Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz Friday called for state Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, to resign her Senate District (SD) 37 seat after the legislative session concludes in May to allow for a special election untainted by “evidence of actual fraud.”
That evidence surfaced in arrest warrants and affidavits filed Thursday by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office corruption unit following its investigation into November’s SD 37 election in which Garcia defeated incumbent
Democrat José Javier Rodríguez by 32 votes in a runoff of more than 216,000 ballots cast.
Former Miami GOP state senator Frank Artiles is facing felony charges for allegedly offering Alex Rodriguez $50,000 to run as a non-party affiliated (NPA) candidate in the SD 37 race.
Investigators say in a 25-page affidavit that Artiles financed the campaign to “confuse voters and influence the outcome” in the SD 37 race by recruiting Rodriguez, 55, to “siphon votes from the incumbent” because they shared
surnames and because the NPA Rodriguez also shared the exact name as the MLB Hall-of-Famer and civilly active Miami celebrity.
Alex Rodriquez ran a shadow campaign – no website, candidate forums, fundraising – but nevertheless garnered more than 6,400 votes and that, investigators allege, taints the election results.
“We are alleging that November’s Florida Senate District 37 election
involved crimes,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Thursday.
Both Artiles and Rodriguez have been charged with third-degree felony campaign finance-related charges connected to illegal campaign contributions and false swearing in connection with voting or elections but Rodriguez’s attorney said his client is cooperating with authorities and was taken advantage of by Artiles.
“Frank Artiles and his co-conspirators knew they couldn’t beat José Javier Rodríguez in a fair election so they rigged it,” said William Barzee. “Artiles cynically targeted and used a vulnerable ‘friend’ with a great name to run in the race in order to confuse voters and steal the election.”
Diaz said Democrats are not only calling for a SD 37 special election but demanding the Legislature look into the state GOP committee’s acknowledged use of NPA dark-money candidates in contested elections.
If not, he warned, he’ll push for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into numerous Florida elections featuring NPA “spoilers,” adding Artiles is not a “lone wolf.”
“It would just seem to me to be very odd that this would continue to occur statewide for as long as it has without the tacit approval of the leadership,” Diaz said.
Democrats have filed two Senate bills and a House proposal addressing NPA candidates. None have been heard.
Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said his Senate Bill 1416 requires candidates to “disclose a lot more information about where they’re
receiving their funds.”
Similar bills – SB 830, filed by Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and House Bill 457, introduced by Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee – would require NPA
candidates to swear they are not members of a political party.
“Unfortunately,” Thurston said, “I don’t see any of (the bills) getting any traction as of right now. Maybe this occurrence of what we’re dealing with may spark a little more interest in actually bringing some of those bills to the agenda.”
Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said the Republican-controlled Legislature’s focus on potential – not actual – voter fraud in a raft of proposed “voter suppression” measures is hypocrisy.
“Two months ago, we heard repeated charges over-and-over-and-over again from then-President Trump and Republican leaders from around the country about fraud in the presidential election,” Farmer said. “They took those false complaints and ginned up their base to the point where a violent insurrection occurred in our nation’s capital.
“Now,” he concluded, “we have evidence of actual fraud. What are our Republicans going to do now?”