Here is a look at the candidates in key races across Central Florida.
To read more about them and other election issues, including the constitutional amendments, go to orlandosentinel.com/2020 and click on the online Voters Guide.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, 42, of Winter Park, a two-term U.S. congresswoman, cited her effectiveness and bipartisanship over her two terms in office, including her work ending the ban on federal gun violence research.
Leo Valentín, 35, of Orlando, a radiology doctor, stressed his medical background and said health care, including removing government from health care decisions, is his biggest issue.
Rep. Darren Soto, 42 of Kissimmee is a two-term U.S. congressman and the first Florida representative of Puerto Rican descent. Soto, a Democrat, said the next Congress will need to help in the coronavirus response and said he wants to pass a $1.5 trillion nationwide infrastructure package.
William Olson, 56, of Davenport, a retired U.S. Army sergeant first class and a Walt Disney World employee, said reopening the economy was important and the unemployed should be taken care of, but the government should not “pay more for unemployment than the person would get in their regular job.” He is a Republican.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, 63, rose to national prominence as an impeachment manager against President Donald Trump then as a potential running mate for Joe Biden. She believes the COVID-ravaged economy will not recover until the virus is under control and supports another emergency relief package approved by Congress.
Republican candidate Vennia Francois, 46, of Orlando, is a lawyer and former U.S. Senate aide. School choice, immigration and human trafficking are the biggest issues she hears about from supporters. Francois believes federal government regulations on businesses need to be reduced to spur job creation and economic growth.
Jason Brodeur, 45, of Sanford, a former member of the Florida House from 2010 to 2018, wants to expand school vouchers that allow children to attend private schools using diverted tax dollars and provide more access to health care via the private market.
Patricia Sigman, 53, of Longwood, a labor attorney, said expanding Medicaid in Florida was her top priority. She also wants to protect clean water and the environment and fully fund public education.
Rep. David Smith, R-Winter Springs, 60, is a retired Marine Corps colonel who flew helicopter missions in Iraq. During his freshman term, he said, he was successful in passing 10 appropriations and six policy bills, though he said he has “unfinished business.”
Pasha Baker, a Democrat from Sanford, runs the Goldsboro West Side Community Historical Association. Baker, 39, said protecting Seminole County’s rural boundary is a key issue for her, citing flooding issues caused by over development.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, is a business owner who’s served in the House for a total of 10 years. Plakon, 61, wants to fix Florida’s “train wreck” unemployment system and kickstart the state economy again as it emerges from the coronavirus-induced recession.
Tracey Kagan, 59, is a Longwood resident and criminal defense attorney who’s seeking her first elected office. She said she’s running because she feels like it’s her turn to turn to give back and help people in her community, especially those who have struggled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bob Cortes, 57, a Republican from Longwood, is trying to win back the seat he held from 2014 to 2018. He wants to help guide the state through the pandemic and provide representation for the district’s Hispanic voters.
Rep. Joy Marcil-Goff, D-Maitland, said she’s helped defend the state against bad policies from the Republican-controlled Legislature. She said she’s an environmentally conscious lawmaker who would help protect the rural boundary.
Fred Hawkins, 53 of St. Cloud, said his top priorities are to improve per-student education funding, where Osceola is currently last in the state. He also said businesses should be shielded from lawsuits associated with their reopening. Hawkins, a Republican, was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis from his Osceola County Commission seat after his felony arrest for impersonating a law enforcement officer.
Barbana Ann Cady, 63, a Democrat from Lake Wales, said her campaign is focused on issues that matter most to middle-class families, like the expense of housing, the county’s congested traffic and low wages. She also wants Medicaid expansion and is a part of the Florida Rights of Nature Network, a group campaigning for waterways, forests, oceans and other ecosystems to be named “injured parties” in legal action.
Geraldine Thompson, 71, the Democratic incumbent, previously served three terms in the state House and two terms in the state Senate representing western Orange County. She wants to change the unemployment system and diversify Florida’s tourism-heavy economy.
Bruno Portigliatti, 32, a Republican, is president of Florida Christian University and CEO of Excellence Senior Living. He wants to support families and small businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic and relax regulations that stifle job growth.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, 30, of Orlando, has served two years in the Florida House and is a nonprofit consultant at NEO Philanthropy. Eskamani, a former state official at Planned Parenthood, wants to extend the number of weeks people are eligible for unemployment insurance and raise the amount of money they’re eligible for.
Jeremy Sisson, 42, a Republican from Orlando and CEO of Evan James and Associates, a commercial real estate brokerage in downtown Orlando, said he’s running to be a voice for businesses and would prioritize helping them receive low-interest loans and grants to safely and effectively reopen following the pandemic.
Daisy Morales, 59, emerged from a five-candidate Democratic primary in August as the favorite in the race to replace Amy Mercado, who is running for Orange County Property Appraiser. The district favors Democrats, who outnumber registered Republicans by about 30,000 voters. The New York-born Morales declined to be interviewed about her views on issues.
Born in Puerto Rico, Jesus Martinez, 48, a Republican owner of a real-estate company in Lake Nona, came to Florida in 1999 and learned English while in law school. He has served his community as a pastor, youth basketball coach and Spanish language TV host. He wants to fix the state’s unemployment system and provide more incentives for affordable housing.
Monique Worrell, 44, was the director of the Conviction Integrity Unit at Ninth Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s office before leaving in 2019 to work as chief legal officer for Reform Alliance, the national criminal justice reform organization co-founded by Jay-Z and Meek Mill. She has pledged to keep juveniles out of the adult criminal justice system when possible, increase police accountability, seek less-severe sentences for non-violent crimes and reform the cash bail system.
Jose Torroella, 63, a non-party affiliated candidate, is a former prosecutor and longtime defense attorney. He describes his opponent as a radical who would leave the Ninth Circuit in “anarchy” and argues there is currently “no deterrent to not commit crimes” in Orange and Osceola counties, despite falling crime rates in those counties. He is running on the slogan “do the crime, do the time” and argues imprisonment is the only effective deterrent for criminals, who are “seldom rehabilitated.”
District 4 runoff
Prince Brown, 57, is a public health officer with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If elected, he said he would push to build schools more quickly in Horizon West and other fast-growing areas and to get rid of portable classrooms, which he thinks pose safety risks. He wants the board to be more responsive to parent and staff concerns, eliminate wasteful spending and do more to boost teacher morale. He views his career in public health as a useful one for the board during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pam Gould, 57, is the incumbent who has held the seat since 2012. She is the CEO of Shepherd’s Hope, which provides free medical care to low-income residents. If re-elected, she said she would continue to work on responding to rapid residential growth in southwestern Orange County, which has led to school crowding and new school construction. Expanding career and technical programs and boosting mental health programs for students are also priorities, she said, as is finding ways to boost teacher pay.
District 5 runoff
Vicki-Elaine Felder, 63, is a veteran teacher who works at Edgewater High School. Her 40 years in public education in Orange County, she said, gives her deep knowledge about the system that would benefit the school board. If elected, she’d work to improve communication between parents and teachers and the district, increase technology training and boost teacher pay and morale. She’d also encourage young adults to consider teaching careers.
Michael Scott, 38, is a coordinator for Orlando’s My Brother’s Keeper program, a mentoring initiative, and a longtime community volunteer. He said his work helping at-risk Black and Hispanic boys in local schools has given him a window into what families need. He’d push for more occupational training and internships and better mental health services for students. He wants the board to listen more to parents, teachers and students and to see teachers salaries increased.
J.R. Kroll, 49, of Sanford, is a real estate broker and owner of JR Kroll Realty. A Republican, he advocates for more transparency and says the tax collector’s budget should be posted online, detailing where every dollar is spent.
Lynn Moira Dictor, 60, of Lake Mary, is a former journalist and radio talk show personality. A Democrat, Dictor wants to conduct a financial audit that would detail where public money was directed by former Tax Collector Joel Greenberg. She also wants to put in place an ethics policy.
Dennis Lemma, 48, is the incumbent, seeking a second term. In his first four years as sheriff, Lemma has led the fight against the opioid epidemic in Seminole and across Florida. He advocates focusing on the root causes of crime, like addiction and mental health issues. A Republican and an almost 30-year veteran of SCSO, he has amassed a political account of almost five times that of his opponent.
Paul “Spike” Hopkins, 53, is a retired Orange County sheriff’s lieutenant. He argues the Seminole Sheriff’s Office has lost its focus on responding to crime and residents’ calls. He said he’d increase the number of patrol deputies and develop an app that residents could use to get information about their neighborhood and help the agency find suspects or missing children. He previously ran for Orange sheriff as a Republican but is running as a Democrat in this election.
Bob Dallari, 61, the Republican incumbent and a Disney employee, was first elected in 2004 and is seeking his fifth term. He vows to protect the rural boundary from incursions by major developers. “I’ve always said: ‘Let’s keep it rural.’”
Katrina Shadix, 50, a Democrat who lost in 2018 by a razor-thin margin to now commission Chairman Jay Zembower, said she would push for a county requirement that any zoning or land-use change within the rural boundary would need a unanimous vote.
Incumbent Republican commissioner Lee Constantine, 67, says protecting the rural boundary is one of the most important issues. “The rural boundary is so vital to the future and soul of Seminole County,” said the Altamonte Springs resident.
Democrat Kim Buchheit, 60, a land surveyor and owner of Buchheit Associates Inc., Surveyors and Mappers, in Apopka, agreed with Constantine regarding the rural boundary. She said residents do not get a fair chance at voicing their opposition at public meetings.
Republican Andria Herr, 59, said she’s a pro-business candidate who supports protecting the environment. She advocates for keeping taxes low, especially during the economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democrat Pernell Bush, 32, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Iraq War and owner of K.E.Y. Counseling Solutions in Oviedo, said his priorities are transparency in government, keeping taxes low, affordable housing and protecting the rural boundary. He is a Sanford resident.
Libertarian Andre Klass, 28, is a lifelong Seminole County resident who said “citizen empowerment” is a top issue in his campaign and wants to make county government more accessible and transparent for residents. Residents are too often ignored by commissioners.
Brandon Arrington, is a 12-year incumbent Democrat, who is also the executive director of Osceola Arts. Arrington said the county needs to build more affordable housing units near where people work and to attract higher-wage jobs to diversify the county economy beyond tourism.
Jeff Hawk, 39 of Poinciana, is a retired U.S. Army sergeant and said he’s running because he and others have lost trust in their county commission. Hawk said he would seek to ban late additions to county agendas, which he said have led to controversial decisions that prevented public scrutiny.
Marcos Marrero, a 31-year-old Libertarian, is an office manager at a downtown Orlando law firm. Marrero also said he’d ban late additions to county agendas and would focus on luring retail businesses to Poinciana.
Dr. Ivan Rivera is running with no party affiliation, and is a physician. He said he’s a former captain in the National Guard in Puerto Rico. Rivera took issue with developers contributing to the campaigns of elected officials.
Ricky Booth, a Republican, is an Osceola County School Board member and cattle rancher. Booth said the county needs to curtail “out of control” residential growth and craft a development plan to better pay for schools, roads and other infrastructure.
Tahitiana Chaffin, is a realtor and former police officer in North Carolina. Chaffin, a Democrat, said she’d propose policies cracking down on conflicts of interest, and would move to ban family members of commissioners from bidding on county contracts.
Marco López, a Democrat and former deputy who manages a security consulting firm, touts his experience working in various capacities at the Sheriff’s Office and 22 years in the U.S. Navy. A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, López argues his experience in intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism operations would benefit the agency. Both he and his opponent are running as reformers intent on increasing transparency and community trust.
Tony Fernández, who retired from the Sheriff’s Office this year after 15 years with the agency, is running without party affiliation. He argues his experience as a lifelong cop has given him an understanding of agency operations that would help him change it from within. He has worked as a detective, a patrol deputy and a field training officer, among other roles.
Mollie B. Cunningham, 59, of Tavares, worked 36 years as a teacher and school administrator, retiring as principal of Carver Middle School in Leesburg. She touts her experience working in Lake County schools and said teachers and all employees deserve a raise. “We lose a lot of teachers because our salaries are not commensurate with surrounding counties,” she said. Cunningham said if elected she will work to be sure all voices are heard, including through planned regional town hall meetings.
Betsy Farner, 61, of unincorporated Tavares, taught 37 years, including at Tavares Elementary, Middle and High School, with 20 of those as a science teacher. She retired in June. Farner said her experience in the classroom gives her a unique perspective on the needs of students. She favors the move away from Common Core, which she said focused too much on testing and college prep. Farner wants to see Lake work to improve its graduation rate and said more vocational education will help lower the dropout rate.
Staff writers Steven Lemongello, Ryan Gillespie, Lisa Maria Garza, Annie Martin, Stephen Hudak, Monivette Cordeiro, Leslie Postal, Martin E. Comas, Grace Toohey, Cristóbal Reyes and John Cutter contributed to this report.
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