Miami Herald: Joe Garcia kicks off campaign for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s former seat

May 19, 2010


Democrat Joe Garcia officially launched his congressional campaign Tuesday, setting his sights for the second time on U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s seat in Washington — this time by attacking Tallahassee.

Without mentioning him by name, Garcia made jabs at state Rep. David Rivera, the Miami Republican front runner in the closley watched race. Nationally, Democrats backing Garcia are looking to take one of Miami’s three congressional seats held by Cuban-American Republicans.

Garcia assailed “Tallahassee politicians” for slashing state services, raising fees and passing a controversial teacher pay and tenure bill that Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed last month.

“The last thing we need is one more Tallahassee politician in Washington,” Garcia said after speaking to more than 100 people in a meeting room at Miami Dade College’s Kendall campus. “We’ve seen what that’s gotten us.”

Garcia had already called out Rivera last week for not taking a position on a controversial law in Arizona that makes it a crime for immigrants not to carry legal papers and gives local police the power to question people suspected of being in the country illegally. Garcia opposes the legislation.

Rivera did not support or oppose the law Tuesday, instead calling it “a distraction from the real solutions that are required to solve the immigration problem,” such as securing the border and developing a viable guest-worker program.

And he fired back at Garcia, a former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairman and Obama administration official.

“I don’t think the voters of district 25 simply want another Washington insider who’s going to be a rubber stamp for the Obama-Pelosi administration,” Rivera said in a reference to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Garcia ran as a Washington outsider for the same seat two years ago, narrowly losing to the incumbent Diaz-Balart. Last month, Diaz-Balart was elected without opposition to his brother’s more Republican-leaning seat, which opened when Lincoln Diaz-Balart decided to retire.

Garcia’s former job as director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Minority Economic Impact could keep him from claiming outsider status this time around, so he is trying to shift the campaign’s focus on Tallahassee.

Like in 2008, jobs, the economy and taxes will likely shape the campaign. But so will immigration, federal healthcare reform — which Garcia supports and Rivera wants to repeal — and offshore oil drilling. Garcia opposes drilling; Rivera supports existing drilling rules. A federal ban now prohibits oil drilling 125 miles off state beaches.

Both Garcia and Rivera face primary challengers for the vast 25th congressional district that spans western Miami-Dade, eastern Collier and Monroe counties.

Paul Crespo and Mariana “Marili” Cancio will challenge Rivera, while Garcia faces union activist Luis Meurice. Also running for the seat: Tea Party candidate Roly Arrojo and Whig Party candidate Craig Porter.

The unions of the South Florida AFL-CIO, which backed Garcia two years ago, said last month that they voted unanimously to submit an early endorsement recommendation for the Florida AFL-CIO for the lesser known Meurice. The statewide group holds its endorsing convention at the end of the month.

On the GOP side, Crespo, a conservative political consultant and Spanish-language television commentator, slammed Rivera, the House budget chief. In a statement issued Tuesday, Crespo said Rivera was “unethical” for raising money during the annual legislative session in Tallahassee from lobbyists and others.

State legislators are banned from collecting checks during session for state races but not for federal races.