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Raising funds and hosting candidates for federal and local office, Key Biscayne Democrats  said this November’s election is about preserving individual and group rights. 

The framing of individual rights – such as abortion and self-rule like local zoning control –  is one championed by the libertarians. But in 2024, the shift of the GOP toward Christian nationalism and authoritarianism has opened a door to themes once pounded by Republicans.  

Former Republican Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey seized on the issue of legislative preemption.

“We know what that Legislature is trying to do in Tallahassee. They’ve done it every other time we passed something with a ballot initiative. And what do they do? They change the rules up there,” said Davey, who is running for Congressional District 27.

“So we’ve got to act now. We got to make sure we got protection in Washington. For that, I’m the guy who’s going to give that to you.”

The Republican-led Legislature this last session passed a law prohibiting municipalities from passing heat protections for workers. Republicans also joined with Democrats in 2023 to pass the affordable housing legislation, the Live Local Act. It overrides existing local zoning restrictions for new developments that create additional low-cost housing. 

Davey and four other candidates spoke on Wednesday to a crowd of about 60 at a fundraiser for the Key Biscayne Democrats at the home of Susan Westfall and Alan Fein – the co-founder of City Theater Miami and former Village council member respectively. They had not hosted a political event since Janet Reno ran for governor in 2002. 

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The KB Dems are a member of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, said club President Jacqueline Kellogg. She told the crowd Florida has gone backward under Gov. Ron DeSantis, listing his signing of a six-week abortion ban, permitless concealed weapons, the so-called Don’t Say Gay law, and the elimination of diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state universities. 

Annette Taddeo, running for Clerk & Comptroller, said Republicans want to take citizens’ rights to shape their communities on these issues, including setting a livable minimum wage or safeguarding LGBTQ rights.

“We believe in this community equality. We believe in opportunity. We are diverse, we love it. That’s why we live here. But we need to make sure that they don’t continue to take away our rights. Take away our money.”

Taddeo didn’t explain how she would do that as Clerk & Comptroller. She is challenging incumbent Juan Fernandez-Barquin, who was appointed by DeSantis in June. The office has a $12 million budget.

Davey is running for the seat held by Maria Elvira Salazar, who has endorsed Trump in a district that pollsters say is leaning Republican. Davey said he believes Independents and some Republicans in District 27 will vote for Democrats because of the threat to individual rights.

“I can bring those people over in this election,” said Davey, noting that 200,000 Republicans signed the petition to put an amendment on the November ballot that would enshrine abortion rights in the Florida Constitution.

Clockwise: Christina Bracken, Jacqueline Kellogg, Susan Westfall and Marita Minor listen to speakers at a KB Dems fundraiser on April 17, 2024. Congressional candidate Mike Davey and others spoke at the home of Westfall and Alan Fein. (KBI Photo/John Pacenti)

Other candidates who spoke were Cindy Lerner, running for Miami-Dade Commission District 7; John Barrow, running for sheriff and Marisol Zenteno, running for the open seat of Miami-Dade property appraiser.

Lerner said the incumbent Raquel Regalado hadn’t done enough on the environmental front, such as protecting Matheson Hammock. “Your own commissioner is voting against your interests and the community has to rise up and save the most passionate things we care about,” she said.

Barrow, running in a field of 17 candidates for the elected Miami-Dade sheriff since the 1960s, said policing needs to change when it comes to the issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction.

“There are a number of situations we can recall where we are not the best tool and I want to work with our local nonprofits and our behavioral health networks here in South Florida so that they can hire more staff,” Barrow said.

Zenteno, who has worked for 25 years in the Property Appraiser’s Office, is facing Thomas Regalado, the commissioner’s father and a former Miami mayor. The office assesses each property for tax purposes. 

“We are a very, very important office,” Zenteno said. “People tell me, ‘You guys don’t change legislation. You guys don’t create any policy.’ But you know we touch every single part of your life.”

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.