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Aug 21st
Dems, This Is Your Daphne PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
December 2016

The unexpected consequences of a party-line vote

DDistrict38_1phne Campbell is pro-life, has sponsored bills defending members of the clergy critical of gay marriage, supports the expansion of private charter schools, and is backed by conservative groups.

Campbell is also a Democrat, and she will now be representing the interests of a liberal-leaning region that includes most of the Biscayne Corridor and the beaches in Florida’s Senate.

Campbell, the only Democrat in Florida to be endorsed by the Christian Family Coalition, won the November 8 race for District 38 after raking in 117,948 ballots, or 75.24 percent of the vote. Her opponent, Phillip Brutus, a former state representative from North Miami from 2000 to 2006, got 38,811 ballots, or 24.76 percent of the vote.

Campbell credits her work as the state representative of District 108 for the past six years and her “positive” platform for her victory over Brutus. “I am going to work with all of the communities of District 38,” she says.

But Brutus believes the outcome of the District 38 race was influenced by the contentious presidential race and his decision to run as an independent. “I was swept by not being perceived as a Democrat,” says Brutus. “People voted the party line, and I was swept by anti-Trump sentiment.”

Brutus, by the way, is a Democrat. He was endorsed by Democratic-leaning groups like SAVE Dade, the United Teachers of Dade, and unions like the AFL-CIO and AFSCME. Brutus even got a recommendation from the Miami Herald. Brutus, in contrast to Campbell, is pro-choice and is critical of anti-gay groups like the Christian Family Coalition.

So why did he run as an independent? Because the crowded field of candidates leading up to the August 30 primary were all Democrats. In that case, whoever garnered the most votes on August 30 would be the victor, even if the winning candidate ended up with less than 50 percent of the votes.

District38_2To make matters even more complicated, Brutus, Campbell, and primary candidate Anis Blemur were all born in Haiti, and were likely to split that important voting bloc. So at virtually the last minute, Brutus changed his ballot designation from Democrat to No Party Affiliation, or NPA.

The primary victor turned out to be Campbell, who defeated five other rivals in spite of her controversial history, including a federal investigation into Medicare fraud at a string of nursing homes she co-owns. Her son was convicted of Medicare fraud in 2013, though Campbell was never charged. (Her son appealed and has won the right to a new trial.)

And so Daphne Campbell ran on November 8 with a “D” for “Democrat” by her name.

Although Donald Trump won the majority of votes in Florida, Hillary Clinton received 63 percent of Miami-Dade’s vote, or 623,807 ballots. That’s more than President Barack Obama received from Miami-Dade voters in both his runs for office.

A lot of those Clinton votes likely came from District 38. About 61 percent of the registered voters of District 38 are Democrats, according to statistics from the Florida Division of Elections.

The boundaries of District 38, like all legislative and congressional districts, are brand-new. Back in 2012, the League of Women Voters of Florida sued state legislators, asserting that legislative and congressional districts they forged after the 2010 U.S. Census violated state prohibitions on partisan gerrymandering.

After years of litigation and media investigations, the courts ordered the boundaries to be redrawn. The new map, backed by the League and approved by Judge George Reynolds III of the Second Judicial Circuit, was enacted in December 2015.

Although most voters in District 38 are Democrats, the region itself is ethnically diverse. About 39.9 percent of the population is Hispanic, 30.1 percent are non-Hispanic black, and 27.4 percent are non-Hispanic white.

District 38’s borders also encompass a range of socioeconomic levels, from the affluent to the impoverished. On the mainland, the district covers downtown Miami, Omni, Edgewater, Park West, Overtown, Little Haiti, Wynwood, the Upper Eastside, El Portal, Miami Shores, Biscayne Park, Aventura, and Ojus, as well as portions of Brownsville, Allapattah, Golden Glades, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Liberty City, Opa-locka, and Miami Gardens.

District38_3District 38 also includes Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Surfside, Bal Harbour, Indian Creek Village, Bay Harbor Islands, Sunny Isles Beach, and Golden Beach.

District 38’s voters participated heavily in the presidential election. As of November 19, according to the Miami-Dade Elections Department, there were 189,535 ballots counted in the district. With 262,498 registered voters in District 38, that’s a very respectable turnout of 71.8 percent.

Of 165 voter precincts in District 38, Campbell won an overwhelming 162. Campbell and Brutus tied in two, while Brutus won just a single precinct, where the total voter turnout was one lone individual.

“I think these numbers point to the fact that Democrats strongly supported Daphne Campbell, even though it’s largely known she is socially conservative -- and that Republicans favored her in the competitive Democratic primary,” says Sean Foreman, a professor of political science at Barry University.

Christopher Norwood, a Miami political consultant affiliated with Democrats, says Campbell’s victory was assured even if this hadn’t been a presidential election year. “This race was decided in the primary, just like every race in the Senate and the House when you have a district where the majority are Democrats or Republicans,” Norwood says. “There was never any doubt in my mind.”

“It’s hard for an NPA to get traction unless you’re someone wealthy or a celebrity who can run an independent campaign,” Foreman agrees.

To overcome the NPA impediment, Brutus needed to deliver his progressive credentials to a larger audience. “He spoke to small groups here and there, but he didn’t have an advertising campaign,” Foreman says.

Brutus says, “We knocked on doors. We did some commercials on Comcast.” But with just $56,600 in campaign funds, he didn’t have enough to wage a mass-media campaign.

Campbell, on the other hand, had $75,000 available after the primary, and that’s not counting support from groups like the Florida Federation for the Children (FFC), an electioneering organization that supports the expansion of private, charter, and virtual schools. On its website, the group vowed to invest $500,000 electing a list of seven “school choice” candidates in November. Campbell was among them.

“She’s beholden to special interests,” Brutus declares. “They want someone like her, someone who says, ‘Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir.’”

Campbell insists she’s no one’s puppet. She just happens to be supportive of parents being able to send their children wherever they like -- be it public or private school. “I’m always the voice for public schools and school choice,” she says. “The key is [parents] have the right to send their children to the school they want to.”

Campbell believes voters were turned off by Brutus’s negative campaigning: “Brutus was claiming that I was illiterate, that I didn’t speak English, that I was inarticulate.”

Funds were limited in her campaign, too, she says, but she made up for it by meeting voters throughout District 38.

“Daphne is a hard campaigner,” says North Miami Councilman Alix Desulme. “I ran against her twice [for state representative], and she did what she needed to do. She just outsmarted the folks running against her.”

In Campbell’s run for state senator, Desulme says, her campaign focused on the Haitian and African-American communities. Campbell, however, stresses that she worked to boost her name recognition throughout District 38. She even marched in a parade in Miami Beach.

Given that Republicans hold majorities in the state House and Senate, Barry University’s Foreman believes Campbell could use her cozy relationship with them to some advantage. “I think she has a chance to be effective because of her relationship with Republicans,” Foreman explains. “She has some experience in the House, and she has endeared herself to Republicans. They might be using her, but hopefully she’s smart enough to use them to get what she needs for her district.”

Because District 38 includes Miami Beach and many of Miami’s most popular neighborhoods, Campbell will likely be heard in Tallahassee, Foreman reasons. “Her district is a prime piece of real estate, and it’s important to the state for tourism tax dollars, and it has a large population,” he says.

Campbell’s boisterous personality may also prove to be an asset. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease lots of time,” Foreman adds. “So she’ll be squeaking and there will be incentives for Republicans to work with her.”

And if Campbell doesn’t do a good job, Norwood contends that voters will soon have a chance to vote her out. Normally, state Senate terms last four years. But because of the recent redistricting, some Senate terms were cut in half this election. District 38 is one of them. “Her name will be on the ballot in two years,” Norwood notes.

Brutus is doubtful he’ll make another try for District 38. “I don’t like partisan politics,” he says. Besides, he adds, “I have to rebuild my law practice and earn a living.”

 

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