Meet the Class of 2022: South Florida's newest lawmakers head to Tallahassee

Of the 10 first-time legislators from traditionally blue Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, six are Republican.

A view of the old and new Capitol buildings in Tallahassee, as seen in November 2018.

A view of the old and new Capitol buildings in Tallahassee, as seen in November 2018. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

There has been no shortage of media coverage on the commanding leads Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio were able to rack up this election thanks to a seismic shift to red from South Florida voters. But that same shift also was the path to victory in several South Florida legislative races that were previously thought out of reach for the GOP.

Of the 10 first-time legislators headed to Tallahassee from traditionally blue Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, six are Republicans. Several won by slim margins in districts that went to Biden in 2020 by almost double digits. Here are thumbnail sketches of the new lawmakers headed to the Capitol – and how they got there:

Rep. Fabián Basabe (R)

The first entry on this list highlights the first casualty for Democrats in Miami-Dade. Basabe, a former reality TV star who mostly self-funded his campaign, won House District 106 by just 242 votes after a recount, a win by a 0.46% margin. 

Basabe positioned himself as a moderate Republican on the campaign trail, telling the Miami Herald he is “pro-choice” but that “life must be respected.” 

He listed protecting beaches and ending housing insecurity in his priorities on his campaign website. During his campaign, he netted several endorsements from local Democratic elected officials. This will be his first time in elected office.

Sen. Alexis Calatayud (R)

Calatayud also rode the red wave into the state Senate in a Miami-Dade district whose current boundaries went to Biden by seven points, according to MCI Maps. She ended up winning by almost nine points, a 16-point swing similar to what was shown across the county. 

While it’s her first time in elected office, she is not a political novice. She was the campaign manager for former state Rep. Vance Aloupis in 2018 and 2020, and most recently worked as the Director of Policy and Programs at the Florida Department of Education. She campaigned on permanently enacting cuts to the gas tax, promoting school choice options and investing in sea level rise-infrastructure.

Rep. Hillary Cassel (D)

This Hollywood-based lawyer is the first Democratic newcomer on the list. Her district, House 101, is located squarely in a Democratic party stronghold in southern Broward County. 

Her margin of victory, however, shows how Republicans were able to chip away at margins even in the most blue areas. She won by just eight points in an area Biden won by 14 points in 2020. 

In a statement to the South Florida Sun Sentinel while on the campaign trail, Cassel said she ran because she believes “we need more elected officials who can provide balanced, common sense leadership to the issues impacting all of us.” She listed protecting abortion and voting rights, environmental issues and affordability issues as the most critical concerns her district is facing.

Rep. Lisa Dunkley (D)

Dunkley was able to stay out of the fray in the general election, cruising into office after picking up 62% of the vote in her Broward district during a three-way Democratic primary

A military veteran and entrepreneur, she did little fundraising, taking in half the money that both of her opponents raised. Despite the differential, she took in almost three times as many votes as the candidate that finished second – quite a showing for this PTA president.

Rep. Ashley Gantt (D)

Gantt, a Miami-Dade attorney, knocked off a legislator in her own party who frequently voted against his caucus. In August, she beat incumbent James Bush III by just under 500 votes. Bush had backed last legislative session’s 15-week abortion ban and the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents. 

She received the backing of influential members of her party, including Sen. Jason Pizzo. Having faced no primary opponent for her seat, Gantt campaigned on dealing with the state’s affordable housing crisis and confronting climate change.

Rep. Alina García (R)

A long-time Republican political operative has finally been elected to public office. García began her political career almost 30 years ago as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s legislative aide during his first Florida House term in 1999. She most recently worked as South Florida Regional Director for Republican state CFO Jimmy Patronis. 

Her successful bid for the Legislature this year was her first time running for public office. She dominated, winning by 17 points to replace outgoing Republican Vance Aloupis. She was also a fundraising dynamo, bringing in over $650,000 between her campaign account and political committee.

Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman (R)

Much like in Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County was flipped red with the Republican wave this election cycle. And Gossett-Seidman is one of the wave’s biggest beneficiaries. She edged out her opponent by about three points in an area thought to be in the Democratic Party’s favor. 

Gossett-Seidman was no stranger to local politics in the county, serving as a Highland Beach commissioner before her race for the Legislature. After her victory, she told the Palm Beach Post that she believed the election came down to one key area she campaigned on: the economy. 

“I'm going to get up to Tallahassee and do everything I can in my power to get this economy straightened out and get everything we can for Boca Raton and the beaches," she said.

Rep. Vicki Lopez (R)

Lopez has made her return to elected office after almost three decades out of it. She was on the Lee County Commission in the 1990s, but resigned after being convicted of mail fraud. A U.S. District Court vacated her sentence in 2011

But Lopez got elected to her new office by the skin of her teeth, winning by just two points for her Miami-Dade House seat. She got the support of several local Miami-Dade officials on the way, including Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago.

Rep. Juan Carlos Porras (R)

Porras, a business owner, cruised into office in his Republican-leaning Miami district with 64.4% of the vote. He got his start in politics by interning in Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, and got experience in Florida’s capital working for Republican Reps. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, Alex Rizo and Spencer Roach. 

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Porras said he would support a full abortion ban in the state of Florida. He also supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ immigrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, saying “we are not a sanctuary state.”

Rep. Katherine Waldron (D)

Waldron narrowly survived the red wave in Palm Beach County, winning by about an 0.8% margin. A former member of the Palm Beach County Commission, Waldron was a strong supporter of abortion rights during her campaign, netting her endorsements from Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood Florida. 

According to Florida Politics, Waldron received support from lobbyist Ron Book, along with real estate and agricultural interests that helped fund her successful campaign.

Contact Tristan Wood at twood@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @TristanDWood 

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