Stories about Florida

Representative Alcee Hastings dies from pancreatic cancer

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) died from pancreatic cancer on April 6. He was first elected to Florida’s 23rd Congressional District in 1992 and represented it until it was redistricted as District 20 in 2012. Hastings was first elected from the 20th District in 2012. In last year’s general elections, Hastings defeated Greg Musselwhite (R), 79% to 21%.

Before being elected to Congress, Hastings was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida from 1979 until 1989. In 1989, the U.S. Senate tried Hastings on 17 counts of perjury and bribery, finding him guilty on eight counts. The Senate voted to remove Hastings from that judgeship, but he was not disqualified from holding office in the future.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will set a date for a special election to fill this vacancy. As of April 6, five special elections to the 117th Congress have been scheduled in the following districts:

  1. Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Districts,
  2. New Mexico’s 1st District,
  3. Texas’ 6th District, and
  4. Ohio’s 11th District.

With Hastings’ death, the current partisan breakdown of the U.S. House is 218 Democrats, 211 Republicans, and six vacancies.   

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Florida Administrative Commission appoints new chief administrative law judge

On December 15, the Florida Administrative Commission, composed of the governor and cabinet, appointed Pete Antonacci to serve as chief administrative law judge (ALJ) of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH).

As chief administrative law judge, Antonacci will manage 31 administrative law judges within the DOAH as they oversee challenges to state agency rules. 

State ALJ operations vary by state. While some states mirror the federal ALJ structure by allowing state agencies to maintain a roster of state ALJs, 28 states, including Florida, operate a central panel of ALJs who are assigned to agencies as needed. 

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U.S. Senate confirms Cannon to federal district court judgeship

The U.S. Senate confirmed Aileen Cannon to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida by a 56-21 vote on November 12, 2020. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Cannon receives her federal judicial commission and takes her judicial oath, the 18-member court will have ten Republican-appointed judges, seven Democrat-appointed judges, and one vacancy. Cannon will join four other judges appointed by President Trump.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 222 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—three Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 164 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

Cannon was an assistant attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida from 2013 to 2020. Before that, she worked in private practice and as a law clerk to the  United States Court of Appeals for 8th Circuit Judge Steven Colloton. Cannon earned her bachelor of arts degree from Duke University in 2003 and her J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007.

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Burgess defeats Lewis in special election for Florida State Senate District 20

Daniel Burgess (R) defeated Kathy Lewis (D) in the special general election for Florida State Senate District 20 on November 3. Burgess secured 54.9% of the vote to Lewis’s 45.1%. 

The special election was called after Tom Lee (R) announced his retirement, effective Nov. 3. Lee served from 2016 to 2020. 

Ballotpedia identified the Florida State Senate as a battleground chamber in the 2020 election. Democrats needed to gain four seats to overcome the 23-17 Republican majority. As of November 6, Democrats had not gained any seats, with one race remaining to be called in the chamber.

Florida has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. 

As of November, 59 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 27 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year. Florida held 24 state legislative special elections from 2010 to 2019.

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Republicans flip two U.S. House seats in Florida

Two Democratic U.S. representatives lost re-election bids in Florida, bringing the count of defeated incumbents to seven as of Nov. 5. All seven defeated incumbents are Democrats.

In Florida’s 26th Congressional District, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) lost to Carlos Gimenez (R). In the 27th District, Donna Shalala (D) lost to Maria Elvira Salazar (R). Both incumbents were first elected in 2018.

Other incumbents defeated in 2020 are Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Collin Peterson (MN-07), Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02), Kendra Horn (OK-05), and Joe Cunningham (SC-01).

Two other congressional districts have switched party hands. Democrats won open-seat races for North Carolina’s 2nd and 6th Congressional Districts, where Republican incumbents George Holding and Mark Walker did not seek re-election. They announced they would not run after court-ordered redistricting in 2019 changed the partisan composition of the districts.

In 2020, Ballotpedia is calling congressional races once there is a consensus projection from five outlets: ABC News, CNN, FOX News, NBC, and the New York Times. As of 8:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 5, we called 379 of 435 House races. Democrats had won 192, and Republicans had won 187. Democrats currently hold a 232-197 majority.

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Esteban Bovo Jr., Daniella Levine Cava running in Miami-Dade County’s mayoral election

Esteban Bovo Jr. and Daniella Levine Cava are running in the nonpartisan general election for Mayor of Miami-Dade County on November 3, 2020. In the August nonpartisan primary, Bovo and Levine Cava advanced with 29.5% and 28.6% of the vote, respectively.

Though the race is nonpartisan, the candidates have received partisan support, with Republican organizations endorsing Bovo and Democratic organizations endorsing Levine Cava. The office was last held by a Democratic-aligned candidate in 2004. In 2016, incumbent Carlos Gimenez, a Republican, won re-election 48% to 32%.

Both candidates currently serve as Miami-Dade County commissioners. Bovo said his priorities include supporting small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, investing in law enforcement, and investing in infrastructure and transportation projects. Levine Cava said her priorities include supporting working people during the coronavirus pandemic, addressing climate change, and investing in infrastructure.

According to the Miami-Dade County website, the mayor “is Miami-Dade’s highest-ranking elected official and chief administrator, who oversees a metropolitan government with 28,417 employees, an annual budget of approximately $8.9 billion, and serving 2.7 million residents.” The seat of the county is Miami.

Additional reading:
Mayoral election in Miami-Dade County, Florida (2020)
Municipal elections in Miami-Dade County, Florida (2020)

Florida governor appoints Grosshans to state supreme court

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed Jamie Grosshans to the Florida Supreme Court on September 14, 2020. She was appointed to succeed Justice Robert Luck, who was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in November 2019. Grosshans will join two other DeSantis nominees on the seven-member court.

The governor had originally appointed Renatha Francis to the position on May 26, but a five-member Florida Supreme Court ruled against Francis’ appointment and ordered the governor to select a different nominee. State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-44) filed a lawsuit challenging Francis’ appointment in July 2020.

Grosshans is a judge on the Florida 5th District Court of Appeal. She was appointed to that court by Gov. Rick Scott (R) in 2018. She was a judge for the Orange County Court in Florida from 2017 to 2018. Before that, Grosshans was a solo practitioner for Plant Street Law. She also previously worked as an assistant state attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College and a J.D., cum laude, from the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Florida Supreme Court justices are chosen through a process of assisted appointment. A judicial nominating commission screens potential judicial candidates and submits a list of nominees to the governor. The governor must appoint a judge from this list. Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they appear in a yes-no retention election held during the next general election. If retained, judges serve six-year terms.

The Florida Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of September 2020, all six of the sitting justices were appointed by a Republican governor.

In 2019, there were 22 supreme court vacancies across 14 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Retirements caused 14 of the vacancies. In 2020, there have been 20 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.

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Florida Supreme Court nullifies appointment, orders governor to select new nominee

Five members of the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the appointment of Renatha Francis. Justice John Couriel recused himself. The court ordered Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to select a new nominee from a list of seven recommended by a judicial nominating commission.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) had appointed Francis to the state supreme court on May 26, 2020, to succeed Robert Luck. In July, State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-District 44) filed a lawsuit challenging the appointment. Thompson argued Francis was unqualified because she had not been a member of the Florida Bar for the amount of time (10 years) required under the Florida Constitution. Francis will reach the 10-year membership requirement on September 24, 2020.

The court held that Francis was not eligible because she did not meet the eligibility requirements under the state constitution. It also held the governor violated the 60-day deadline for filling state supreme court vacancies provided by the state constitution. “The Governor has not satisfied his legal obligation to fill the vacancy by making a constitutionally valid appointment. … The Governor has not complied with the constitution’s clear commands,” the court wrote. DeSantis has until September 14, 2020, to select a replacement.

The Florida Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. Justices are chosen through a process of assisted appointment whereby a judicial nominating commission screens potential judicial candidates and submits a list of nominees to the governor. The governor must appoint a judge from this list. Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they appear in a yes-no retention election held during the next general election. If retained, judges serve six-year terms.

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Pam Keith, Oz Vazquez complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Pam Keith defeated Oz Vazquez in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 18th Congressional District on August 18. Keith received 79.9% of the vote to Vazquez’s 20.1%. Keith will face incumbent Brian Mast (R) and K.W. Miller (independent) in the general election.

Before the election, both Keith and Vazquez completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. Ballotpedia asks all federal, state, and local candidates to complete a survey so voters can discover what motivates them on political and personal levels.

We asked the candidates, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

Keith: “Protecting and defending the Constitution
Protecting voting rights and fair elections
Ensuring every American has lifelong portable health care
Ensuring that Americans not only have jobs but that their work is able to sustain themselves and their families
Address the existential threat of global climate change
Obtaining federal funding to fix the water management infrastructure in our district
Protecting and improving Social Security and Medicare for our seniors

Ensuring that our veterans get everything they need, including speedy, quality, comprehensive healthcare”

Vazquez: “I am personally passionate about making sure that working and middle class families have the same shot at the American dream I had, which includes fighting to make sure that retirees have the benefits they’ve been promised, protecting our access to quality, affordable healthcare, and ensuring our kids and grandkids have access to the education and opportunities they need to get ahead.”

In 2018, 1,957 candidates completed a Candidate Connection survey. This number represents 6.9% of all 28,315 candidates Ballotpedia covered during that cycle. Out of the 1,957 respondents, 477 (24.4%) won their elections.

To read the candidates’ responses and learn more about the primary, click here: Florida’s 18th Congressional District election, 2020 (August 18 Democratic primary)

To read more about the general election in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, click here:

Florida’s 18th Congressional District election, 2020

To read more about Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey or if you are a candidate who would like to submit a survey, click here: Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection

Voters decide state legislative races in three states

Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming held statewide primaries on August 18, 2020. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3.

There were 265 state legislative seats up for election, including 45 state Senate seats, and 220 state House seats.

The following information was current as of August 20. At that time, some races were still too close to call.

Across the three states, 206 incumbents filed for re-election to the 265 seats. Preliminary results indicate at least nine incumbents were defeated.

In the state Senate elections, 33 incumbents filed for 45 seats. At least two did not advance to the general election. In the state House elections, 173 incumbents competed for re-election to 220 seats. At least seven were defeated.

The next statewide primary will be held on September 1 in Massachusetts.

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