-ed published, Bagga posted online he was “perplexed” by the decision.

“They decided to endorse Marucci Guzmán ‘by a hair’ and that hair was that Guzmán comes from a family of Republican legislators and could be successful navigating a Republican legislature,” he wrote. “In essence, it doesn’t matter that you’re the smartest and best prepared candidate. It matters more that you come from a powerful family even if that family has actively worked against Democratic principles.”

For his part, Plasencia called it “misogynistic” to attack his wife based on their relationship.

“Anyone who knows my wife knows her husband is not influencing her,” he said. “She is a very strong woman and a very strong leader.”

The back-and-forth between Bagga and Guzmán spotlights another dynamic of Plasencia’s place in the race. He regularly posts online in support of his wife’s candidacy, even as Guzmán aims to flip a swing district from red to blue.

The Special Election in HD 35 was called after the resignation of Rep. Fred Hawkins, a St. Cloud Republican, to become President of South Florida State College. Most voters in the district in 2020 supported Democrat Joe Biden for President, and Florida Democrats see the election as a prime opportunity to cut into the Republican supermajority in the House.

That’s a supermajority that includes Plasencia’s sister Susan, who flipped a blue seat red in November. Rene Plasencia just last year considered running for a Senate seat as a Republican. But Plasencia sees no contradiction in his party loyalty and with supporting his wife’s Democratic candidacy.

“Even if I was a far-right Republican, and no one can make the argument I am, I would always support my wife in whatever she wants to do,” he said.

Bagga said he’s not criticizing the marriage. But he takes issue with Guzmán sometimes selling her connection to Republicans as an asset.

“As Democrats we have to be concerned,” Bagga said.

“There already is a Republican Party, and they do fine advocating on their principals in the Legislature. Who do we want to fight for Democrats? For us, we need a candidate who can speak to new communities to increase our power and better convey our message, not someone who is going to be able to use family connections to navigate a Republican Legislature. That is not how we grow our presence in our state. Democrats need to think about who we want up there.”

Guzmán said she’s shown she can advocate for her community fine. She’s the Executive Director of Latino Leadership and created the Puerto Rico Family Response Center in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and has long served as an advocate in Central Florida’s Hispanic community.

“I have been doing my work for 20 years, and I have always been Marucci,” she said. “That’s always been my way. Having men question my ability to think because I’m married to someone, who cares? I still have the ability to be the candidate I am.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


2 comments

  • rick whitaker

    October 19, 2023 at 7:49 am

    guzman needs to step aside and support another democrat that is not conflicted by being influenced by gop people, no matter if they sleep with them or not. the two parties are so far apart that trust is lost by being aligned with the maga cult. there are many unconflicted dems that she could support.

  • Miami

    October 24, 2023 at 4:15 am

    Wow she supports and marries anti-vaxxers who think there’s a microchip in the vaccine ? Lol DINO

Comments are closed.


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