Primary Primer for August 23, 2022 (with updates)
AG: Ayala US House 27: Taddeo
Commission District 6: Vazquez
11th Circuit: Jean, Watson, Blumstein, Bloch
County Judge: Seraphin, Kolokoff, Janowitz
School Board District 6: Rojas
School Board District 8: Pérez
If there is one thing that is clear in light of recent events it is that we are still very much living in the Trump era. Biden is (fortunately) the current President, but the less chaotic, better organized reactionary forces lying in wait at least until the 1970s and emboldened by Trumpism are very much ascendent, especially in Florida.
Given the Democratic preference for gerontocracy, and the Republican preference for ruthless millennialish aspiring fascist politicians like Ron DeSantis, it will take more than one election cycle to reverse the electoral damage. The human damage is done, and the prospects are admittedly rather grim, but we still have contestable seats in Miami-Dade county, and our choices still matter even if the results of our efforts will be far from instantaneous.
Here’s what you need to know as a Coral Gables Democratic voter heading into the August primaries:
Florida is a “closed primary” state, meaning that only Democrats can choose Democratic candidates to go to the general election in November.
HOWEVER, Miami-Dade County runs “non-partisan” races for judgeships, county commission and school board that are ALSO contested in the primary. So this guide will combine basically lesser-evil Democratic primary races and hugely significant non-partisan races, all appearing on your August ballot.
Early voting runs August 8-21. Hours here.
The Coral Gables early voting site is temporarily located at the Youth Center, 405 University Drive, while the public library renovation continues. You can vote at any early voting site in the county.
Early voting sites will have staffed drop boxes for your vote by mail ballots.
The last day to request a VBM ballot is August 13, but please don’t wait that long.
Governor (contested primary)
The Governor’s race is among the most consequential—locally as well as nationally—in the 2022 general election. Although he beat Andrew Gillum in 2018 by a slim margin, DeSantis is now viewed as near-unbeatable, largely due to the methodical authoritarianism with which he wields his position as FoxNews’s favorite governor.
But persist we must.
The two remaining serious candidates since Annette Taddeo dropped out to run for US Congress in District 27 are Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, with Crist seeming to command the lead in polls, fundraising and endorsements. Both are in various ways problematic and unappealing, but consider the competition.
Charlie Crist—66, current Democratic congressman (FL-13/St. Petersburg), former Republican Governor of Florida (2007-2011), and perennial candidate for whatever. On paper, he’s the progressive’s least favorite kind of establishment Democrat--the kind who saw nothing wrong with being a Republican until 2012. But he’s done a remarkable job of recruiting smart Florida progressives (including Former South Miami Mayor Phillip Stoddard, State Senator Shevrin Jones and State Reps. Ana Eskamani and Carlos G. Smith, as well as his erstwhile opponent and one-time running mate for Governor in 2014, Annette Taddeo) to his side.
Nikki Fried—44, current Commissioner of Agriculture, the only statewide elected Democrat currently serving. A Miami native, Fried has some strong supporters locally but is a divisive figure within the Democratic Party. As a former marijuana industry lobbyist, her politics lean libertarian, which is good news for marijuana use and abortion rights, but less so for broadly popular progressive issues like raising the minimum wage. And, although she wants to insist to the contrary, her party loyalty is at least as questionable as Crist’s.
Vote: Pick your poison, lean Crist
Senator (basically uncontested primary)
Val Demings—65, Orlando-area congresswoman and former chief of the Orlando police department. She’s a cop, who insists reminding us of the fact by referring to herself as “the Chief,” but she’s a well-funded party-line-voting Democrat who appears to be gaining on the perennially terrible Marco Rubio.
Attorney General (contested primary)
Primary race to challenge Ashley Moody, the current Republican AG running for re-election unopposed in the Republican Primary.
Aramis Ayala—47, former public defender and Orlando-area States Attorney. Perhaps best known for announcing in 2019 that she would not seek the death penalty in any cases. Endorsed by the state LGBTQ+ Democratic caucus, the Working Families Party, and freelance Orlando political pundit Shaquille O’Neal, she appears to be the progressive choice.
Jim Lewis— 64, Ft. Lauderdale criminal defense attorney described by the Orlando Sentinel as “a perennial candidate who has run for several positions before —from State Attorney General to Mayor of Ft. Lauderdale—and lost every race.” Describes himself as “pro-law enforcement” and views Ayala’s anti-death penalty stance as disqualifying.
Daniel Uhlfelder— 49, a Miami-born Panhandle attorney known for semi-unhinged political theater, such as visiting Florida beaches dressed as the Grim Reaper during peak COVID and, most recently, joining Boynton Beach Rabbi Barry Silver’s lawsuit against Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban on the grounds that it impinges on Jewish religious freedom. A bit of a goof, but the best-known and best-funded of the three.
Vote: Ayala or Uhlfelder, lean Ayala
Secretary of Agriculture and Consumer Services (contested primary)
Primary race to succeed Niki Fried, who leaves her position under the “resign to run” rule. The winner will likely face Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson in the general.
This race is the late-breaking clown show of the primary season. Three weak candidates are stumbling over themselves to discredit one another. But they didn't get around to the career-ending accusations stage of the process until VBM ballots had already gone out.
Naomi Blemur—43, North Miami-based Haitian-American accountant and non-profit executive active in Miami-Dade County Democratic politics. Campaign emphasizes small farmers, small businesspeople, and community farming initiatives. Best fundraiser of the three, endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times and formerly by Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and State Senators Shevrin Jones and Annette Taddeo. Cava, Jones and Taddeo (and I) all rescinded their endorsements of Blemur on August 7 after the other campaigns and LGBTQ activists brought her anti-abortion rights and homophobic social media posts to light.
JR Gaillot—53, Jacksonville-area-based Haitian-American political consultant and legislative director running on a consumer protection, rent control, and environmental justice platform. Maintains strong ties to Haiti, which appears to be the locus of his experience with the “agricultural” part of the job. Endorsed by Florida For Change, The Blue Wave Coalition of Miami-Dade, and Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich.
Ryan Morales— 45, business and cybersecurity consult and “cannabis activist” who owns a small hemp farm near Orlando and invites campaign contributions in crypto. Emphasizes environmental the protection aspect of the job. Aligns himself closely with Fried (who has so far not endorsed him) and shares her most aggravating views, such as a lack of concern for agricultural laborers' wages or working conditions and sanctimonious outrage that medical marijuana card holders have restricted access to firearms. (Maybe focus on restricting everyone's gun access instead?) Endorsed by the Miami Herald and the statewide LGBTQ+ Dems caucus.
Vote: Morales or Gaillot, lean Gaillot.
US House District 27 (contested primary)
This is our best chance to flip a seat we never should have lost when María Elvira Salazar beat Donna Shalala in 2020. The candidates are two race-hoppers well known in local politics, Ken Russell and Annette Taddeo, as well as the long-shot DSAer Angel Montalvo who has been holding down this race since mid-2021.
Angel Montalvo— 29, emerged from the Peoples Progressive Caucus of the Miami Dade Democrats. He’s a smart and likable guy with little hope of carrying this district, but someone who deserves your conscience vote if you have one.
Ken Russell— 49, second-term Miami City Commissioner who ran for this seat and then dropped out on 2018 and was running for senate in the current cycle against Val Demings before deciding in May to run for congress instead. An intelligent-seeming and well-spoken progressive who has been maddeningly incompetent when it matters on the commission. In terms of ideological alignment, he wouldn’t be the worst person our district has sent to congress, but we can probably do better.
Annette Taddeo—55, a current state senator from the former district 40. She was Crist’s running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial race and was running for governor herself before switching to this race June. Well-known and well-liked in local politics, she is very likely to win this primary and seems to have a good shot against Salazar.
Vote: Montalvo or Taddeo, lean Taddeo.
Nonpartisan County Races
County Commission District 6
Miami-Dade County has 13 commission districts. The even-numbered districts are holding elections this year. District 6, which includes most of Coral Gables north of Bird Road and West of Douglass, is a Republican-leaning district that extends north to Hialeah and West to the Palmetto Expressway. The current commissioner, Rebecca Sosa, has reached her term limit, so there is big Republican rush to replace her in what is regarded as an easy seat to win.
This is the most important race in the primaries.
Barring the unlikely event of one candidate garnering more than 50 percent of the vote, the non-partisan primary will narrow the candidate field from 4 to 2 and, if we don’t show up, *both* of those candidates will be variously terrible Republicans.
The only democrat running is Victor Vazquez.
Vazquez is a Puerto Rican-born retired history professor at MDC and current Miami Springs council member. It would be better if he weren’t 70, but he’s a smart, reliable progressive with ties to the LGBTQ community through his queer children.
Running mostly against each other are 3 republicans:
Kevin Marino Cabrera—31, is a mildly notorious figure in local politics. A former staffer for former US District 26 congressman Carlos Curbelo and husband of current FL HD 114 representative Demi Busatta Cabrera, he was among the group of then-unknown Proud Boys who beat on door of Donna Shalala’s campaign office in 2018 hollering for Nancy Pelosi, who happened to be inside. These actions seemed mostly ludicrous at the time (Funchion and I were there), but look menacing from the perspective of January 6.
Compounding his general awfulness, Cabrera’s ads are wildly misleading. They improbably characterize him as an “independent voice” and even “political outsider,” but he was state political director for the Trump campaign in 2020, has been endorsed in this race by Trump, and calls his PAC “Dade First.” He’s managed to somehow scam a few labor union endorsements and is using them to appeal to Democrats in text messages and mailers. Don't be fooled.
Jorge Fors, Jr.—38, current Coral Gables commissioner. A pretty basic Miami Cuban Republican, with a slight tax evasion problem. An attorney and cigar-chomping young fogie, Fors is Sosa’s chosen successor.
Dariel Fernandez—43. Cuban born ad guy and Spanish Christian radio personality. Not especially well known in county politics, but you can’t count out a Cuban Republican with a radio show.
These races are also officially nonpartisan but there are obvious teams: Spanish last names v. non-Spanish last names and SAVE LGBT (the influential local queer PAC) endorsees v. Christian Family Coalition (CFC) endorsees. There is unfortunately a high correlation of Spanish last names, CFC endorsements, and electability but, again, we have to try.
11th Circuit Judges
Lody Jean—43, incumbent. Appointed to the county court by Rick Scott in in 2018, elevated to the circuit (criminal division) by DeSantis in 2020. Lebanese-Haitian-American, US attorney, immigration lawyer. Endorsed by SAVE and the Miami Herald.
Guerrero, Brenda—48, challenger. Former assistant state attorney, now solo practitioner in family law. Born in Puerto Rico to Dominican parents, raised in Miami.
Watson, Robert— 51, incumbent. Gay Bilingual Anglo. Former prosecutor. Former county court judge elevated to the circuit by DeSantis in 2020. Serves in the criminal division. Endorsed by the Herald and SAVE
Blumstein, Mark—53, incumbent. Elected in 2016. Former Navy JAG and self-described Jubano (Jewish Cuban), endorsed by SAVE and a number of labor unions, but not by the Miami Herald or UM Law Professor Michael Froomkin, both of whom raise doubts both about his ethics and his competence as judge.
Rodriguez, Ariel—50, challenger. DOJ bankruptcy attorney, Federalist Society Member and “graduate of the Citizens Police Academy of the City of Doral and Miami-Dade Police,” endorsed by the Herald.
Vote: Tough choice given Rodriguez’s very conservative profile and Blumstein’s obvious flaws. Tentatively Blumstein.
Jason Edward Bloch—54, challenger. Former Circuit Judge (criminal division) who lost election in 2016 to Judge Marcia Del Rey. Endorsed by SAVE and the Miami Herald.
Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts—59, incumbent. Attended a Christian Family Coalition (CFC) event celebrating the overturning of Roe. CFC endorsed, also endorsed by (generally cool and gay) County Public Defender Carlos Martinez and a lot of public employee unions.
Miami-Dade County Judges
This race has been receiving attention in the local political junkiesphere due to the dirty campaign tactics Renier Diaz de la Portilla is using against highly-accomplished sitting judge Fred Seraphin. There is generally no reason to vote for any member of the corrupt and politically ubiquitous DDLP clan, and perennial losing candidate Renier seems more hapless and therefore more dangerously desperate than the rest.
Renier Diaz de la Portilla—51, challenger. Christian Family Coalition endorsed
Fred Seraphin—63, incumbent. Serving since appointed by Jeb Bush in 2001. Former Public Defender, first Haitian-American judge in Miami-Dade. Endorsed by SAVE and the Miami Herald.
Lissette De La Rosa—46, challenger. Cuban-American attorney mostly working in the insurance industry. No apparent professional public service experience.
Jeffrey Kolokoff—42, incumbent. Appointed by DeSantis in 2020. Judge in the Mental Health Diversion and Criminal Court. Former Assistant State Attorney. Endorsed by SAVE and the Miami Herald
Kind of a tough decision on this one. Both are/would be competent judges, as the Herald notes. Both have some positive qualities, but associate themselves with far right organizations with a maddening insouciance given the current political and legal climate.
At a recent judicial candidate forum Janowitz said he was a member of the Federalist Society because he wanted to get a judicial appointment. Garcia Priovolos said she accepted the CFC endorsement because she accepts any and all endorsements. Good luck in court with either of these delightful careerists.
Alicia Garcia Priovolos—45, challenger. Christian Family Coalition and Miami Herald endorsed, Assistant State Attorney in the human trafficking unit. Awarded “state prosecutor of the year” by AG Ashley Moody.
Scott Janowitz— 44, incumbent. Former Assistant State Attorney appointed by DeSantis in 2020. Federalist Society member. Endorsed by SAVE.
Vote: Janowitz by default (I’m a gay Jewish parent, whatever Garcia Priovolos told the CFC to get their endorsement is likely bad news for me.)
In the stiff competition for most soul-killing of local races, these two might be the worst.
Sitting conservative board members Rojas and Pérez are being challenged from the right by DeSantis-endorsed Colucci and Sandra Manzieri, whom DeSantis apparently recruited and then dropped, but who has been endorsed by Moms for Liberty.
If you live in these districts and have ever thought about running for school board, here’s your sign to put qualifying for school board on your calendar for June 15, 2026.
Mari Tere Rojas —68, incumbent. School board member elected in 2016. Experienced at all levels of the school system from classroom through district administration. Voted repeatedly against adopting the already abridged-of-queerness “Comprehensive Health Skills” sex-ed textbook on alarming slippery slope grounds that this middle-high school text violated “Don’t Say Gay,” which, we were told all of 5 minutes ago by apologists, was really only concerned with K-3 instruction. Miami Herald endorsed.
Monica Colucci—49, challenger. Teacher at Everglades K-8 Center. DeSantis endorsee with an agenda closely aligned with the recent extremist state-level directives. Cartoonishly offensive website claims that the already conservative Marta Pérez “has either supported or stood idly by as progressive activists and special interests seek to promote socialist curriculums and ideologies in our schools.”
Marta Pérez—71, Incumbent running for her seventh 4-year school board term. Old school Cuban Republican, was chair of the Women's Regional Coalition for McCain for President in 2008 and also voted against the sex-ed text. Miami Herald endorsed.