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Why the Anitere Flores and Oscar Braynon affair matters to Florida voters

It’s hard to ignore an obvious conflict of interest.
Senators Anitere Flores, front, and Oscar Braynon, back, listen to Florida Senate President Joe Negron talk about sexual harassment in the Florida Senate. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
Senators Anitere Flores, front, and Oscar Braynon, back, listen to Florida Senate President Joe Negron talk about sexual harassment in the Florida Senate. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 16, 2018|Updated Jan. 16, 2018

Last week, State Sens. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Anitere Flores, R-Miami, apologized for letting their friendship evolve “to a level that (they) deeply regret.” But that doesn’t indicate any broken rules.

There are no allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct. If there was an affair, as an anonymous website claimed, it would have been between two adults.

So why does it matter?

One reason why: the appearance of a conflict of interest for Braynon.

Heading into the 2016 election, Braynon was the next Democratic leader in the Senate. That meant it was his job to make Democrats as competitive as possible in as many of the Senate’s 40 districts.

He oversaw party money that went into races and helped select viable candidates to challenge Republicans.

This should have been a good year for Braynon. It was the first election after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Senate districts drawn in 2012 were unconstitutional because they unfairly favored the GOP, with 25 of 40 districts giving Republicans the edge, even though Democrats outnumbered the GOP in the number of statewide registered voters. The redrawn districts shifted the numerical edge to Democrats, giving them the majority in voters in 21 of 40 districts.

But all Democrats managed to pick up was one seat in the 2016 election. Even with the level playing field, the Republican majority remained a formidable one at 25-15.

Much went wrong with how the Democrats performed. They lost a district in Alachua County where they had a 28,000-voter edge. They lost a race in a Tampa district with nearly 10,000 more Democrats than Republicans because of a third-party candidate who split the vote. They lost a Miami district, even though it had a 7,600 voter edge and it had been held by an incumbent. And another Hillsborough district that was majority Democrat was won by a Republican with no opposition.

Another slightly-blue race Democrats lost: District 39, Flores’ seat.

Flores and Braynon were known by media to be friends long before last week’s apology.

Flores, already a state senator, filed for candidacy for former District 37 back in January 2013 and began raising money. After the districts were redrawn, she switched to District 39 in February 2016—a heavily-Hispanic district she would eventually win.

Around the same time, Democrat Andrew Korge filed to oppose her. He had only been raising money since 2015, two years after Flores.

District 39, which includes all of Monroe County and part of Miami-Dade, had slightly more registered Democrats than Republicans at election time. By the numbers, it should have been a competitive district.

But June 22, 2016, just two days before the candidate filing deadline, Korge jumped to District 40, which set up a three-way Democratic primary in that district. Korge lost the primary.

By then he had nearly caught up to Flores in direct campaign contributions, but her political committee, Floridians for Strong Leadership, listed more than $700,000 by mid-June, nearly twice what his committee, Friends of Andrew Korge, had raised.

At the time, Korge said he abandoned District 39 because he was unhappy with how much Democratic leadership — led at the time by Braynon — was helping him in his race against Braynon’s friend Flores.

How did Korge feel last week after it was revealed that Braynon and Flores were more than friends?

“I want nothing to do with this. I have no comment,” Korge said Wednesday.

Braynon said to reporters then that he “told him not to move.” Korge’s departure forced a scramble, and Democrats found Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is now challenging incumbent U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo for his seat, at nearly the last minute possible. Officials received her paperwork just one day before the June 24 filing deadline. By then, there were only four months until Election Day, and Flores had been campaigning for three years.

The Tampa Bay Times cited District 39 just before the election as one of eight slightly-blue districts where Democrats faced “daunting obstacles.” In this case, that obstacle was Flores’ substantial head-start over the last-second candidate.

Mucarsel-Powell declined to comment on the race through a spokeswoman Wednesday.

Was District 39 a race Democrats should have won? Even with an edge in voters, it’s considered a tough one for Democrats, especially running against a Hispanic candidate.

But the effort to win this competitive district certainly wasn’t helped by Mucarsel-Powell filing so late.

Flores won the District 39 over Mucarsel-Powell cleanly, earning 54 percent of the vote. Mucarsel-Powell ran behind presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by more than 18 points, third-worst of any contested senate district in the state, according to an analysis of data collected by Daily Kos Elections.

The Times asked Braynon last week about the District 39 race, but, through a spokeswoman he declined to comment.

Contact Langston Taylor at 727-893-8659 or Follow @langstonitaylor.


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