Miami-Dade School Board’s Baez-Geller seeks to challenge US Rep. María Elvira Salazar

Miami Herald | By Max Greenwood | November 9, 2023

Miami-Dade County School Board member Lucia Baez-Geller will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar for her Miami House seat in a race seen as one of Democrats’ few-remaining opportunities to reassert themselves in Florida.

The daughter of Cuban and Colombian immigrants, Baez-Geller is the first Democrat to step up to challenge Salazar in 2024. The party has faced a brutal run of elections in recent years; Republicans — including Salazar — flipped two Miami-area congressional seats from Democrats in 2020 and dominated again last November when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in 20 years to carry Miami-Dade County.

National Democrats are targeting a smaller set of GOP-held House seats in Florida in 2024, including the state’s 13th District currently held by U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, and the 27th District held by Salazar.

Beating Salazar is likely to prove challenging for Democrats. A well-known former news anchor, Salazar first won her seat in 2020 when she defeated now-former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala in a rematch by less than 3 percentage points, but went on to win reelection last year by nearly 15 points. She also has more than $700,000 in her campaign account and the support of the national GOP’s House campaign arm.

In announcing her challenge, Baez-Geller slammed Salazar, calling her a member of the Republican Party’s far-right wing who had failed to address issues like the rising cost of living in Miami-Dade County and endorsed ultra-conservative education policies.

“My opponent has put party politics over Florida families — and it’s time we vote her out of office,” Baez-Geller said in a statement. “As the daughter of immigrants who was raised in Miami, I am proud to announce my candidacy to restore order in the halls of Congress, grow the middle class, and protect fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Republican U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar speaks during a press conference at Miami International Airport on April 19, 2021. MATIAS J. OCNER

One thing boosting Democrats’ hopes is the fight over abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Efforts to protect those rights have proved to be a powerful motivator for Democratic voters in other states.

On Tuesday, for instance, voters in Ohio — a former swing state that has lurched to the political right in recent years — approved an amendment to the state constitution that ensures access to the abortion, as well as other forms of reproductive health care.

Abortion rights activists are currently working to get a similar measure on the ballot in Florida in 2024. State Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, has asked the Florida Supreme Court to bar that measure from the ballot.

A former English and language arts teacher at Miami Beach Senior High School, Baez-Geller was first elected to the Miami-Dade School Board in 2020. She announced in August that she would not run for reelection to her school board seat.

During her tenure on the school board, she carved out a reputation as a progressive voice at a time when Republican state lawmakers and DeSantis have sought to transform Florida’s education system to reflect more conservative values. In September, she joined two other school board members in voting to recognize October as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer History Month. Last year, Baez-Geller was the only member to vote in favor of a similar resolution.

This story was originally published November 9, 2023, 6:00 AM.

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