We now know what Miami-Dade School Board member Lucia Báez-Geller’s next political move is, and it’s an ambitious one.
The educator and community leader, who confirmed in August that she would forgo seeking a second School Board term, is taking on Republican U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.
“My opponent has put party politics over Florida families — and it’s time we vote her out of office,” Báez-Geller said in a statement Thursday. “As the daughter of immigrants who was raised in Miami, I am proud to announce my candidacy to restore order in the halls of Congress, grow the middle class, and protect fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Báez-Geller is the first Democrat to run this election cycle for the seat Salazar won in 2020, the same year Báez-Geller won her District 3 seat on the county School Board.
She came to the seat after teaching English for 15 years at Miami Beach Senior High, during which she worked with several teachers’ unions and earned “Political Advocate of the Year” honors from the National Education Association.
In the past three years, she has distinguished herself as the School Board’s most progressive member, an increasingly taxing title to hold as Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-dominated state Legislature enacted censorious new policies to counter so-called “woke indoctrination.”
Báez-Geller was the only School Board member to vote for a proposal she sponsored to observe LGBTQ History Month for the first time in Miami-Dade schools. This year, she got two of her Democratic peers on panel to vote “yes” with her. The measure failed again despite the School Board lawyer’s opinion that the item did not run afoul of Florida’s expanded Parental Rights in Education law barring LGBTQ-inclusive instruction.
Like Salazar, Báez-Geller is the daughter of Latin American expatriates who fled to South Florida to escape communist regimes. Báez-Geller was born to a Cuban father and Colombian mother. Both of Salazar’s parents were Cuban exiles.
Republicans have made major gains in recent years in Miami-Dade, once a progressive enclave that has shifted redder in recent years alongside statewide voter rolls.
Voters in CD 27 have tended to favor educators. The district — which covers Miami, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Key Biscayne, Pinecrest, North Bay Village, South Miami, West Miami and several unincorporated neighborhoods — was long represented by former I.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican educator and private school operator who served the district from 1989 to 2019.
Ros-Lehtinen’s successor, Democrat Donna Shalala, worked for decades as President or Chancellor of three higher education institutions, including the University of Miami.
She defeated Salazar, a longtime TV journalist, for the CD 27 seat in 2018.
Salazar broke the trend in a rematch two years later and was re-elected last year with more than 57% of the vote against former Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo.
In her three years in Washington, Salazar hasn’t proven to be a particularly effective lawmaker. She has sponsored 40 pieces of legislation since taking office. Just one bill, a resolution denouncing socialism, passed in the House.
After losing congressional representation from Florida in 2022, the Democratic Party has narrowed its focus in the state to pursue fewer seats than last year. Those targeted include Salazar’s CD 27 seat and the one Republican Anna Paulina Luna flipped last November in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.
The Democrats’ messaging strategy to flip the seats, so far, has been to highlight the “brinkmanship” of the GOP incumbents, such as Salazar’s vote in September to limit access to an abortion pill and her perpetuation of a widely discredited theory involving voter fraud in the 2020 election.
“Right now, Miami-Dade County faces a crisis that has made everyday essentials such as gas and groceries more expensive. Housing continues to be unaffordable and our children’s progress in the classroom is being obstructed by far-right politicians,” she said.
“Rather than work to find common-sense solutions to the problems we face, my opponent has endorsed extremists in her party to crack down on our freedoms and sow chaos and disorder — leaving Florida behind.”
Báez-Geller has endorsed former state Rep. Joe Geller (no relation) to succeed her on the School Board.