It is no secret that Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Republican candidate for the Florida State Senate (SD-40) special election occurring in a month, is — as he put it in a recently televised CBS-Miami debate — “closely affiliated with [the] Republican Administration,” having been fired by Donald J. Trump during the fifth season of The Apprentice. If being a losing candidate on Trump’s reality show was not enough proof that Diaz is closely connected to the President, during the Republican primary for SD-40, Diaz proudly touted his relationship with Trump. Diaz’s campaign mailers prominently featured Trump, lauding not one, but two endorsements from the President; one of the mailers even included a personalized note from the President wishing Diaz luck on his race.
Now, everyone knows that the goal of a campaign is to win, and it is clear that Diaz needs to galvanize his Republican base in order to win a district that Hillary won by 18 points. However, in one of the most Hispanic districts in the state, we cannot allow an elected official to continue to provide cover to a President who regularly disparages the Latino community.
On Tuesday, August 22nd, a week before vote-by-mail ballots hit mailboxes in Florida for the special election, Donald Trump marked the beginning of his reelection campaign. He did so by hosting a “campaign-style” rally in Arizona, a 2020 battleground state that Trump narrowly won in 2016. Following the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, VA, many of us hoped that the President’s rally would not fan the flames of division. But,
Following the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, VA, many of us hoped that the President’s rally would not fan the flames of division. But, experience would have us expect otherwise, especially given the allegations that Trump would potentially pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a convicted criminal charged with violating the civil rights of Latinos in Maricopa county. Arpaio, who was voted out of office in 2016 after 24 years, is infamous for directing his office to racially profile Latinos, regardless of status, in his “crackdown” on undocumented immigrants. Under Arpaio’s tenure, Latino citizens were arrested and deported, for no other reason than being presumed to be undocumented. Arpaio’s illegal tactics increased the number of inmates, and to accommodate overcrowded jails, he built a horrendous outdoor jail derisively known as “Tent City,” which he likened to a concentration camp since inmates were forced to be out under the scorching Arizona sun. Arpaio’s disregard for the law went so far as ignoring a District Judge order to stop detaining Latinos he believed were “illegal” when they were not charged with any other crimes. This is the kind of man Trump wants to use his first pardon on: a lawless, bigoted, convicted criminal.
And while Trump did not officially pardon Arpaio during his speech, he brazenly insinuated he would — “I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s [Joe] going to be just fine, OK? But — but I won’t do it tonight, because I don’t want to cause any controversy. Is that OK? All right?”
Our Unifier-in-Chief, forfeited his pardon for that evening, not because he believes that Arpaio’s actions were wrong, but because he didn’t want to “cause any controversy” given the high racial tensions following the death of Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist. Yet, for someone who was attempting to stray away from controversy, Trump’s subsequent lines were far from that: “But Sheriff Joe can feel good. The people of Arizona know the deadly and heartbreaking consequences of illegal immigration, the lost lives, the drugs, the gangs, the cartels, the crisis of smuggling and trafficking. MS-13 — we’re throwing them out so fast, they never got thrown out of anything like this.”
In the same breath, Trump affirmed the actions of a criminal who terrorized the Latino community and managed to characterize immigrants as gang members and criminals…yet again. He uttered these words in a state where a third of the population identifies as Latino. Tonight, in the dark of Friday night, President Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country, in a state where about a fourth of the population identifies as Hispanic, all eyes are on the first competitive Hispanic election under the Trump Administration. An election of historic proportions (the Democratic candidate Annette Taddeo has the opportunity to become the 1st Democratic Latina in the FL Senate), but, also, one fraught with the tensions of the national conversation on race, tolerance, and justice. The September 26th special election is a result of shamed State Senator Frank Artiles’ resignation amid reports that he used disparaging language when referring to his black Senate colleagues.
Diaz, one of Artiles’ roommates during the legislative session, refused to comment on whether Artiles should resign; never condemned his comments; and in fact, protected Artiles’ character by saying, “I’ve never heard Frank talk like that before” — never mind that when Artiles was questioned on his use of “n***as,” he retorted, “I’m from Hialeah.”
A day before the CBS debate, Diaz tweeted, “As Americans, we all stand together and condemn the racism fueled terrorism of #Charlottesville — horrible, evil people #cowards.” And yet, Diaz’ condemnation of racism rings hollow because he has not disavowed or even distanced himself from Trump; a man who grossly and offensively mischaracterizes Hispanic immigrants; a man who pardoned a lawless sheriff with no regard for the law and human dignity; a man who, as the President of the United States of America, has done more to divide our country than unify it.
Racist and violent acts do not occur in a vacuum. We enable violence by turning the other way when groups of people are mischaracterized, degraded, and eventually attacked. Now more than ever, our country needs leaders who will not turn away.
Miami-Dade has the opportunity to send a message repudiating bigotry in our government both at the local and federal level. This election is the chance for the people of Senate District 40, one of the most Hispanic Senate districts in Florida, to say they’re not turning the other way.
By Mayra Macías