By Jimmy Auffant / FDP State Committee Member
While I respect Mr. Krishnaiyer and usually find his writing insightful and well-reasoned, I was shocked and disappointed to read his recent article about State Senator Darren Soto. Soto has dedicated his life to serving others as a Civil Rights attorney – where he provides pro bono representation for dozens of Central Floridians – and as an undeniably progressive Democrat in the state legislature. To call Soto “the poster child for conservative Democrats” by cherry picking an issue or two out of the body of his work in the state senate is unfair and wrong.
The record shows that Soto has been a reliable advocate for immigrants, consumers, and progressives who care about reforming the death penalty and protecting the environment.
In the Florida House of Representatives, Soto took the lead on a number of issues that were important to his community and to progressive causes in our state. He led the fight to protect homeowners’ access to the courts in foreclosure proceedings during the height of the Bush recession and housing crisis. He supported one of the largest expansions of public transportation in Central Florida by helping to pass SunRail. And, he brought real moral authority to the successful effort to derail a proposed “Arizona-style” immigration law.
In the Florida Senate, Soto has effectively advocated for an agenda that should clearly delight progressives. He passed multiple pieces of groundbreaking pro-immigration legislation that allowed greater access to driver’s licenses immigrants who arrived in America as children, gave DREAMERS in-state tuition, and allowed adult immigrant lawyers to be admitted to the Florida Bar. He led the questioning on the floor to pave a constitutional challenge of the 24 hour waiting period bill. He also supported limits on banks’ ability to collect foreclosure debt and helped start Florida’s Hardest Hit Principal Reduction Program to assist homeowners who struggled through our state’s housing crisis. Soto pushed back against Rick Scott’s effort to expedite the execution process for people on death row by proposing an amendment that would have raised the required jury vote from 7 to 10 for death penalty cases. On the environment, Soto was an enthusiastic supporter of aggressive Amendment 1 funding and he secured funding for the Lake Toho Restoration which will clean water flowing through the northern Everglades.
Soto also stood beside Democratic Senate leaders by proposing a fairly drawn congressional map during last year’s special session and assisted in drafting the motion to sue the House for their illegal early recess during the debate over Medicaid expansion earlier this year. He’s introduced legislation to ban fracking in Florida and to raise teacher pay to a minimum of $50,000 per year.
Soto has been the lead proponent for the Florida Justice Association in the Senate. He has consistently protected access to the courts. He has been endorsed by major organizations during his past five elections, including Planned Parenthood, the Classroom Teachers Association and the AFL-CIO.
And, in his campaign announcement yesterday, Soto made clear that he stands with progressives on the Affordable Care Act, raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration reform, equal rights, diplomacy over war, protecting Social Security and Medicare and using bold federal action to assist Puerto Rico through their current debt crisis.
It was a stunning progressive manifesto.
In a party as diverse as ours, we’re going to have disagreements on policy. But the overwhelming evidence shows that Soto’s professional life, public service and aggressive support of the Democratic Party is one that progressives ought to cheer. And his candidacy for Congress is one that could be groundbreaking for progressives as he would be the first Puerto Rican elected to Congress from Florida and the first Hispanic elected to Congress from central Florida. That is long overdue.
As Democrats, we take pride in breaking barriers and ensuring broad participation from everybody. Soto could well be an important voice in Washington on immigration issues, environmental issues and consumer protection issues. His record in the legislature underscores his expertise on those issues. He has the experience, youth, and intelligence to be a very productive, progressive member of Congress. Voters in the 9th district would be well served by his election.