BY JIM TURNER
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Republicans appeared set Tuesday night to retain, maybe even grow, their majority in the state Senate as lawmakers head toward two years of grappling with a coronavirus-damaged budget and redrawing political boundaries.
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, was down by a handful of votes as he tried to fend off a challenge from Republican Ileana Garcia in Miami-Dade County’ Senate District 37.
But no other seats were on the verge of flipping, despite heavy attention and investments by Republicans and Democrats, along with various outside groups. Republicans, who have controlled the chamber since the 1994 election, went into the night with a 23-17 majority.
“Floridians cast their ballots in record numbers, making their voices heard up and down the ballot across the state,” incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a statement released by the Republican Party of Florida that also highlighted President Donald Trump winning the state and the GOP maintaining its control of the House.
“Tonight, we celebrate these tremendous victories, and tomorrow we get back to work on behalf of the hardworking people of Florida.’’
Garcia, a deputy press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration who founded Latinas for Trump, has drawn support since May from Senate leaders in an effort to grab a seat from the Democrats.
Some term limits
In other closely watched races, former Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, defeated attorney Patricia Sigman, a Democrat from Altamonte Springs, in the District 9 race in Volusia and Seminole counties. That seat was open because Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is term-limited.
“While I wish we had been successful tonight, it does not change the immense value of the work we’ve done to advance a positive agenda that put the people first,” Sigman said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, topped Rep. Rep. Javier Fernández, a Democrat from South Miami, in Senate District 39. That district, made up of Monroe County and part of Miami-Dade County, was open because Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, was term-limited.
Also, Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, defeated Marva Preston in Senate District 3, which was open because Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, is term-limited. Preston, of Crawfordville, was strongly backed by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee as the GOP tried to flip the 11-county district.
“Having spent my life in the Big Bend, it is truly an honor that the citizens of Senate District 3 have put their trust in me to serve as their next senator,” Ausley said in a statement. “Bill Montford and (former Sen.) Al Lawson leave big shoes to fill, but I am up to the task and will look forward to their guidance as we move from what has been a tough campaign trail to governing in these challenging times.”
Among incumbents winning Tuesday night were Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, Victor Torres, D-Orlando, Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, Darryl Rouson, D-Tampa, Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, Gayle Harrell, D-Stuart, and Lori Berman, D-Lantana.
Among those joining the Senate are six House members who will move their offices to the south side of the Capitol in a reorganization session on Nov. 17. That session will include Simpson being sworn in as the next president.
Set to join Brodeur, Rodriguez and Ausley in moving from the House are Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.
Rodrigues defeated Democrat Rachel Brown for the District 27 seat held by term-limited Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. Polsky topped Republican Brian Norton for the District 29 seat being vacated early by Sen. Kevin Rader. Jones had only a write-in opponent on the November ballot after defeating a crowded Democratic primary field for the District 35 seat.
Among the other newcomers is former Rep. Danny Burgess, a Republican from Zephyrhills who had been executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Burgess topped Democrat Kathy Lewis in the District 20 contest to replace Sen. Tom Lee, who announced his resignation in June with two years remaining in his term.