In a County long dominated by political dynasties, backroom deals, and a revolving door of the same cast of characters, Miami voters have (mostly) turned the page.
Even as names like Barreiro, Penelas, and Suarez appeared on ballots this year, voters appear ready for a different kind of local government. Wins tonight by Cava, Higgins, Hardemon, and McGhee have solidified this shift, while Regalado narrowly defeated Lerner. In a year dominated by divisive campaigning and name-calling, these candidates have managed to stay on a local message of safety, transportation, housing, and climate. This message resonated with voters above the scare tactics and partisan messaging of their opponents.
5 of the 7 commissioners elected, filled seats where incumbents were newly term limited. In 2 years, the incumbents in even numbered seats will all be termed out as well, filling the commission with 11 new voices.
National politics obviously played a role, with the presidential campaigns pouring millions of dollars into Miami-Dade county, bolstering voter mobilization and education efforts. This helped local turnout hit 74%, 5 points higher than ever before, and 30% in the primary, 10 points higher than 2016. These new voters do not have the same history with the candidates, and are able to vote without the baggage of political dynasties.
Some of the winning candidates sold voters on a progressive slate up and down the ballot, working together, appearing at events together, and receiving the same local and national endorsements. While the county races are technically “non-partisan”, some races saw money, coordination efforts, and endorsements from political groups. Cava, Lerner, and Higgins participated in events with Miami-Dade Democrats, appearing at events with Debbie Murcasel-Powell, Donna Shalala, and Jose Javier Rodriguez, all of whom have lost their races, while Cava and Higgins were able to win county seats.
This may signal a shift in Miami-Dade, from a place of dynastic politics, to more of a battleground for national politics on a local stage. We can only expect this to keep playing out, with more and more national money and operatives participating in our local races. Cava won the county by about the same margin as Biden.
This election has also seen unprecedented participation from local organizations, like Florida Leadership Immigrant Coalition, Miami Forward, Transit Alliance, and New Florida Majority, with many making endorsements, candidate questionnaires, or voting guides. The Miami Foundation also hosted a series of debates for each district and the mayors race as well.
While it may be difficult to focus on anything but national politics today, Miami has seen a shift, and hopefully this shift can lead to action on the issues plaguing our County. Perhaps this shift can mean long-lasting action on affordable housing, transportation planning, and renewable energy programs. I certainly hope so.