[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: New Republican Leadership in Miami-Dade County

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Republican Leadership in Miami-Dade County

In the past, this article by the Herald's Beth Reinhard on new leadership in Miami-Dade County Republican ranks wouldn't have garnered much attention by yours truly, but if there's one thing GOPers learned from this election is that they (we) need to do a much better job of grass-roots organization and mobilization at the local level.

The Republican leadership in Florida's biggest county is on the verge of a changing of the guard just as the GOP struggles to reinvent itself as the minority party in Washington.

Miami-Dade County Chairwoman Mary Ellen Miller, who has led the local party for most of the past 17 years, is stepping down at the end of this month. Since former Gov. Jeb Bush recruited her to become active in the party when he served as chairman in the mid-1980s, Miller's departure at the same time President Bush leaves the White House is yet another sign of the end of an era.

In a new age of texting and Twittering, the 80-year-old Miller is a throwback. She gives out her cellphone number only to family members. The home page of the local party's website still carries pictures of Jeb Bush and Ronald Reagan -- none of Gov. Charlie Crist -- and a link to 2004 election results headlined ``Florida is Bush country.''

Vying to replace the grandmother of 10, who's too modest to list her accomplishments, are two media-savvy, young guns: 43-year-old state legislator David Rivera, who worked on the January referendum to expand slot machines in Miami-Dade, and 28-year-old political consultant Carlos Curbelo, who helped steer the reelection campaigns of U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Both Curbelo and Rivera are Cuban American. Rivera is closely allied with former House Speaker Marco Rubio, while Curbelo worked on the election of Rubio's sometime political nemesis, Gov. Charlie Crist. Miller has thrown her support behind Rivera and tentatively scheduled the election for Dec. 11.

The next chairman's challenge is clear: closing the gap in voter registration with the Democratic party and laying the groundwork for the reelections of Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez in 2010.

Since 2004, Miami-Dade's voter rolls have swelled to 1.2 million people, with Democrats growing by 54 percent while Republicans increased just 8 percent. Democrats now outnumber Republicans 560,250 to 384,287.

Martinez could face a tough reelection. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed him receiving approval from only 42 percent of the voters.

''We need to end the infighting now more than ever,'' Curbelo said. ``If we continue down this path soon we will have nothing to fight about.''

The contest for chairman will pit concerns over who could face more competing interests: Curbelo, who is president of his own political consulting firm, or Rivera, whose legislative job forces him to spend part of the year in Tallahassee. Term limits will force Rivera out of the House in 2010, and he's expected to run for a Senate seat.

Curbelo said if he's elected chairman, he would pledge to stay out of Republican primaries.

''I would not undertake any activity that would inhibit my ability as chairman, and if that means I have to forgo working on certain campaigns, then I will,'' Curbelo said. ``I don't think David will have the time to dedicate himself to being chairman.''

Rivera said he has already proven he can represent his district and his party by serving as Miami-Dade's Republican committeeman since 2003.

''Public service and service to the Republican party are not incompatible,'' he said. ''I will dedicate whatever time and effort is required to lead the local GOP to new heights.'' Just two months ago, Rivera bested two of his legislative colleagues to win another term as committeeman, a post that allows him to help steer the state party. His rivals estimate he spent $250,000 on the campaign, which Rivera calls an ''outrageous exaggeration,'' but he won't say how much he spent or where the money came from. State law does not require him to do so.

Earlier this month, Rivera won reelection to his legislative seat after a little-known Republican-turned-Democrat who didn't collect a single donation mysteriously withdrew the day before the election. Rivera said he doesn't know the candidate, Beatriz ''Betty'' Gaffney.

Of the two persons mentioned, Rivera has the best name recognition, while Curbelo appears to be a classic "up and comer". I don't know much of anything about Curbelo, but I can offer at least a cursory view on Rivero. I like David Rivera, although I feel his explanations for his bills limiting travel to Cuba by academic groups and imposing higher fees for travel agents for Cuba trips fell short of what I would have liked to have heard, despite my general support. Perhaps this is part of the reason both bills have been shot down in Florida court. Curbelo brought up a good point about Rivera possibly being too busy to handle the job of Dade GOP chairman.

May the best man get the position, but they have a tall order ahead of them. A greater internet presence and new and innovate outreach methods especially to young people and non-Cuban Hispanics are two of the greatest needs which need to be met.

It is imperative that Republicans in Miami-Dade County not ignore this important position, but instead get involved and engage the next chairman to make sure the GOP heads down the right road.


Blogger theCardinal said...

With all due respect I disagree with your take on David Rivera. Rivera is an uninspiring legislator and politician. His obsession with Cuba while serving in the State House makes little to no sense.

I had the (mis)fortune of dealing with David during the presidential elections of '96. He was a big Dole supporter while I backed Gramm. When we invited different representatives from the campaigns to speak David arrogantly declared repeatedly that the reason to back Dole was because it was "his turn" and that is the way we Republicans handled things. When his man won a straw poll in Orlando, his gloating guaranteed that no one from UM or FIU that was for anyone else was going to help out Dole.

Long time ago - but it is apparent that David hasn't changed. He's a tough infighter who knows how to draw attention but lacks vision and maybe even character.

8:34 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...


Although I have no personal reason to dislike David Rivera, the reason I brought up some of his potential negatives is because I'm not sure he's the right person for the job. I mentioned that he didn't exactly make a strong case for his Cuba bills, so his record is not the most impressive one for a still relatively young politican.

Your past accounts of Rivera suggest he's too entrenched in the political machine to make a big difference. Perhaps we need a young guy like Curbelo to shake things up. We'll see.

11:14 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger theCardinal said...

agreed. he's a cog in the machine and lacks imagination.

12:17 PM, November 25, 2008  

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