Ana Maria Rodriguez, Javier Fernandez and Robert Ascensio
With very few Florida Senate seats up for grabs next year, political insiders are eyeing a South Florida district Democrats are eager to flip to make gains in the upper chamber.
But late this week, the Dems were left without an official candidate in the battle for what is viewed as the state’s most competitive Senate seat in 2020.
Citing health issues, Pinecrest Village Council member Anna Hochkammer bowed out of the SD 39 race on Thursday. Her withdrawal, first reported by Florida Politics, has temporarily left Senate Democrats scrambling for a candidate to fight for the swing seat, currently held by Miami Republican Anitere Flores. Flores is unable to seek re-election due to term limits.
Hochkammer’s exit comes as the GOP establishment lines up behind state Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral. If Republicans win the race, they would maintain a 23-17 advantage in the Senate.
Senate Victory views the race for District 39, which covers all of Monroe County and parts of Miami-Dade County, as “the top pick-up opportunity next year in the fight for a Democratic majority,” the political committee’s spokesman, Anders Croy, told The News Service of Florida.
Senate Dems won’t be shut out of the race, even without Hochkammer.
Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is in charge of recruiting candidates, said in a text message Friday that state Rep. Javier Fernandez, a South Miami Democrat who was elected to the House in November, is “strongly considering” entering the race. Former state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat who lost his re-election bid last year, is also expected to enter the race, Farmer said.
The announcement about Hochkammer’s illness drew bipartisan messages of support on social media, including a heartfelt tweet by former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“Tho we’re from different political parties, @pinecrestfl Council Member Anna Hochkammer always helps our Village of Pinecrest and I am saddened that she is dealing with a medical issue that will require her full attention so she is dropping out of her race. Prayers for u, amiga,” she wrote.
FLORIDA JOINS VOTER SECURITY EFFORT
Gov. Ron DeSantis has agreed to allow Florida to join a national electronic center to exchange voter registration data with other states, an effort long-sought by county supervisors of elections.
DeSantis said Wednesday Florida will become the 29th state to participate in the Electronic Voter Registration Information Center, known as “ERIC,” adding that the move will ensure the integrity of voter-registration lists in the state.
The electronic center helps elections supervisors eliminate voter registration duplicates.
“It’s my judgment it makes the most sense, especially given the fact that we have a lot of people moving into the state,” the governor said this week.
Data matches by the center can identify voters registered in two states, those who have moved between states, and those who have died, which allows county elections officials to identify and remove people who are no longer eligible to vote in the state.
DeSantis anticipates Florida will be fully involved with ERIC before next year’s presidential election.
NOT THE TIME TO PARTY
The second execution ordered by the governor kept First Lady Casey DeSantis from a campaign rally for President Donald Trump, a major ally of the governor.
The first lady, a powerful figure in Florida politics, was supposed to be one of the guests at a “Women for Trump” event Thursday evening, but she cancelled the appearance because of the scheduled execution of serial killer Gary Ray Bowles. Other headliners at the Trump event in Tampa included presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
“The day of an execution is somber, including out of respect for the victims and for that reason First Lady Casey DeSantis will not attend any public events,” Helen Ferre, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an email Monday, after the campaign announcement had been posted.
Bowles, who was convicted of the 1994 murder of a Jacksonville man who was hit in the head with a concrete block and strangled, was executed by lethal injection shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday night, according to state corrections officials.
Bowles, 57, was sentenced to death for the murder of Walter Hinton, who was found dead in his Jacksonville mobile home. Bowles also is serving life sentences for the 1994 murders of John Roberts in Volusia County and Albert Morris in Nassau County. In addition, Bowles confessed to murdering men in Georgia and Maryland, with evidence suggesting he targeted gay men, according to information released in June by the governor’s office.
DeSantis signed a death warrant in June for Bowles, who was the second inmate executed since the Republican governor took office in January. Tampa-area serial killer Bobby Joe Long was put to death by lethal injection on May 23 at Florida State Prison.
Bowles, who had a final meal of three hamburgers, French fries and bacon, made a hand-written statement before he died, saying he was “so very sorry to all of the family and friends of Mr. Hinton.”
“I never wanted to kill him, and I’m sorry for all of the pain and suffering I have caused. I hope my death eases your pain,” Bowles wrote.
Bowles also apologized to his mother, adding “having to deal with your son being called a monster is terrible. I’m so very sorry.”
Bowles thanked several friends and his lawyers, as well as the warden and staff at Florida State Prison in Raiford, where he was held on Death Row.
“I was treated with respect for the last 73 days on death watch, and I felt human again,” he wrote. “I never wanted this to be my life. You don’t wake up one day and decide to become a serial killer. I’m sorry to the other families who did not get closure. I’ve told the FBI everything, no cases left open.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Ron DeSantis announced this week that Florida will join a national electronic center to share voter registration information with other states.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Obviously, when people pass away, we wish them all the best in the world that lies ahead, but we don’t want them still involved in politics.” — Gov. Ron DeSantis, on Florida joining a consortium of states that share information about voter registration.