Perennially outnumbered by Republicans in Tallahassee, Florida Democrats have a chance to win back a competitive Miami state Senate seat in September. But first, Kendall-area voters will have to pick between two political veterans running in the Senate District 40 primary: former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.
Compared to the more expensive and more heated Republican primary, the race between Taddeo and Rivas Logan has been low-key. The two Hispanic women agree on a lot. But Rivas Logan is campaigning as an underdog, outraised by Taddeo even though Rivas Logan has prior experience in elected office and Taddeo does not.
“I have never outraised anyone and have never gotten big-time endorsements, but I have outworked and outsmarted my opponents every time,” Rivas Logan said. As of July 1, Taddeo had raised nearly $46,000, compared to Rivas Logan’s $10,425.
The financial gap makes Taddeo the favorite, at least on paper. But Taddeo has lost four elections over the past eight years, even in cases where she’s raked in more campaign cash. She lost a bid for Congress in 2008, for Miami-Dade County Commission in 2010, as Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial running mate in 2014 and to Joe Garcia in a Democratic congressional primary in 2016.
“I am a girl, not Cuban and have never been elected, which is tough,” said Taddeo, who is Colombian-American. “It’s not how many times you’ve fallen but how you’ve learned from them and get back on your feet and keep on fighting.”
The special July 25 primary election was set after former Sen. Frank Artiles resigned in April following a tirade unleashed against two fellow legislators and the revelation that he’d paid a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model as political campaign consultants. Three Republicans — former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and attorney Lorenzo Palomares — are also running; the general election will take place Sept. 26.
Democrats used to hold the district, but lost it when Artiles defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard last November. Winning this year would give Democrats a 16th seat — out of 40 — in the Senate.
After Artiles resigned, Florida Democratic Party leaders backed a run by Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables. But she dropped out before formally qualifying as a candidate, after the Miami Herald revealed she not only didn’t live in District 40 but also didn’t appear to live in her current House district.
Taddeo, 50, was raised in Colombia to a Colombian mother and an American father. She runs a translation business and is married with one daughter, 11-year-old Sophia, who regularly joins mom knocking on voters’ doors — and likes to opine on political issues of the day.
“I couldn’t get into college because my testing was so bad,” Taddeo told a reporter while campaigning on a recent afternoon. “And I see it today in my daughter’s school, where the teachers spend so much time teaching to the test.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” interjected Sophia, who recently graduated from Howard Drive Elementary School. “It’s been changing a lot, Mommy.”
Taddeo has a long-standing history with the Democratic Party. Despite her list of losses, she has been chair of the Democratic Party of Miami-Dade, vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party and committeewoman for the DNC. She was a media surrogate for the reelection campaign of Barack Obama, host of a weekly CNN Latino political show and was a political commentator for MSNBC.
Rivas Logan, 56, served on the Miami-Dade School Board from 2004-08. In 2010, she was elected to the state House as a Republican. Unlike Taddeo, Rivas Logan is newer to the Democratic Party. She disavowed the GOP in 2014, after party leaders backed her primary opponent — Rep. Diaz, one of the Republican Senate candidates — over her when both ended up in the same district.
The Nicaragua-born daughter of exiled Cuban immigrants, Rivas Logan has worked for the public school district for 30 years. She became a single mother at 19 and raised three children.
“I know what it’s like to get up at 5 a.m., to make breakfast, to be at work by 7:30, to have a group of students waiting for me, to have to go home and grade papers and tend to my own children,” she said. “Most of the legislators have their kids in private schools and most are very wealthy, but I am an advocate for the average working person because I am.”
Rivas Logan’s limited budget has resulted in little evidence of a major ground campaign. Taddeo’s got a small campaign office with volunteers who telephone likely voters nightly. But Rivas Logan came second in last year’s District 40 primary under similar circumstances, doing better than a far better-funded third-place finisher.
Both women are campaigning on education, including their shared opposition to House Bill 7069, legislation passed earlier this year that among other things funneled more state dollars to privately managed charter schools.
“Our kids deserve the one equalizer we have and that is education,” Taddeo said. “If we are going to give money to [charter schools] they need to be held accountable.”
Rivas Logan is somewhat less critical of charter schools: “I don’t hate charter schools, but I think the public is having a tough time with the amount of money being made off the public taxes.”
Taddeo expressed her concerns for the growing problem of traffic in the district and said that will be one of her top priorities. She also touched on how the budget could be better managed.
“If you look at the budget, and the lopsided way in which we put so much funding into our prisons and not enough into education, it’s just insane,” Taddeo said.
Rivas Logan campaigns hard to attract the working class, reminding voters of her time as a Republican when she worked to “beat the paycheck protection” bill in 2011 — which would have prohibited government unions from taking automated dues out of paychecks for political purposes. Most educators were opposed to it and the bill died on the Senate floor.
Taddeo and Rivas Logan both agreed on the importance of Planned Parenthood and how crucial it is to keep funding their services.
“I have always been supportive of Planned Parenthood regardless of party and I have always felt that they have done a lot of good things,” Rivas Logan said. “They educate our youth and provide healthcare to women but they have been demonized.”
In a jab at her opponent, Rivas Logan suggested Taddeo might not be ready to take on a Republican in the general election.
Taddeo dismissed the notion and said for women in politics, the majority of the time their biggest critics are, in fact, other women.
“You have to have thick skin to be in this and you can’t take things personally, like a mean tweet,” Taddeo said. “Maybe because I grew up with people making fun of the scar I have on my face it’s made me resilient.”
She added, “If you have your convictions nothing else matters.”