MIAMI – More Democratic groups were outside the district office of Ileana Garcia on Monday, calling for the Republican state senator to step down after criminal charges were filed in a scheme to fool voters in her race.
Evidence has not indicated Garcia was involved in former lawmaker Frank Artiles allegedly masterminding and paying for a shill candidate to enter Garcia’s race against incumbent Jose Javier Rodriguez as a third-party candidate and siphon votes because he had the same last name.
The Democratic groups, however, want a new election, saying the one in November was tainted.
By all accounts, everyone knew about this ahead of the election, raising the question of why opponents didn’t raise the issue then.
“During the craze that COVID-19 has created and the high stakes that our political climate has been, folks now have a new revelation of the extent that we’ve allowed our election process to be,” Jude Bruno of the Young Democrats said Monday at that gathering outside Garcia’s office.
Garcia won the District 37 race in a recount by just 32 votes. The plant candidate Alex Rodriguez got more than 6,000 votes despite not actually campaigning.
Artiles and Rodriguez were arrested last week and each charged with three felony campaign finance crimes.
That brought more attention to the scheme, but by all accounts, Alex Rodriguez’s phony candidacy was common knowledge, even by the Democrats he was planted to harm.
“No law enforcement officials have done the kind of investigation that has happened in this case and uncovered evidence,” the state Senate’s Democratic leader Gary Farmer said Sunday on Local 10 News’ “This Week in South Florida.”
Miami-Dade prosecutors launched their probe the day after Local 10 News found the shill candidate Alex Rodriguez during that race’s recount.
We discovered others too, in elections going back years, that no law enforcement looked into — so there was no subpoena power to unravel the complicated dark money trails.
The actual election mechanics in this year’s District 37 race were lawful and smooth. Planting a shill candidate is not illegal, but the funding in this case was, prosecutors allege.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, a fellow Republican, says Garcia has his full support.
Will anyone do anything to change the rules going forward?
Democrats in the state senate are trying to float a few bills that would close the loopholes, but those haven’t gotten traction yet, and there doesn’t appear to be any appetite from the Republicans in Tallahassee.
“The voters should have been a little more careful,” Farmer said. “In this case, it really mattered.”