“Democrat” Darren Soto – A favorite of Big Business, School “Choice” Advocates and Conservative Bloggers

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.36.21 AMState Senator Darren Soto (D-Orlando) will announce his candidacy for Congress (current District 9, but subject to reapportionment changes) later today. Soto seeks to replace Rep. Alan Grayson, whose voting record is about as progressive as it gets. From where we sit at TFS, Soto is one of our least favorite Democrats in the legislature. Soto’s voting record through his eight sessions as a legislator is on the extreme rightward end of what is acceptable as a Democrat. This is despite holding first in the House (following a hotly-contested Special Election victory in 2007) and a State Senate seat that were never seriously targeted by the GOP. Free from the constraints of tough primaries and quickly emerging as a favorite of business and school “choice” lobbyists in Tallahassee, Soto became the poster child for conservative Democrats who seek higher office by running in safe Democratic seats backed by Republican money and the support of large elements of a bipartisan political establishment. The Sunshine State News, one of the voices of record that conservative political insiders in the state swear by said the following about Soto:

“Soto is about as good as conservatives can hope for from his liberal Democratic district.”

The SSN is spot-on, but here’s our perspective — Soto is about as BAD a Democrat for liberals and progressives as anyone in the state. A quick overview of Soto’s votes in his legislative career indicates certain trends:

  • Anti-choice/anti-reproductive rights votes in multiple sessions while a member of the House.
  • Consistent support for school “choice” schemes including casting of only two votes by any Democrat in either chamber for the infamous “Parent Trigger” legislation in 2012 and casting one of only four votes by any Democrat in either chamber in 2014 for the largest ever statewide expansion of vouchers.
  • High ratings from interest groups that support big business and right wing causes. Just last week Soto was one of only two Democrats in either chamber to earn a 100% score from the Florida Chamber of Commerce for supporting their agenda which includes keeping wages low, killing pensions, prosecuting immigrants rather than the businesses that hire them, and making sure that corporations get big tax breaks while citizens pick up the tab.
  • BONUS! The previous week a group founded by Jeb Bush rated Soto “100,” and bestowed an “A grade” for advancing bold reforms on school “choice.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 4.03.45 PM Each of these groups uses scorecards to try and influence votes of legislators pushing them to the right. In the case of Senator Soto, winning approval of conservative groups by scoring high on the report cards they issue is a fundamental part of his conduct in public office. For most Democrats that are elected to office they would consider low scores from these sorts of groups as a badge of honor. However, Senator Soto takes pride in voting as often as possible with lobbyists and special interests. Senator Soto is what we would call a “Chambercrat.” He’s a Democrat who says the right things on most social issues, while giving nearly every vote needed to conservative special interests and Republican lobbyists. Soto is the very embodiment of the toxic Tallahassee culture that has spread like a cancer through the Democratic establishment. It is interesting that Senator Soto has professed openly that he is opposed Jeb Bush now that he is eyeing a Congressional seat in a liberal area. But real proof is in Soto’s own Jeb Bush-oriented voting record, and the scores of interest groups closely aligned with Bush’s point of view. These votes have won him continued plaudits from conservative bloggers. Senator Soto could in fact be the founder of a “Jeb Bush Democratic Caucus,” were one to exist. Perhaps he can work to start such a caucus in time for the 2016 General Election, should he be successful in pulling the wool over the eyes of Democratic Primary voters in Central Florida. It would be particularly appropriate if Bush were to be the GOP Presidential nominee. Soto’s candidacy is yet another indication that the 2016 primaries will be a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Both of Soto’s announced opponents, Susannah Randolph and former Rep. Ricardo Rangel, are excellent progressive voices. Either would make a far better representative for the 9th District in Washington. In the coming weeks, we will continue to examine Senator Soto’s record. If progressives were fired-up about Patrick Murphy’s candidacy, they should be downright furious about Soto’s. The voting record compiled by Soto over the course of eight legislative sessions makes Murphy, by any objective comparison, look quite progressive. TFS’ Brook Hines contributed to this article


  1. Barbara DeVane · · Reply

    And, he always supports and speaks vehemently for the dreaded Alimony Bill sponsored by right wing Republicans!!!!


  2. Well we knew this piece was coming considering Kartik’s alliances but WOW!

    Talk about a dreaming hit piece. Didn’t even forget the kitchen sink! My god!


  3. Eye4Democrat · · Reply

    Very disappointed in this piece. Where is the editorial of Randolphs instability, rants and lack of integrity?


    1. The Rattle Tale covers that daily.


  4. Millie Herrera · · Reply

    So how liberal were Charlie Crist and his voting record for you, Kartik?

    This is definitely a hit piece. I may not like some of his votes, but if Democrats continue to tear down emerging leaders, especially Hispanic ones, because they’re “not liberal enough” instead of having honest conversations to bring them more to the progressive side, we will continue to be irrelevant, super minorities. And then we’ll have more Republicans inflicting their nonsensical laws on us for generations to come.

    Let’s support Darren Soto and work on convincing him on more proggressive issues. I prefer this option than losing this seat to a Republican.

    Just sayin’


  5. Rafael C Benitez · · Reply

    The Randolphs represent every thing that is wrong at the Orange County DEC. they are corrupt to the core. The treasurer report is laughable.


  6. […] gave the tip little thought until I saw a virulently anti-Soto blog Thursday from an ACORN activist at Organize Now who is closely aligned with Randolph. In the blog, […]


  7. Wow, this is a low blow! I thought we were better than this!


  8. FloridaMan · · Reply

    Notice none of the people defending Soto here are disputing any of the information in the piece. The only taking point they have is “but he’s Hispanic.” I respect Darren and he’s a nice guy who genuinely cares about the local community, and I know Orange County Democratic politics are full of drama, but geez. Is it no longer acceptable to say someone won’t vote for Soto because of his voting record, and leave it at that?


  9. berlander · · Reply

    Did not take long for the Randolph smut machine to fling mud! One day?


  10. Andy Crossfield · · Reply

    How can Democrats ever hope to convince those who have given up on politics if we attack our own? What ever happened to making a case on the candidate’s issues and cease providing their general election opponent with ammunition? I’m very disappointed in candidates who preach sermons they have no intention of following.


    1. kwelz1028 · · Reply

      Senator Soto was one of 20 Senators who voted to stop Parent Trigger in a 20-20 vote. The bill has never resurfaced. Mrs. Soto is a Public School Teacher and Union Member. Senator Soto was one of a few key votes to stop the bad pension bill 2 years running to save teacher pensions. Soto was an early lead on reducing high stakes testing on children. Soto filed a bill to raise teacher salaries to $50,000 per year and has been a tireless advocate for raising their pay.


  11. Can you cite the specific votes, Kartik? Might be helpful for readers.


  12. David Jones · · Reply

    This is a hatchet job if I’ve ever seen one! Every one who has been around the lawmaking process for any length of time knows that legislating is like making sausage and is not always a cut and dry situation. Sometimes, particularly when facing super-majority opposition, one has to hold their nose and play the game to the extent that accepting half a loaf is far preferable to being left with crumbs. For you to besmirch the reputation of one of our quality statesmen the way you have is not only unsettling, but also unproductive. Lee Atwater and Karl Rove would be proud of you.


  13. Ruth Ann Eaddy · · Reply

    Wow, I am with Karen Welzel, we are better than this. I am amazed that this blog would immediately attack the only representative that we in Polk County have in the Senate..we have none in the house. I send people from all over Polk County to Darren Soto’s office for assistance since we are a RED county. People thank me for referring them to his office because he gets results. As a State Committeewomen, I am mandated to remain neutral, it is very difficult with this type of blog to just let this go unanswered. I was in Tallahassee with the Democratic Women’s group and attended a hearing regarding the God awful “Environmental Protection Agency” attempting to regulate Fracking…they never considered Banning. Darren Soto was the one Senator that used “Common Sense” in his approach to the issue…he tried to get time to study the issue…he knows he is working with Republicans that are bought by the energy industry…he used common sense. He is a member of the Florida Bar and has never had a year with 100% approval of the Chamber of Commerce until this year when he did not have to defend the access to the courts because the Legislature had no time to address the issue because of Healthcare debates. I’m sorry if I have violated an oath, but when one sits in a Red County and sees unknown sources denigrating our only access to Tallahassee from Polk County I must speak my thoughts. He has assisted us financially as a DEC as well as being a Senator to all of Polk County. Stop this nonsense and have each person running in the district run on their past achievements or if none, their proposals of what they will do when they win the prize.


  14. floridian · · Reply

    As a teacher, his votes on education are cause for concern. He is unacceptable as a candidate based on his education voting record. I will not support him in the primary and I will abstain from voting for him if he were to make it into the general election.


    1. Millie Herrera · · Reply

      I understand your concerns, and share them also. Now comes the big BUT. Would you prefer a Republican in that seat that would certainly vote against everything progressive, or would you consider talking to him if he wins the primary and helping him see how his past votes impacted education?


      1. FloridaMan · ·

        A Republican isn’t going to win this seat. It’s safely Democratic. I mean, it’s Alan Grayson’s seat for Pete’s sake!


      2. There’s little chance a Republican can take a seat in a district with a PVI of D+8.


  15. Andy Crossfield · · Reply

    I question why ‘floridian’ hides behind a moniker or is even educated. To say they would ‘abstain from voting’ in November is the most ignorant comment possible, especially from one that cares about the direction of education in Florida.


    1. floridian · · Reply

      I am a single issue voter. I am an education voter. I will not under ANY circumstance vote for someone with Soto’s education record and I implore other s concerned about education to do the same. I will not tolerate the privatization of public schools, or other institutions, and I will not equivocate under any circumstance.


      1. Andy Crossfield · ·

        You are saying you would vote for someone without a voting record over someone who is on the record with years of voting in tough situations, and you refuse to look at his/her votes in context?

        Then I honestly believe it’s better that you abstain.


  16. Darren Vierday · · Reply

    The “anti-choice” label is very disingenuous, being that Senator Soto was the constitutional lead to undermine the 24 hour waiting period bill that unfortunately made it to the governor’s desk. He has also been endorsed by Planned Parenthood in his last three elections- I don’t think they would get behind someone who is so “anti-choice.” Even his band, the Orange Creek Riders, has headlined the last 2 local Planned Parenthood Fundraisers in Orlando.
    Mr. Krishnaiyer either does not live in central Florida with no local knowledge outside of a computer screen, or is operating as an errand runner for one of Mr Soto’s primary opponents. The former is amateurish, the latter is distasteful, especially this early in the campaign.
    Surely Mr. Krishnaiyer can find good things to say about Ms. Randolph and Mr. Rangel’s accomplishments without trotting out this Gish gallop of dubious information on Senator Soto.


  17. Andy Crossfield · · Reply

    I think Kartik Kishnaier has done damage not to Senator Soto, but to his own journalistic credentials. The slant of this article, and the selection of the accompanying images are more worthy of FoxNews than a serious journalist. Any observer would have to wonder how a public servant with such a fine record of representing the interests of Democrats would be treated this way. It leads one to wonder who he shills for, and that is never a plus for a conscientious journalist. I hope Kartik will quickly clarify his intention with this article and ask for the readers forgiveness.


  18. It’s funny how no one here wants to actually comment on the specifics in the piece. Those of us who spend time in Tallahassee know what Soto is. He is a guy that carefully balances his statements and votes in order to placate Democrats at the same time as appealing to Republican aligned special interest.

    Do I think KK was over-the-top here? Probably at least in the way he presented the article with the glaring images. But the point remains that this guy is well to the right of what is acceptable for a Democrat. You don’t get a 100% score from the chamber by accident. The votes for vouchers are unforgivable. So yeah I guess I like this article even though it was way over the top.


    1. Andy Crossfield · · Reply

      I’m sorry Floridina, I have a problem with anyone speaking with authority and as someone whose opinion we should take seriously when you use a pseudonym for a name. Why not post under your real name? Until you think enough of this forum to use your real name, (and that goes for all the others on here reluctant to do the same) I’ll disregard your opinion and hope others do to.


  19. Howard · · Reply

    I’m of two minds about this.

    Soto’s record is terrible I agree on business and education. The citations and links here tell the story.

    But you do know it’s a Hispanic district??? It was meant for a Hispanic not a white woman!

    We don’t need to turn Hispanics off and should find a way to get him to vote the D line more often.


    1. FloridaMan · · Reply

      It has a large Hispanic population, but by no means is it the same as other section 5 districts like Corrine Brown’s and Alcee Hasting’s, where I would consider it a real tragedy and a farce if a white person won those districts. In contrast, a plurality of registered voters in district 9 are white, and even among only registered Democrats, less than 50% are Hispanic. It’s a very multicultural district, and we should welcome all candidates, whether they are black, white, or Hispanic.


  20. I must be the only conservative that supports, and has given money to, Bernie Sanders 🙂


  21. A record means you have to look at all those votes. A hundred from lobbyist Jeb Bush.is astounding. Reality is a bummer. It isn’t any kind of hit piece to call out the reality of a voting record. Democrats understandably want to support democrats. Not what for me is a DINO. And from such a horrendous voting record would be true for anyone who casually checks it out.


  22. Andy Crossfield · · Reply

    Maybe not. I’ve heard of Tea Party groups switching to Bernie just fro his straight talk. It seems they’re tired of politicians broken promises in the past.


  23. […] reaction to my article published Thursday morning about State Senator Darren Soto was visceral in some quarters while favorable in others. Let me explain why Soto is a target of mine […]


  24. […] regard to past indicators, my colleague Kartik Krishnaiyer previously discussed here, Darren Soto’s game as being on the extreme right end of what is acceptable to be a Democrat. […]


  25. […] Soto boasts an A-rating from the NRA, has voted in favor of pro-life terminology, is a big supporter of Jeb Bush’s terrible school voucher program, and is beloved by big business interest groups everywhere. All of which helps explain the young politician’s friendly relationship with soon-to-be ex-Senator Marco Rubio. So friendly, in fact, that Rubio even played a bizarre joke on the then-Florida congressman in 2008, in which he hired an actress to send a note to Soto on the House floor and claim to be a secret admirer. When Soto got up to approach his new love interest, according to The Orlando Weekly, Rubio “crashed his gavel down on the podium and announced to all in earshot that a member of the House was seriously out of order. The sergeant-at-arms was sent to retrieve Soto, handcuffing him in the process.” […]


  26. […] Democrats a dream candidate. Soto’s Hispanic origin and willingness to play ball with business interests and the school choice lobby  gives those that want to see the party more pragmatic and corporate-friendly a potential superstar […]


  27. […] 2015, right before he jumped into the Congressional District 9 race, Soto scored 100% on Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education Foundation scorecard which advocates for the privatization of public education. So while Soto might have […]


  28. Jim Callahan · · Reply

    Desperate words from supporters of a candidate whose support is near zero in the latest poll:
    “Dr. [Deena] Grayson holds a 20-point lead over her closest competitor, Darren Soto, who only received 11 percent. Opponent Susannah Randolph received just four percent, a level of support statistically equal to zero. (The remaining voters said that they had yet to make up their minds as to which candidate to support.)”


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