Miguel DLP vs J-Rod make it a hard choice in Senate 37

Even though the challenge was looming, we knew it was coming for sure when Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Coral Gables) and State MiguelDLP JROD TWISFRep. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Little Havana) were invited as guests to speak about the just-ended legislative session on WPLG’s This Week in South Florida — and it turned into sort of a debate.

Especially when Rodriguez made a point to respond to something the senior DLP said. “If I can touch on the gun bills, just very briefly,” J-Rod was quick to say. Then DLP responded to J-Rod’s response.

Where have we heard that kind of back and forth before? Oh yeah: At debates.

Ladra called it a showdown preview on Twitter. Yes, watchdogs tweet (find me at @newschica). And I was right: A day later, J-Rod — who had already said he was thinking about it — officially announced last week he was running for Senate against the three-term incumbent, possibly providing us with the second big partisan showdown in the county (the first being the congressional race rematch between U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) and former Congressman Joe Garcia (D), who Ladra predicts will win the primary against what’s her name).

Keyword: Possibly.

Because Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, “the flagship” of the political brothers, is seen as the migueldlpmost reasonable and moderate of the DLP clan. He is not the typical Republican sheep. As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to hear several ugly immigration bills and the the three open carry gun laws in the legislature this year, effectively killing them all (like he did last year), becoming an NRA target (they sent letters and emails to donors, attacking him).

He went against his own party “because I’m a free thinker,” he told Ladra. “I learned that from my grandfather. You have to listen to everyone. But when it comes time to make a decision, you have to make a decision on its merits.”

He has consistently been an advocate for public labor, who love him. He’s been a defender of education. Teachers love him. When he was a Miami-Dade Commissioner, he created the two thirds majority needed to move the UDB line and impact fee monies for schools from developers. This year, he secured $2 million in state funds for the proposed Underline linear park under the Metrorail tracks. Environmentalists love him, too.

Where is J-Rod going to get his votes?

A shining star who rose to public office from the ranks of public legal service, speaking on behalf of the most disenfranchised for years, Rodriguez could be disappointed with the amount of party crossover he might see in this race. I’m not the only one who likes both of them. A bunch of bilateral supporters are going to be hard pressed to pick between the two.

While he hasn’t passed anything important and most of his sponsored bills die in committee or fail (he is in the minority, after all), he did help stop what he deemed bad legislation at the finance and tax committee,  helped steer $286 million more into education funding and has championed the cause of hundreds of students jrodworksleft in limbo when Dade Medical College closed its doors abruptly last year. He also has a knack for social media, bringing attention to blue party issues like public transportation and minimum wage, off which he lived for a week, sharing his experiences on twitter. He was also one of the first to denounce the proposed bed tax giveaway to the Miami Dolphins in 2013 (God bless him).

“I know what my campaign is going to look like. I’m going to work very hard to let the voters know that I’ve been working for them already,” Rodriguez told Ladra.

So, despite DLP’s hefty experience or any perceived advantage Rodriguez may have on a presidential year in a district that gave Obama a seven-point lead in 2012, this is not going to be a cakewalk for either of them.

“Obama is not on the ballot,” Diaz de la Portilla told Ladra. And while many political observers do credit J-Rod’s initial win against his opponent’s brother, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, to that presidential wave,  J-Rod also defended himself quite well against Daniel Diaz-Leyva and the weight of the Republican Party in 2014.

Read related story: Jose Javier Rodriguez hangs on despite Danny Boy’s dough

And that was against half a million dollars.

No, this isn’t payback. J-Rod doesn’t seem the type to hold a grudge. After all, he serves as vice chair of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation, where Danny Boy’s political godfather, State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Kendall), is chair.

Redistricting, Rodriguez said, gave him an migueldlpjrodopportunity to have more impact.

“I can accomplish more in the Senate. It’s a more collegiate body. There’s a lot more I could do,” he said.

DLP says he can do more for the constituents as a member of the majority that can garner bipartisan support for his measures. He passed a bill with unanimous support this year that expands the court’s authority to use mental health and substance abuse programs for youth offenders and veterans.

Ladra isn’t happy about this match, because she likes both candidates and thinks they are both worthy public servants. And it’s not like we have a lot of those just lying around.

And I’m not alone. Like I said, these two share supporters who are now going too have to choose — and it’s not a fun thing to do.

It’s too bad one of them doesn’t run against some of the real lame-os in Tallahassee, and there are plenty of those. But unlike some people (read: Frank Artiles) neither of these guys will lie about where they live to run for office.

So the only thing left to do is look forward to the next, the real debate — with both excitement and trepidation.