Darren Soto is minimum wage challenged — UPDATE

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Fight For 15 action from earlier this year undeterred by rain, heat and lightning.

This was a big week for the Fight For 15 campaign, with a national strike and marches that were held here in Orlando, along with dozens of other cities from New York to California

The Fight For 15 events I’ve attended in Central Florida have been intense with participants undeterred by stifling heat, pouring rain, or even 4 a.m. gathering times. There’s no doubt that the energy is due to the fact that Orlando has the lowest median wage of 50 top American metropolitan areas. The folks who strike here, and those who join the actions in solidarity, feel the gravity of the movement. These actions are not empty social gatherings. 

At the afternoon rally this week, State Sen. Darren Soto kicked off the speeches by touting a $15 minimum wage bill he co-signed. While I applaud the Senator for making an appearance at the event, I find it odd that the lawmaker who kicked off the rally didn’t participate in the Minimum Wage Challenge, which was a prominent feature of the Fight For $15 campaign.

Other speakers who followed Soto at the podium stood in solidarity with minimum wage earners by taking the Minimum Wage Challenge. Tax Collector Scott Randolph, Rep. Vic Torres and Sen. Geraldine Thompson all went to the trouble of budgeting $85 for a week to live on, and reported their experiences on social media. Soto’s main challenger in the District 9 Congressional race, Susannah Randolph, also took the challenge. These are no small gestures. It’s a big project to rearrange your life to live on poverty wages. It’s an even bigger project to report on the experience with social media messages every day. The folks who did this made a sacrifice to understand the issue, and to call attention to the problem.Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 7.38.41 AM

As someone who lived on poverty wages for too long, I followed these stories closely, and dealt with the some bad memories they recalled, like when Carlos Guillermo Smith reported he “failed” the Challenge when he couldn’t afford a vital medication. I don’t consider his experience a failure, and I’m very thankful for his video testimony linked above (please take the time to watch, it’s worth it). His story resonated deeply with me, as it was a reality I lived with for many years — doing without medicine because there simply wasn’t money for it.

Some would say it’s okay for Soto not to “walk the walk” since he co-signed the bill. But I say if you’re going to put your name on a piece of legislation, it’s even more important to support it through action. Otherwise you’re telegraphing that you don’t own it. As adults not given to magical thinking, we know a $15 minimum wage is not going to pass this Republican legislature, or be signed into law by Rick Scott. Co-signing the bill, therefore, is somewhat of an empty gesture. So, this campaign is about changing minds, then laws. The Fight For 15 has actually been criticized for being more of a public relations strategy than an organizing strategy. But I believe that as a public relations campaign, it’s been wildly successful. It’s been absolutely necessary to change hearts and minds with a thorough PR campaign before embarking on an earnest legislative campaign.

The narrative has indeed changed so much, that just this week, the very first question of the Republican debate was:

Candidates, as we gather tonight in this very august theater, just outside and across the country, picketers are gathering as well. They’re demanding an immediate hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Not only did Neil Cavuto lead the debate with Fight For $15, he set the stage for the evening’s frame to be a clash of noblemen — in their “very august theater” — against barbarians at the gates. This shows that the Fight For 15 movement is defining our political moment.

Only a year ago, the narrative was for raising the wage to $10.10. Now, with unemployment hanging around five percent, many employers start new employees out at $12 an hour. This is what Bernie Sanders pays his interns. There’s even a movement away from tipping in restaurants, which requires paying servers a living wage. Minds have changed on this issue at a dizzying pace, and the folks at the Chamber of Commerce are freaking out.

So, if you’re a Conservative Democrat with a 100 percent approval rating from the Chamber, co-signing a bill that has zero chance of passing is the safest move you could make as a lawmaker. There’s no political capital risked.

But here’s the thing, by skipping the challenge, Soto missed the opportunity to speak to his constituency at the Chamber and business community to change their minds. The Minimum Wage Challenge wasn’t just designed to preach to the choir. It was designed to create change.

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I believe those at the Chamber who bestow the 100 percent approval rating on Darren Soto are the ones who most need to understand the reality of living on $8.05 an hour. Clearly the Senator listens to his folks at the Chamber. Doesn’t it seem like he could bend their ear on this issue? Why should lobbying only go one way?

Had Sen. Darren Soto participated in the public relations aspect of this campaign by taking the Minimum Wage Challenge, he might have been able to use his influence to demonstrate that poverty wages are not good for working families, our communities and Florida as a whole.

Instead, as we saw with his vote in 2011 to preempt local governments from passing wage theft ordinances, he sided with the comfortable and turned his back on the afflicted. Politicians like Darren Soto might show up at your march, but they take their marching orders from elsewhere. The Chamber would never allow him to do anything that actually threatened to raise the minimum wage in a meaningful way. 

My musing on lobbying being a two-way street, is just that: fantasy. A politician with a 100 percent approval rating from the Chamber isn’t going to rock his fancy teak-lined boat by speaking truth to power. I only point that out to show what should be possible. We all know who writes the checks and what they buy. Two-way conversations aren’t included in the sponsorship package.


UPDATE — Earlier this month SEIU Florida pledged to exclusively endorse and make contributions to candidates who agree to both take the minimum wage challenge and support the $15 an hour minimum wage bills. We’ll be interested to see if this holds true in the case of Darren Soto running in Congressional District 9.



Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy for clients ranging from healthcare companies to museums. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network (tune this Sunday at 7:30 pm or download the podcast anytime), and the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory, cultural criticism, and near constant stream of caffeine. Political and media analysis through a Progressive lens. Read all of Brook’s articles here. Check out brookhines.com
awesome dogs couch


These are her Italian Greyhounds, Trouble and Daphne.

There is no word in the English language that rhymes with orange.



  1. We really need to educate Democrats on the meaning of these scores. (High score/grade from the Florida Chamber or Jeb Bush’s Foundation = BAD; Low score/grade from Florida Chamber or Jeb’s Foundation = GOOD) For too long, we have turned a blind eye to Democrats who don’t fight for our party’s values.

    With the exception of Progress Florida, progressives aren’t good at giving this type of information to voters. The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida hopes to score priority legislation during the 2016 Session. I hope we can count on other caucuses, labor unions, women’s groups, environmental groups, etc., to do the same.


    1. The entity that calls itself the official US Chamber of Commerce is not at all concerned with “small business,” American communities or anything resembling their blue skies and apple pie branding. You only need to read a little about their history to get a sense of how far afield of American values the Chamber actually is.

      The first place to start is to read The Powell Memo. This gives the reader a sense of the animus behind the Chamber’s attack on democracy. What the Chamber stands for isn’t “business” per se — it’s a radical political/economic agenda, masquerading as business-as-usual.


      Going deeper, one of the best histories I’ve come across on the subject is called “Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from The New Deal to Reagan.” Here’s an interview with the author:



      Essay from the author of Invisible Hands:

      ‘Invisible Hands’: The Dangerous Power of Business

      “Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade against the New Deal” is a book about the power of business in America. It’s about the deep roots of the conservative movement in the history of the twentieth century, telling the story of how a small group of business leaders who were fiercely, passionately opposed to even the most minor reforms of the 1930s tried to organize to turn the clock back to the late nineteenth century. And it is about how they were able to grow their ranks over time, so that today business interests are able to exercise immense power regardless of which political party is in the White House.”

      more at link:



  2. Luis Vazquez · ·

    This is a great piece that FINALLY holds this guy accountable. For years, he has voted against working people on issues such as preemption of local wage theft ordinances. However, this year he tried to jump in front of the parade that Commissioner Harford led in passing the strongest wage theft ordinance in the state. This will be an interesting campaign to watch as his votes against the middle class are about to be revealed to his constituents.

    Best line from this article: “Politicians like Darren Soto might show up at your march, but they take their marching orders from elsewhere. The Chamber would never allow him to do anything that actually threatened to raise the minimum wage in a meaningful way.”


  3. Really? Wow this guys is a democrat?


  4. Byron Chambers · ·

    Wow. After reading this, there should be a term for this kind of Democrat-turned-Republican. #Sotocrat


  5. Where did that mail piece-esque slide on Soto’s record originate?



    1. It could have come from any organization that opposes vouchers or supports women and workers.


    2. That’s just a piece of story art I whipped up 🙂


  6. State Sen. Darren Soto has been very active with wake up wekevia ( and I know if he know chuck then he’s up on all the water issues) and with the bear hunt, filed an anti fracking bill, understands the water. If we don’t have an environment then we have nothing. If we think food and wage issues are a problem now just wait until we are all polluted.


    1. Carol McMillen · ·

      Wait until you see the anti-environmental votes he has taken over the years that allowed development to occur in critical wildlife habitat. Don’t fall for Soto and his pandering. He saw a heavily Democratic Congressional seat in play and now he is moving to the left to cover his conservative tracks.


      1. thanks. i’m going to look into that for my blog.


      2. To be honest I don’t see much support from most dems on environmental issues. Who besides Mark Pafford?


      3. In 2013 Darren Soto voted for HB 1083 – the Underground Natural Gas Storage Act which promoted the extraction and storage of natural gas (similar to fracking) by expediting permitting of pipelines and underground storage facilities. The bills allows operators to build facilities under AQUIFERS and included a public records exemption (HB 1085) that Soto also voted for which gave an exemption to underground natural gas facilities so they wouldn’t have to tell people what is placed in their drinking water…under the guise of of “trade secrets.”


      4. Impact Fees — voted in committee for preemption of local government home rule, and a measure that would force a 3-year exemption from impact fees (not just a moratorium on new impact fees), including school concurrency and transportation concurrency.


      5. Voted for a bill in 2013 that allowed for expedited permitting, and ratified leases on STATE LANDS in the EVERGLADES approved by Rick Scott and his Cabinet, which nullifies the Florida Wildlife Federation Lawsuit against the Governor and Cabinet for approving leases for the SUGAR INDUSTRY (Duda and Sons, Florida Crystal Corp).


      6. Filed an amendment that decreases overall environmental protection land buying capacity by 65%, when environmental trust fund money was moved to “funding Amendment 1.”



      7. Voted for the bill that REPEALED the requirement that septic tanks be inspected every 5 years — even in environmentally sensitive areas like Wekiva Springs. It eliminated the Dept of Health’s septic tank evaluation program.


      8. In 2011 voted for a measure that gave agricultural owners the new abilities to adversely impact wetlands, by impeding or diverting the flow of surface water. Basically the bill exempted Big Ag from most environmental resource permits (ERPs) and took power away from the Water Management Districts to give to Rick Scott’s Dept of Ag.


      9. Sea Poop, aka Ocean Outfall of Sewage — Voted to extend dumping of sewage in the ocean for 2 more DECADES past the court order of early 2000s. Utility companies lobbied first to push this back to 2018, and then to 2025. Decades more of poop.


  7. Do you guys know of any one else in the house or the senate that was against the bear hunt besides State Sen. Darren Soto?


    1. Probably all of the Democratic members. It’s hardly a brave stance.


      1. Did not really hear a peep from any of them.


      2. Maybe because it’s not a key issue when they’re fighting redistricting and healthcare battles. And I say this as someone who is/was disgusted by the whole penis-waving exhibition.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I did a small search and he was the only one that actually spoke against the bear hunt or has anything to do with clean water. I did end up writing a blog but my 15 dollar challenge is the 15 bucks my elderly patients get for food a month and how when we give to food banks we give our canned and processed food to the hungry when in fact they needs good whole foods, fruits and vegetables. There is a lot of things that are important.


  8. So, I guess that the only people who can protest military intervention are those who have actually been in the military? This is nothing more than a hit piece on Soto with a very weak thesis.


    1. Rafael Melendez · ·

      It’s not a “hit piece” when he actually, factually took those votes. That’s called accountability.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not really, Just because he didn’t participate in the “project” doesn’t mean he does not believe in the issue. Hence the reason I used the example I did.


  9. Ruth Ann Eaddy · ·

    This piece should have a bi-line “Paid for by the Susannah Randolph Campaign for Congress”


    1. Votes are votes and empty promises on wage policies when he’s not willing to walk in the shoes of those he says he represents is just facts. You shouldn’t feel bad about being fooled. There’s still time to insure that a real Democrat wins this seat.


      1. Naoya6161 · ·

        Everyone has different ways to express their support of a cause. And in any case, how do you expect to get anything related to minimum wage if the GOP controls the legislature? If you want meaningful minimum wage legislation, get more Democrats in office.


  10. Michael Costello · ·

    I think it’s important to remember that an elected official has the responsibility to work with his or her constituency. Most chambers are comprised of small to medium business owners who make an investment in their communities. They are not all big businesses opposed to labor. They are basically your neighbors and as such, deserve the same consideration from an elected official that you expect. Moves too far to the left or too far to the right create problems for the communities represented by these types of representatives. I am a Democrat, I am pro-Labor, I am for inclusion, and I support the Fight for $15, but I am also a firm believer in common sense. I much prefer a moderate democratic with community-centric views that represent the constituency as a whole. A candidate who can work (and compromise with) the opposition and who serves his or her neighbors effectively would be my preference.


    1. http://www.flchamber.com/issues-legislation/where-we-stand/

      Here’s a link the Chamber’s legislative agenda through the years. Readers can judge for themselves if items such as eliminating “burdensome regulations,” taking pensions away from public employees, or making it more difficult to sue for medical malpractice is really advocating for the little guy.


  11. Brook thanks for all the examples. What a great conversation!


  12. Brook: you wrote this :Voted for the bill that REPEALED the requirement that septic tanks be inspected every 5 years — even in environmentally sensitive areas like Wekiva Springs. It eliminated the Dept of Health’s septic tank evaluation program.
    I’m actually looking into this right now as its an issue down here in jensen beach and our Indian Riverkeeper may be suing for the rights etc. This is an issue but we have bigger issues like the discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
    There are few myths so far that are floating around. One is that septic tanks do not get inspected and that is just not true. They get inspected all the time when people buy houses. I’m not defending the no inspections I’m just saying people have got to start being honest about these issues. Another thing that was made a big deal of is that people need to pump out but when I started asking is there any kind of fund for people who simply cannot afford the 200 bucks and are one flush away from backup everyone ran for the hills.
    I think the issues with those inspections is that the inspectors maybe got a little aggressive. I sent a message to Senator Negron since he was part of that and have not heard back and I’m quite sincere. I just want to know what happened. Mother Jones wrote a great article http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2011/01/florida-gop-champions-freedom-liberty-and-busted-poop-tanks
    The sad thing is, just like the bear hunt, with some education and a little research we could do a lot of positive things in the poop department.
    We recently had a skewed presentation in Martin County, one of our commissioners wants Amendment 1 money, they refuses to listen to the fact that there are federal grants to help with this and soon we’ll be back to step 1 because the study will be proven that it was skewed, the even though this is an issue its not THE issue.
    Also ,it’s not against the law to educate people on their septics and people are always welcome to do self inspections.


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