House Races: Some Old, Some New, and the First Gay Lawmaker

By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Aug. 16, 2012

Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

In primary elections shaped by newly drawn districts, Florida voters Tuesday appeared to send three incumbent House members packing, rejuvenated the political careers of a few old names --- and likely elected the state's first openly gay lawmaker.

Miami-Dade voters chose Rep. Jose Felix Diaz over fellow Rep. Ana Rivas Logan in a Republican primary in House District 116, and Rep. Barbara Watson held a narrow lead late Tuesday over Rep. John Patrick Julien in a Democratic primary in District 107.

Meanwhile, Palm Beach County voters gave former Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, a big primary win over incumbent Steve Perman of Boca Raton. Rader joined former lawmakers such as Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, in winning primaries as they seek to return to Tallahassee.

In Miami-Dade, meanwhile, Democratic voters in District 113 chose David Richardson over three other candidates, electing likely the first openly gay member of the Legislature. Richardson, a Miami Beach accountant who got 33 percent of the vote, does not have a general election opponent.

"Florida's journey to total equality, including marriage equality, is far from over,'' the advocacy group SAVE Dade said in an e-mail. "But David's victory is a big step forward for our community."

The once-a-decade redistricting process has led to incumbent House members knocking on doors in unfamiliar territory this year and, in some cases, facing tougher primary races than in the past.

In northeast Florida, Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, withstood a tough challenge from St. Johns County residents Mike Davis and Kim Kendall in District 17. Renuart got 39 percent of the vote, while Davis collected 31 percent and Kendall had about 30 percent.

In a neighboring district, Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, turned back Neptune Beach attorney Cord Byrd in another hard-fought race. Adkins got about 66 percent of the vote as she seeks a third term in the newly drawn district that includes parts of Duval and Nassau counties.

Some of Tuesday's close races did not involve incumbents. For example, Avon Park physician Cary Pigman had a 26-vote lead late Tuesday over former Rep. Randy Johnson of Sebring in a Republican primary in largely rural House District 55 in south-central Florida.

In the Orlando area, Republican Marco Pena won by fewer than 300 votes in his House District 49 primary against Rene "Coach P" Plasencia. Among Democratic primaries, Gainesville Democrat Andrew Morey also won by fewer than 400 votes over the better-funded Aaron Bosshardt in District 21.

The primaries also provided a chance for some former lawmakers to try to return to Tallahassee. Diaz de la Portilla, who has served in the House and Senate, easily beat former Rep. Gus Barreiro in a Republican primary in District 112 and moved onto a general-election race against Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Diaz de la Portilla's brother Renier, also a former House member, wasn't so lucky: He lost to Manny Diaz, Jr., in a Republican primary in District 103.

Other former lawmakers who were successful in House races Tuesday included former Rep. Bruce Antone, who won a Democratic primary in District 46 in the Orlando area and does not face a general-election opponent. Also, former Republican Rep. Frank Farkas, of St. Petersburg, cruised to an easy win in District 68, though he still faces a general-election fight against Democrat Dwight Dudley.

Also, while not quite a former lawmaker, term-limited Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, crushed two opponents in the Republican primary in House District 36. Fasano faces only a write-in opponent in November.


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